In spite of a tumultuous first three years as Vineyard Steamship Authority governor, Kathryn A. Roessel wants more.
On Wednesday Ms. Roessel submitted a letter to the Dukes County commissioners, formally seeking reappointment to the high-profile volunteer position. Her current three-year term expires at the end of the December.
"It was a really difficult decision," Ms. Roessel said yesterday. More than once in the past she has publicly questioned whether she would seek another term. "There are other things I would like to do with my life, and I'm putting them on hold to represent Martha's Vineyard on the Steamship Authority. But, with the chairmanship coming up, I wanted to make sure that the county commissioners would at least have the opportunity to appoint somebody who could hit the ground running," she added, noting that the Vineyard boat line governor will take over as chairman of the board in 2005.
The county commission, which is the appointing authority for the boat line governor, will accept applications for the post through Friday, Oct. 15. As of noon yesterday, five people had expressed interest - Ms. Roessel, Oak Bluffs port council member Marc Hanover, Oak Bluffs resident Joanne Philbrick, Edgartown resident Mark Snider and Oak Bluffs resident Duncan Ross. Mr. Ross requested an application but has not yet turned it in.
The seven-member commission plans to decide on the appointment before Thanksgiving.
In her letter to the commission this week Ms. Roessel reviewed her achievements from the past three years and set out ideas for the future, but made little or no mention of the political turmoil that has plagued the SSA from the start of her term.
The letter is published on the commentary page in today's Gazette.
A Vineyard Haven resident and the first woman ever appointed as Vineyard boat line governor, Ms. Roessel, 50, works part-time as an entertainment lawyer. She moved to the Island in 1999 and had never attended a Steamship Authority meeting prior to her appointment.
Her appointment came during a period of heated political turmoil at the boat line, much of it centered around J.B. Riggs Parker, who only the year before had been appointed unanimously to serve out the last 14 months of Ronald H. Rappaport's third term. But Mr. Parker quickly lost support among some commissioners, primarily for what they saw as a deteriorating relationship with Nantucket.
In December 2001 a divided commission voted 4-3 to appoint Ms. Roessel over Mr. Parker, a decision that directly led to political chaos both on and off the Island. Unhappy with the appointment, a group of Island selectmen pursued legislation to change the way the Vineyard chose its boat line governor.
The legislation, which appeared on the state ballot the following year as Question Four, sought to take appointment authority away from the county commission and create a new selection committee made up of a selectman from each town and one county commissioner. Island voters soundly rejected the referendum.
"I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into," Ms. Roessel said, recalling the political struggle over her appointment. "I never paid much attention to all that. I tried consciously to concentrate on my work, not take anything personally, and let the politicians do what they're going to do. And at the end of the day I continued to take a practical approach."
Today the political landscape has changed again and some of the same county commissioners who voted for Ms. Roessel three years ago, and defended her during the Question Four debate, have been vocal critics in recent months. In February, chairman John Alley sharply rebuked Ms. Roessel for the tone of a letter she wrote that dismissed Nantucket's exploration of a possible split in the boat line.
When she sought the appointment three years ago, Ms. Roessel spoke of a need to "mend fences with our sister island." Now, after a rough period of poor relations between the two Islands, and the death of longtime Nantucket boat line governor Grace Grossman in July, Ms. Roessel said she wants to rebuild the alliance. She attended the Nantucket county commission meeting in August when Flint Ranney was appointed as the new boat line governor, and sat next to him in the audience. At last month's SSA meeting on the Vineyard she spoke about the importance of Island unity.
"I'm so sorry that for a long part of my tenure, Mrs. Grossman and I were not on the same wavelength, but it couldn't have been any different," Ms. Roessel said yesterday. "There were a couple of points during the last several years where I had to do what I thought was right, and that inevitably led to a schism with Mrs. Grossman.
"But rebuilding the relationship between the Islands is absolutely crucial, and I think that if the Islands work together now, we can for certain get whatever we want," she added. "We need to shake up the management in Woods Hole and make them realize that they have to operate the authority with Islanders in mind."
Ironically, when Ms. Roessel started as governor three years ago, Wayne Lamson was serving as the SSA interim general manager and the board was searching for a new chief executive officer. Following Fred C. Raskin's resignation in June, the situation is the same.
At the August boat line meeting on Nantucket, Ms. Roessel ceded her seat on the general manager search committee to Mr. Ranney, admitting that she might not be reappointed to another term.
Yesterday she said she was still unsure about her chances, but expressed pride in what she has accomplished in the last three years.
"I really like every single one of the county commissioners, and there's one of them I'm in love with," she said, referring to commission member Nelson Smith, to whom she was engaged this summer. "But I find myself in a strange position. I didn't necessarily do what the four people who voted for me thought I was going to do, and I certainly didn't do what the three who voted against me thought I would. I took a middle ground, and think that I came out with damn good results."