SSA Member Skirts Issues

Vineyard Steamship Authority governor J.B. Riggs Parker said this week that he will take no formal position on the pending legislation to dramatically change the boat line governing board.

"We are servants of the legislature; we are servants of the state. The legislature is responsible for creating the framework of the authority and they are entitled to change that framework, and I don't believe that the authority member needs to take a particular position," Mr. Parker told the Dukes County Commission on Wednesday night this week.

The comments came one day before the Joint Committee on Transportation was set to hold a public hearing on proposed legislation that will expand the SSA board from three to five members. If it is approved, the legislation will add a voting member from Barnstable and a voting member from New Bedford.

Mr. Parker appeared before the county commission on Wednesday night for an update on boat line affairs, and he came under close questioning about his own position on the pending legislation.

"Do you plan to support it or not support it?" asked county commissioner John Alley.

Mr. Parker reiterated his statement about working for the state.

"I am basically an employee of the state — I am appointed by this body, but I am appointed to do whatever it is that the legislature asks me to do," Mr. Parker said.

"But what message are you carrying to that meeting tomorrow? You are considered the Island's representative — what message are you going to carry to all of the other people at that meeting from this Island?" said county treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders.

Mr. Parker replied that he did not plan to testify unless he was called on by the chairman.

"So you're not carrying any message for us?" Mrs. Flanders said.

"I am carrying only the message that it is time to let the Steamship Authority get on with its business without a political Damocles sword," Mr. Parker replied.

Mr. Parker said the Steamship Authority has been in "political purgatory for years."

He said he would prefer to keep the three-member board, but that he could live with a five-member board as long as the Islands retain voting control.

"I don't consider it a threat to the Steamship Authority if it were a five-member board," Mr. Parker said.

Mr. Parker was also questioned about the growing split between Nantucket and the Vineyard.

"Nantucket doesn't support this — one of the Islands appears to be going in a different direction than ourselves — isn't that a threat to Island control?" Mr. Alley asked Mr. Parker.

County commissioner Robert Sawyer praised Mr. Parker for his diligent work and he said he supports his no-position position, but Mr. Sawyer also questioned Mr. Parker about the Vineyard-Nantucket rift.

"This undercurrent is causing great concern — this perception that the alliance between Nantucket and the Vineyard is breaking apart. That perception is significant and it's dangerous," Mr. Sawyer said.

"The perception is real, but I don't think the facts fit the perception," Mr. Parker said.

Mr. Parker said he has supported Nantucket but Nantucket has not supported the Vineyard. "I agree that we have to work together, but there has to be a joint effort," he said.

The county commission struggled to come to a consensus on the pending boat line legislation; three members spoke out strongly against the bill, and three members said the board might as well support it because it is inevitable.

Commission chairman Leslie Leland said little, but acknowledged that he thought the legislation was inevitable.

The most vociferous voice against the legislation came from commissioner E.B. Collins, who is a former Vineyard SSA governor.

"I am diametrically opposed to this legislation because it's wrong," said Mr. Collins. "This legislation is not addressing any of our problems," he added.

"Yes it is," said commissioner Dan Flynn, who served as the Vineyard representative to the ferry task force that drafted the legislation.

"No it's not, Dan," Mr. Collins said, adding: "It isn't doing a damn thing about controlling the traffic on the Cape. The truth is that there needs to be a comprehensive transportation plan and the Steamship Authority needs to be a part of that plan, but the Steamship Authority legislation does not need to be changed to do it."

Mr. Collins continued:

"The fundamental premise of this legislation is to aid in the economic recovery of New Bedford. That's the bottom line, and it's got nothing to do with traffic. I am opposed to any legislation that takes it out of one person's hide to help another one. It's not right and it's not sound. This is bad legislation."

Mr. Flynn and commissioner Leonard Jason Jr. called the legislation a necessary compromise.

"It would be responsible for us to say that this legislation is the best we can do in the present environment," said Mr. Flynn.

"Nobody wants to see the [present] three-member board change, but the reality is that it's better to have five members and keep control," said Mr. Jason.

"So if we support the five-member board, then what is next?" Mr. Wey returned.

Mr. Jason delivered a harsh indictment of Cape and Islands Rep. Eric T. Turkington. "Look at who you have on that committee. You have Eric Turkington, who is occasionally on our side although you never really know, and then there are eight people from New Bedford. Count the votes," he said, his voice rising.

"Face the consequences or we are going to get stepped on," Mr. Flynn said.

Mrs. Flanders questioned Mr. Flynn about his own change in position on the subject of New Bedford representation.

"At that first public hearing in Oak Bluffs with George Leontire, you were so opposed to New Bedford. What happened? You changed 180 degrees," Mrs. Flanders said.

"Well, maybe 90 degrees," Mr. Flynn replied. "I got a political education sitting on that task force. If this were just about the facts then nothing would change much, but this group could have dismantled the Steamship Authority," he added.

"Dan's talking like he's from New Bedford now," Mr. Wey said.

In the end the county commission voted 4-2-1 to adopt a position statement for Mr. Jason to carry to the public hearing in Barnstable yesterday. The statement opposes the legislation but notes that if the legislature decides to change the board, it is important to keep Island control.

Mr. Flynn and Mr. Jason also pressed the board for a vote of confidence in Mr. Parker.

"You've done a hell of a job," Mr. Jason told Mr. Parker.

"I think we are going to do a disservice to the Steamship Authority representative if we don't unanimously support his efforts," Mr. Flynn said.

"What does that have to do with this legislation?" Mr. Wey said.

"He [Mr. Parker] said he could go either way [on the legislation]," Mr.

Alley said.

"So it's no position," Mr. Wey said.

"You're not getting this, are you," Mr. Flynn said.

The vote of confidence was not unanimous; in the end it carried 5-2 with Mr. Wey and Mr. Alley voting no.