Turning a deaf ear on the growing uproar among Islanders over a controversial new policy that will bar people from staying in their cars on board ferries, senior managers at the Steamship Authority announced flatly this week that the policy is expected to go into effect sometime later this month.
"Within the next few weeks, management is expected to announce a date when the policies will go into effect. We appreciate and look forward to the cooperation of our travelers," declared a media advisory issued on Tuesday.
The new policy has not yet been approved by the boat line board of governors, and the announcement by management this week appeared to set a collision course with the board. Vineyard boat line governor Kathryn A. Roessel did not disguise her pique.
"I really think it is unwise for the Steamship Authority to be announcing policies that have not yet been voted on by the board," Ms. Roessel said, just after the media advisory had gone out.
"We continue to review the policy, but it is likely that we will implement it unless the board overrules it," countered SSA chief executive officer Fred C. Raskin yesterday.
Crafted under the guise of new safety and security rules, the proposal is the subject of widespread opposition among Islanders, who have long enjoyed the choice of staying in their cars on the freight deck for a variety of reasons.
The new policy was slated to take effect on Monday, but after a closed-door session at the regular monthly boat line meeting in Woods Hole last week, the policy was put on hold until the next board meeting on March 18.
Ms. Roessel said this week that she has not yet made up her mind about the new policy, which includes a number of other provisions for security screening on SSA ferries under the new federal Maritime Transportation Security Act. Also this week boat line managers unveiled plans for a tented security pavilion planned for main wharf at the Vineyard Haven terminal.
"I don't have enough information to take a position yet, but I do think that the proposed regulation requiring people to leave the freight deck should be considered separately," Ms. Roessel said. Returning to the press advisory, the Vineyard boat line governor also said:
"I think this is very unwise because policy matters are the board's responsibility - this is not an operational issue, this is a new policy that still needs to be voted on by the board. It's still our job, it's not management's job to make a new policy. No, no - it's management's job to write up a staff summary and make a recommendation to us.
"And I will add that the burden of proof is not on the board to show that a policy is unnecessary, the burden of proof is on management to show why it is necessary. That's the way it works, or is supposed to work."
The acerbic remarks from Ms. Roessel revealed a new tension between her and Mr. Raskin over roles, adding one more Island to the list of troubles now plaguing the CEO. For some months Mr. Raskin has been at odds with Nantucket boat line governor Grace Grossman amid growing criticism on that island over declining quality in service and poor treatment by management.
Nantucket has launched a formal study that will examine the merits of developing an independent boat line for the Vineyard's sister island.
Yesterday Mr. Raskin downplayed any concerns by the board over the new policy. "Cassie [Ms. Roessel] had a few questions about the administration of all of this, so we're going to talk to the board again in March, we're going to do all that and take it from there about how we're going to administer the policy," he said.
He did not deny that the buck stops with the board, but he pointedly questioned the role of the board when it comes to the new safety and security rules.
"The board has ultimate authority on every issue, including who we let on the boats or whatever, but that isn't the usual role of a board. It is management's specific duty to run the day-to-day operations and deem how best to comply with the law. Period," Mr. Raskin said.
He also appeared to dispute whether the new policy is in fact policy.
"It isn't - it's compliance with the law, and who judges the best way of complying with the law? That is typically management's role," he said, concluding:
"Whether or not people should be in their car is an issue we believe relates to safety and security. We'll discuss it more with the board, but we do believe it is an issue of safety and security. Period."