The Steamship Authority’s got a problem, and it is not the group of angry Woods Hole citizens that has effectively stymied construction of a new terminal building. The problem, once again and ever more urgently, is lack of leadership. Consider that the whole point of Tuesday’s board of governors meeting was to hear public comment and authorize a revised terminal design. But after getting an earful of criticism, Vineyard governor Marc Hanover and Nantucket governor Robert Ranney slunk off to catch ferries, leaving the board without a quorum to vote.

Who is going to wrestle this issue to a conclusion? Surely not general manager Bob Davis, who dropped a 79-page staff memo in advance of the meeting summarizing every single comment received on the terminal project and why they can — or mostly cannot — be considered. Not the full board of governors, who are busy looking after their own constituencies and pointing fingers at others. And, most damningly, not the governors of the two Islands who together constitute a clear voting majority, but are curiously unengaged when the going gets tough. Each of the Island governors have weighted votes equal to 35 per cent of the total, while the other three governors have just 10 per cent each.

Since an audit last winter by outside consultants revealed a laundry list of management and operational deficiencies at the boat line, there has been lots of activity and some real progress on critical issues involving ferry safety and reliability. The frightening lack of training cited recently by the Coast Guard as a factor in the crash of the Iyanough two years ago is unlikely to be repeated with the addition of new safety and operations managers and computerized training systems.

But despite the hiring of a well-meaning communications director, the message coming out of the Steamship Authority remains that of a lumbering bureaucracy. The title of a June 13 press release, accompanied by various charts and summaries, has this uninspiring title: “Steamship Authority launches implementation phase of HMS Consulting report’s recommendations.”

This newspaper has been critical before of the boat line for not hiring a chief operating officer as recommended by the consultants; perhaps what is really needed is a chief executive officer, someone capable of making hard decisions and driving a vision, not a series of implementation plans.

Whatever one thinks about the design of the Woods Hole terminal, failure to reach resolution of the issue lends credence to the view that the authority is process-bound and ineffectual. Far worse, it is fueling a growing call on the mainland to reopen the boat line’s enabling legislation, a move that is fraught with peril for both Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

The current act states that the Steamship Authority exists as a lifeline for the Islands — not a highway for tourists — and the voting structure of the board of governors is purposely weighted to protect that primary purpose. If the authority were to be taken over by the state or a regional authority, as some are now loudly proposing, it’s a sure bet that the Islands’ influence would be at best watered down. But influence is only valuable if it is used. The Steamship Authority badly needs a shakeup, and Mr. Hanover and Mr. Ranney have the power — working together — to insist on it. That’s why their action in dashing to catch a boat instead of helping push the terminal issue to conclusion is so troubling.