More than three years after the Steamship Authority underwent a comprehensive, months-long external review of its operations, the boat line board of governors has not acted on one of the report’s top recommendations: to hire a chief operating officer under general manager Robert Davis.

New legislation introduced this week by state rep. Dylan Fernandes and state Sen. Julian Cyr would force the board’s hand.

The bill, H.D. 4841, seeks to amend the SSA enabling act to require “a chief operating officer, who shall be responsible for improving the management and performance of the authority, and who shall report directly to the general manager and shall be subject to the authority of the general manager.”

Mr. Davis has previously pushed back on the report’s recommendation to add a second in command.

In 2019 he told boat line governors at a meeting that it was an unnecessary step.

But in a statement issued Tuesday, Mr. Davis struck a different stance, saying the recommendation had simply been pushed off by more pressing concerns arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Two years after the pandemic’s onset, we continue to deal with its effects, but we also are turning our eye toward projects that have been set aside during this period. I look forward to discussing with our board members the creation of a chief operating officer or similar position,” Mr. Davis wrote.

“However, it seems unnecessary to include this sole position in the Steamship Authority’s enabling act, which has been our guiding document for more than six decades,” it continued.

The statement was issued after Mr. Cyr and Fernandes announced they had filed the legislation.

The pandemic is also to blame for the legislators’ delayed action on the chief operating officer position, Representative Fernandes told the Gazette by phone this week.

“We’re looking at a couple of things that have taken a back seat in the last couple of years,” he said.

Asked if he was committed to having the Steamship Authority amendment written into law, Mr. Fernandes said his priority is to see the chief operating officer’s position established and filled.

“Ultimately, if the COO is installed, that would be my goal,” he said.

Also included in the bill are term limits for the SSA board of governors. Members would be held to three terms or nine total years of service, though current board members with more than nine years under their belt would be allotted the rest of their remaining term plus the potential for one more.

“It really just brings in line best practices when it comes to board management,” Mr. Fernandes said.

He said he and Senator Cyr filed the new legislation after becoming impatient with the SSA’s inaction on the matter.

“The Steamship has taken up a number of the recommendations [from the independent management study], but one that is clearly outlined is the hiring of a COO . . . This is one [thing] that they haven’t done, so we’re putting it in there for them to do,” he said, adding: “Look, we’ve waited a long time.”

Commissioned in 2018 after a series of high-profile ferry breakdowns, the in-depth study by consulting firms HMS, Glosten and Rigor Analytics took aim at the boat line’s management culture, which it said has tended to cluster many critical responsibilities in the hands of a few.

“SSA is over reliant on a small number of individuals who hold inordinate amounts of knowledge and power, resulting in an executive team that is stuck in a perpetual mode of day-to-day firefighting,” the consultants wrote in their report late that year.

Vineyard boat line governor James Malkin told the Gazette he is leery about legislating boat line operations, which he said should be managed by its appointed board.

“I have concerns about opening up the enabling act because when things get to Beacon Hill, anything can happen,” Mr. Malkin said.

He also criticized state legislators for not consulting with the Dukes County Commission, which appoints the Vineyard SSA member, before filing the bill.

“My concern is more about the process than about the content,” Mr. Malkin said. “I personally don’t care about the term limits. Three terms is nine years — that’s enough.”

In his statement, Mr. Davis said the question of term limits is best left to the boat line board to discuss.

Mr. Malkin raised his procedural objections in an email to commission chairman Christine Todd, sent Wednesday.

“As you know, the SSA operating costs are completely covered by people and goods traveling to and from the Islands,” he wrote in part.

Mr. Malkin also said that while he has repeatedly raised the issue of hiring a chief operating officer, the board as a whole has declined to act on the recommendation.

The next SSA monthly board meeting will be held Feb. 15 at 9:30 a.m.

Aidan Pollard contributed reporting.