By Marjorie Nesin
---- — Gloucester’s Waterways Board, a key panel that, among other things, controls the waterfront sliver of the city’s I-4, C-2 site, has been staffed by nine members for the past year. But it is now down to six, after three members abruptly stepped aside in the last two weeks — with two citing different reasons but both pointing to the general slow moving bog of city politics overshadowing the board’s work.
The board is tasked with overseeing the operation and maintenance of public launch ramps, marinas and landings, promoting Harbor Plan implementation, establishing regulations for waterways, searching for new revenue sources for waterways management and reviewing waterfront development, all the while holding and managing the dockage space at the foot of the long-vacant, I-4, C-2 parcel. The board was expanded from seven members to nine last year, pulling on two economic development expert members at the city council’s decision, according to board chair Tony Gross.
Mayor Carolyn Kirk, who accepted resignation letters from each of the three former board members, Peter Bent, Phil Cusumano and Thomas Hovey, said that given the board’s quasi independent status and recent expansion, she had no worries about replacing the three remaining members.
”It wasn’t a mass exodus,” Kirk said. “We expanded the board last year so that we would have more members, so that the margins for obtaining a quorum weren’t so thin.”
Yet Hovey, appointed as one of the expanded board’s members last year, said he had worked in the private economic sector before his single year of service, and felt that city government, with the slow ebb and layers of checks and balances was just not for him, according to his resignation email to the mayor and the board.
”My career in finance had been one of making instantaneous decisions and getting immediate results,” Hovey wrote in the email, a copy of which was obtained by the Times. “This is not how city government works, I have discovered.
Bent declined to comment on his reasons for leaving the board, after having been a founding member back in 1994 when the board was created under then Mayor Bruce Tobey’s leadership.
While many people might recognize the Waterways Board as the body that has control over the waterfront portion of the I-4,C-2 lot, the board has actually been focused lately on trying to draw in more recreational boaters. The newest plan kicks off today, with an invitation for bids sent out to companies that might build a launch boat for the city, a boat that would deliver boaters to and from the mainland, according to Gross.
Approving the launch idea and sending out that bid invitation came as the result of the long process of city government followed, Gross said. Gross has been a member of the board for about five years now and chair for the past two. In the last six months, the board has doubled their number of meetings in an attempt to take care of business with a new organizational style, he said.
”The board has a global view of our duties and there’s a fair amount of business that we’re taking care of right now, and that’s accelerated the amount of meetings we have,” Gross said. “It’s not like we do an extraordinary amount, that’s the way the city’s set up to work.”
But Phil Cusumano, who resigned last week, still said he was “disappointed” with the way the process has played out.
The board “going in the same old direction,” he said.
Cusumano pointed at the grueling process of voting to send an idea to city council, then waiting for it to come back around, then voting again to fund the idea and so on.
”It’s just things seem to get bogged down,” said Cusumano, who has seen his own proposal for a floating marina designed to expand the city’s recreational moorings, essentially stall under the weight of the board’s plodding procedures.
”Voting happens, then voting happens again, and it’s all on the same thing,” Cusumano said. “It’s not very productive at all.”
Cusumano said that, despite the board having two members involved deeply in recreational boating at all times, he felt the rest of the board had not been educated enough on the importance of recreational boaters. Cusumano, who was on the board for about four years and has been delivering recreational boats to various harbors up and down the coast for 25 to 30 years, had tried to push forward a plan to build a floating marina, that would open up harbor moorings to visitors. The Waterways Board commissioned a study on the feasibility of a floating marina, but results, he said, are still pending.
When a visiting boater tries to dock in Gloucester now, that boater has to bank on a mooring being open, which only happens when local boaters take their boats off the marina moorings for periods of time, meaning there is no dedicated transient space, which cuts down on numbers of visiting recreational boaters.
Cusumano emphasized that, while each of the three former members had resigned independently, his reason for leaving was accompanied by a disappointment in the lack of success in making Gloucester more friendly to visitors who arrive by recreational boat.
”I wanted Gloucester Harbor to be as friendly a harbor as every other harbor I’ve been in,” Cusumano said. “I don’t think we’re a friendly harbor yet. I think we’d like to be, but we’re not yet.”
The mayor will appoint new members to the board and she is specifically searching for potential members who have experience in recreational boating or economic development, she said.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.