PORTLAND — Citing a desire to attract more candidates for seats on the board, Casco Bay Lines directors have voted to give themselves free ferry passage after the November elections.
The unanimous board decision came June 26 and is the first time the volunteer directors have extended themselves benefits since the board was established in 1981. Annual passenger passes cost from $907 for Peaks Island residents to $1,377 for Cliff Island residents.
The policy was approved after director Twain Braden of Peaks Island unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would provide the benefit to members only after the have been re-elected.
Peaks Island resident Carol Eisenberg said she was “taken aback” by the decision, but also wanted to learn more about it.
“I don’t think it is a good idea it be implemented before re-election,” Eisenberg said Tuesday.
On Monday, Braden he said he will not accept the free passage until he is re-elected – his current term ends in 2016 – although he did vote for the benefit after his amendment was defeated.
“As long as people know it is not for personal gain and people can recuse themselves, we’ll see how it works,” Braden said.
The complimentary tickets will be offered year round, and do not include vehicle passage on the Machigonne II car ferry.
There are four seats up for election Nov. 4, including three-year terms representing Peaks, and Little and Great Diamond islands, and a two-year term as an at-large board member.
The seats are currently held by Patrick Flynn of Peaks Island, Scott Johnston of Little Diamond Island and Roger Robinson of Great Diamond Island. The at-large seat was won last November by A.J. Alves, who died about two weeks later. He was replaced on an interim basis by Mac McKone.
In 2013, two of three board races were contested: Braden defeated Peggie Peretti, while Alves defeated Charles Burr and Lance Dwight. Cliff Island board member Dave Crowley was unopposed.
The board also has directors from Cliff, Long and Chebeague islands, along with City Councilor Kevin Donoghue and Sue Moreau of the Maine Department of Transportation. Donoghue and Moreau are voting members of the board.
Braden, who also served two board terms in the late 1990s, said he trusted the process that went into creating the policy.
“Whenever something comes out of executive committee for a board vote, you have to give them credit for them doing their due diligence,” he said.
Casco Bay Lines operates a fleet of five vessels (the Island Romance is for sale and was replaced this year by the Wabanaki.). Peaks Island is the most populous of islands served, and receives the most frequent service, including the car ferry.
Braden said the free passage could result in directors taking trips to other islands to get a better perspective on Casco Bay Lines operations on the whole.
“We have a very collegial board,” he said. “(But) there is an us versus them.”
Eisenberg wondered if the same objective could be achieved by offering board members free tickets to meetings, or for some intra-island travel, as opposed to the year-round passage.
The board oversees operations handled on a daily basis by General Manager Hank Berg as part of the quasi-municipal Casco Bay Island Transit District, which was founded in 1981 by the state Legislature.
“We don’t manage and we don’t micromanage, the staff does their job and we give them the latitude to do it,” Braden said.
Casco Bay Lines is currently operating with a budget projecting $4.64 million in revenues from passenger, vehicle, freight and mail service and $1.17 million in federal and state subsidies.
The free passage could be a perk for anyone considering a run for the board of directors, which Braden said carries a significant workload of as much as 10 hours per month.
“It is a complex operation, a huge organization for being run by a volunteer board,” he said.
Edited July 11 to clarify directors will not get free vehicle passage on the Machigonne II.
The Bay Mist and Maquoit II sit at berth outside Casco Bay Lines on Monday afternoon. On June 26, the ferry line board of directors approved free passage for itself beginning in November.