By Merrily Lunsford
HARWICH—The appointment of Freedom ferry Captain Alan McMullen to the waterways commission may be the most short-lived nomination ever made by the board of selectmen. Commission members and Harbormaster Thomas Leach said McMullen’s appointment would be a conflict of interest. The captain’s Harwich-Nantucket ferry service plays a large role in the harbor and many issues the commission deals with affect his business directly, Leach said Monday as members of the commission nodded in agreement. "He’s involved everywhere he turns," the harbormaster said, noting that he respects the ferry captain. Conflict-of-interest laws would prohibit McMullen from participating in any of the board’s discussions that would affect his business, Town Administrator Wayne Melville said, noting that the waterways commission members are boaters also. Selectmen agreed to hold the appointment until town counsel could look into the matter.
Also at issue Monday night was the selectmen’s desire to see more consistency and a stronger presence from the commission. There have been some concerns with regulations at the harbor, said Selectmen Chairman Sandra Daniels. What’s happening is that the harbormaster comes flying in every year with new regulations that have to be approved and the selectmen are under pressure to pass them, she said. Some regulations seem vague and others are open to interpretation in some areas, Daniels said, while rules regarding the mooring waiting list are inconsistent. Recently, problems were highlighted when the waterways commission sought to limit the flexibility of dockage permit transfers. The main thrust of the new regulations would be to protect those who have waited their turn on the waiting list to obtain a dockage permit; however, selectmen tossed the new rules back for some fine-tuning.
In the past the commission has been a sort of sounding board that looks at issues when they are brought forward and meets on an as-needed basis. "And I think it’s worked well," commission chairman Alex Thompson said, noting that any guidance from selectmen would be helpful. Many issues are also brought to the table by Leach. But, ideally, the committee should look to the harbormaster as a resource rather than someone who pinpoints problems, Daniels said. "Tom needs your help," she said. "We need your help." Responding to the selectmen’s comments, Leach said, "We do have some policies we’ve been following. We do have a route we’ve been taking." The commission, he said, could benefit from better communication and would like to hire a recording secretary to help with the meeting minutes. Selectmen also said they felt the commission should let it be known that boaters can turn to them with problems before coming to town hall. "Let the boaters know you’re there," Selectman Peter Luddy said. "There’s a lot of problems that come up in the summer." The commission should be meeting every month and with selectmen periodically, Luddy said. "There’s things that you could be working on like working with the planning department on the expansion of the (harbor) parking lot," he said. The commission will be given a charge which is being drafted by Selectmen Dana DeCosta and Luddy.