PROVINCETOWN — Criticism of the board of the Provincetown Public Pier Corp., which led to an unsuccessful bid to dissolve the corporation at Saturday’s annual town meeting, grew intense in the summer of 2019 when the board suspended popular Harbormaster Rex McKinsey and ultimately removed him from the position.
Previously undisclosed documents from that year suggest that McKinsey’s management of MacMillan Pier could have exposed the town to hundreds of thousands of dollars in civil penalties from the U.S. Coast Guard.
On Aug. 1, 2019, McKinsey received a letter from the Coast Guard telling him that MacMillan Pier could no longer host cruise ships because he had failed to send in a complete facility security plan.
“On April 22, 2019, the facility security plan for MacMillan Pier expired,” stated the letter, which the Independent obtained through a public records request. “It has been reported to my staff that your facility has been continuously operating without an approved facility security plan.”
C.J. Glander, Coast Guard Captain of the Port for Southeastern New England, asked McKinsey for the proper paperwork and warned that “failure to comply … is punishable by a civil penalty of not more than $91,901 for each day the facility is in violation.”
By the time McKinsey got that letter, his bosses, the five-member Pier Corp. board, had placed him on administrative leave as of July 14 and appointed Don German acting harbormaster. German, a retired Army reservist and a marine training and standards officer, completed the facility security plan without incurring fines. German is now the harbormaster.
The Pier Corp. board did not know about the incomplete security plan until they got the letter, said member Scott Fraser. But that mistake just added to their list of grievances.
At a May 9, 2019 meeting, Pier Corp. chair Ginny Binder asked McKinsey for the security plan due date. He replied, “The last weekend of June.” When she asked if he could get it done a bit earlier, he said, “I’m planning to have that done next week.” The Coast Guard letter stated that an incomplete plan arrived in July.
McKinsey told the Independent that he was “overwhelmed with the workload” at that time, and “had more balls in the air” than he could handle.
At a July 11 meeting, a few days before they suspended McKinsey, Binder said her board had given McKinsey extra staffing and support. They hired a facilities manager and an office manager at MacMillan Pier. Still, she said, his execution, budgeting, and time management had been “disappointing.”
Pier Corp. board member Carlos Verde said, for years, McKinsey’s communication has been “fluff” and his follow through lacking.
Acting Town Administrator David Gardner ultimately suspended McKinsey, who had been harbormaster and pier manager for 14 years, without pay for two weeks in the fall of 2019 for “negligence of duties.” Gardner reassigned him as the “marine coordinator.”
At this year’s annual town meeting on May 1, the new town manager, Alex Morse, gave McKinsey a new title, with a combination of his old duties as marine coordinator and some of the emergency response duties of the former emergency management/transportation coordinator. Another town staffer will take on the transportation job, so that one full-time position is cut, with savings of $44,000.
McKinsey will get a raise: from $65,483 to $69,051, as of Jan. 1, Morse said.
The bad-mouthing of the Pier Corp., which is charged with management of the pier, reached a peak this year when it doubled fees to pier users over two years. (Under pressure, the board delayed the hikes for a year.)
This led to a petitioned article on the town meeting warrant, signed by several members of the harbor committee, to abolish the Pier Corp. “due to mismanagement.”
“I worked on the pier for almost 35 years,” said Josiah Mayo, a supporter of dissolving the corporation. “And there has been so much ill will generated by Pier Corp.”
Mayo cited the “removal of a competent and well-liked harbormaster,” a no-confidence petition signed by tenants of the pier in 2019, and “unsustainable tenant rate hikes.”
Ultimately, voters indefinitely postponed that article because, as one speaker said, they didn’t know enough about the issue.
Jennifer Cabral said the town manager should prioritize untangling the longstanding issues of pier management and the fraught relationship between the town and Pier Corp. MacMillan Pier should be subsidized to support the people who use it, she said.
“I’m so tired of fighting about the pier,” she added.
Fraser, who has served for 10 years on the board, said he’s tired, too. He said the board had tried to be quiet about McKinsey’s shortcomings. They did not reveal his error with the security plan and allowed the narrative that McKinsey “had too much on his plate” as a face-saving measure.
But, on reflection, Fraser said, maybe they should have been more outspoken, because ignorance allowed the public to be manipulated by pier users, who have their own self-interests in mind.
“Maybe it’s good this is all coming out now,” Fraser said. “It helps correct the public record. Then, as now, the people at Pier Corp. were just doing their jobs. I’m tired of the nonsense that is thrown at our board and our staff.”
Going forward, the town meeting did act to make changes to the Pier Corp. Voters adopted an article to add an alternate to the board to vote on issues when a member, such as fisherman Beau Gribbin, must recuse himself due to a conflict of interest. And they voted to allow two pier users or stakeholders to serve as nonvoting advisers to the Pier Corp.
This was done at the suggestion of another new member, David Colton, a retired town administrator, who said stakeholders should be heard and included.
“I’m putting together a stakeholder engagement plan,” Colton said this week.
The Pier Corp. board, he said, has done good work. The members have been earnest, sincere, and competent, he said, but have not done well communicating with the public. “I want to get that information out to the public, the select board, the finance committee, and press,” he said, “so they understand what the Pier Corp. is trying to accomplish.”