On an unbridged island such as Ocracoke, the ferry service is our lifeline, and it is crucial that those in governmental leadership positions understand this.
That’s why many islanders sighed in relief Aug. 14 when the N.C. DOT Ferry Division’s new director, Harold Thomas, made a visit to the island his first day as chief.
Thomas is a 25-year Ferry Division veteran, having joined the agency at the lowest level and worked his way up to the top.
Indeed, Thomas had been the director for four years (2010 to 2014) when he was demoted by then-Gov. Pat McCrory to a deputy position in favor of Ed Goodwin, a former Chowan County commissioner and former NICIS agent with no background in ferry service.
Due to Thomas’s decades of working in the Ferry Division, he knows the operation and how important this transportation service is to Ocracoke.
A coastal North Carolinian who has been around water all his life, his passion is the ferry operation. This is the crucial attitude needed to run such a complicated governmental agency.
During that first visit, by his words and attitude, Thomas conveyed the importance of public service, saying he wants to help and “to do a lot of listening” on how to improve the system. With him were Jed Dixon, who filled in ably as interim director since the end of January has resumed his position as the Ferry Division’s deputy director and Chris Bock, superintendent of operations at Hatteras. They appeared to be a strong team.
Rudy Austin, a retired Ferry Division captain and president of the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association, is among those who are happy with this turn of events.
“I’m tickled to death to have someone to sit down and talk with and solve our problems,” he said.
Thomas has the same attitude exhibited by David Hallac, superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, which owns about 90 percent of Ocracoke Island.
Hallac made a good first impression on his first visit to the island in 2014. With a “how-can-I-help” attitude, he has done much to diminish the “us vs. them” wariness that many islanders have regarding the Parks Service.
Both Thomas and Hallac are dedicated to making their agencies the best they can be.
Ocracoke is a unique place that has a double marriage—to the ferry service and the National Park Service. That these two agencies have excellent leaders is crucial for the island in so many ways.
We applaud the return of Thomas to the leadership of the Ferry Division, and our hope is that his return will repair the acrimony engendered by the prior leadership and return the N.C. Ferry Division to the esteem and level of service of prior years.