No advantage to forming a new tall-ships group

On Oct. 28, John Johnson announced his resignation as chairman of OpSail Connecticut. The organization was floundering. Plans to sign a deal designating New London as a port of call for a tall ships event in 2020 had run aground over details of funding and contractual obligations. Departures from the organization had left the executive committee with a skeleton crew.

“It was time for me to step down,” Johnson told The Day. “New leadership has to make a commitment to the tall ships event — or not. It should be in the hands of a new chairman.”

All true. Johnson’s work in bringing maritime-themed events to the city deserves praise. Back in 1999 then-Gov. John G. Rowland appointed Johnson to organize what turned into the successful OpSail 2000 event that brought a flotilla of tall ships to the New London port, attracting hundreds of thousands of spectators. He then oversaw a smaller, but still successful OpSail 2012 event and, in recent years, the group has hosted the annual Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival.

But there comes a time to change captains, and Johnson appeared to recognize that time had come. A consensus could not be reached on the details of hosting the 2020 event and the fresh perspective of new leadership appears necessary to lay a course all can agree on.

Why then did Johnson, a day later, announce plans to form a new nonprofit organization to pursue the 2020 event, calling it “Tall Ships New London 2020”? He said he envisioned it as functioning under the umbrella of the Tall Ships America organization that is managing the 2020 event with plans to make port in New London in June.

“It would allow me to come back in and play a role,” Johnson told the newspaper.

It appears Johnson is having trouble exiting the deck of this particular ship. New London can sail forward with a tall-ships event under new leadership and Johnson should recognize that trying to create a second organization, after failing to find a consensus with the existing one, will not be helpful.

This will require the administration of Mayor Michael Passero to step up and help get things back on course. In that regard, it was good to hear the mayor say he has already been in talks with Tall Ships America and is committed to getting the tall ships here for their tentatively scheduled arrival June 11-15. The mayor says OpSail appears in the process of regrouping and he anticipates it partnering with the city to make the event happen. The Tall Ships America group is also talking positively about keeping New London in its itinerary.

This can be worked out without introducing a new organization into the discussions.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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