Mayor Outlines SFMTA Chief Qualifications as List of Candidates Narrows

Mayor Lee on SFGov TV during question and answer time yesterday.

The future CEO and executive director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) should be a visionary who can focus on implementing a labor agreement with transit operators, improve Muni reliability, make more taxis available, focus on pedestrian safety and expand bike facilities, Mayor Ed Lee told the Board of Supervisors yesterday.

“There is not just one person that can lead the MTA. It’s got to be a very dedicated team. I also want to make sure that the person exhibits a high level of collaboration,” Lee said during question and answer time. He was responding to a question from District 4 Supervisor Carmen Chu.

Lee’s mention of Muni centered around meeting on-time performance, a feat that has seemed impossible since San Francisco voters first passed the 85 percent on-time mandate in 1999. He mentioned the labor agreement first and reliability and on-time performance second.

“Even the on-time performance is not just Muni alone. There are so many other entities that affect the streets,” he said. “We also want to make sure that someone has the ability and the willingness to…build relationships with everybody and strong relationships with its own workforce.”

This week, SFMTA Chair Tom Nolan, who has said that he would prefer someone local, began sifting through the resumes of more than 30 people who have applied for the job since the agency begin accepting applications three weeks ago. Ed Reiskin, the head of the Department of Public Works, is seen as the inside favorite, but sources told Streetsblog that Transportation Authority Executive Director José Luis Moscovich, SFMTA Transit Director John Haley and Acting SFMTA Chief Debra Johnson have also applied for the job.

The SFMTA Board is charged with naming the head of the agency, but no doubt the Mayor will exercise significant influence. Nolan told Streetsblog that directors have given him the authority to narrow the list of candidates, and he expects that up to four top picks will be interviewed in closed session at the board’s regular meeting Tuesday. However, Nolan said directors will not vote on a candidate at that time, but would aim to have someone in place by September 1.

“We have to do some kind of background checks on people, especially if we don’t know the person, and also references. And then there’s the matter of negotiations. We might pick someone who we think is just wonderful and that person might have a different idea of what the compensation should be,” said Nolan, who predicted the salary “won’t be cheap,” and should be comparable to what transit directors are making at other agencies.

SFDPW Chief Ed Reiskin is seen as the inside favorite to head the SFMTA. Photo: San Francisco Water

Former CEO Nat Ford, who was asked to leave the agency July 1 after a five-year stint, was among the city’s highest-paid employees, earning more than $300,000 a year. He was given a $384,000 severance package, which was blasted  as a golden parachute by several critics, including State Senator and mayoral candidate Leland Yee.

The speedy process of picking Ford’s replacement has drawn scrutiny from Supervisor John Avalos, who feels things are moving too quickly. In an interview with Streetsblog, Avalos said there should be a more robust public discussion about what kind of person “we want to see in there.” He thinks Reiskin is a “great public servant” but that other candidates should be given serious consideration.

“I don’t just want him to be considered as the heir apparent. I think there should be a process and it should be a thorough process and one that is at the national level,” Avalos said. “I’m not sure we’re giving it enough time to make that happen.”

Nolan said he is consulting with several transit advocates and community groups, and has asked for feedback from a broad spectrum of people, including Avalos and his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors.

“We’ve invited all kinds of stakeholders to tell us what they think. We’ve sent out a fairly elaborate questionnaire to all MTA employees, to a number of the interest groups,” including the San Francisco Bike Coalition, Walk SF, disabled and senior groups, and others, said Nolan. There’s also an online “employee and stakeholder survey.”

District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener said given the uncertainty at the SFMTA, it was better that the board make a decision as soon as possible.

“I’m not saying rush at the expense of having the best candidate you can have, but I think there are a number of very good candidates that have surfaced and in my view the sooner the better,” he said.