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SFMTA Board Approves Ford’s Severance, Announces Call for Applicants

A staffer for State Senator Leland presents signatures to the SFMTA Board opposing Nat Ford's severance package.

In a unanimous vote, the SFMTA Board of Directors this afternoon approved a $384,000 severance package for outgoing Executive Director/CEO Nat Ford, and announced that the agency will accept applications for the top job until July 1, when he is scheduled to depart.

The vote came without any discussion among board members. The only person to testify against the payout was a staffer for State Senator and mayoral candidate Leland Yee, who said he was presenting 1,200 signatures to the board from San Francisco voters opposing what the campaign has been calling a golden parachute.

Yee showed up at City Hall after the meeting to tell reporters he was disappointed with the vote.

"This is not really about Nat Ford. It's about the MTA commission," Yee said. "The fact that they arranged this particular deal whereby someone who is now going to get this humongous amount of money, and at the same time, we're looking at not enough money to provide for the basic services for many riders throughout San Francisco. It's rather disheartening."

Yee has been claiming that with $384,000 "the entire city of San Francisco could park free of charge for 3 days. Or MUNI could be entirely free for a whole day. Or we could stripe 7 miles of new bike lanes.”

Yee's figures might resonate with some voters, but they don't exactly add up. Considering Muni has 700,000 daily boardings, $384,000 would not cover a free day of Muni, nor would it cover 3 days of free parking considering the SFMTA generates about $200 million in annual parking revenue.

Numbers aside, Yee's press releases mention free parking before free transit, a troubling sign that he thinks good public relations is pandering to drivers, despite the city's Transit First policy. Yee has also voted with state legislators to cut funding for Muni, and other Bay Area transit agencies.

Deputy Director Carter Rohan Resigns

Carter Rohan at Transportation Camp, sponsored by Streetsblog's parent non-profit, OpenPlans. Photo:

The agency was caught by surprise this morning when Carter Rohan, the deputy director, announced his resignation. Carter had been seen as a possible replacement for Ford, and has been at the agency for 5 and a half years.

In an interview with Streetsblog, Rohan said he made the decision with his wife over the weekend, and was officially leaving for "personal reasons." It apparently had nothing to do with the rumor that Ed Reiskin, the head of the San Francisco Department of Public Works, has emerged as the favorite to replace Ford.

Despite the recent turmoil at the top, Rohan said he believed SFMTA staff was enduring the changes well, and that morale was not down because of the uncertainty.

"We've got some of the best professionals in the industry in this agency," Rohan said. "It's mired with political connections and problems, and being a city department, and not an authority like most agencies around the U.S., but it survives and it survives because of the people."

Rohan will remain with the agency as interim executive director until July 22.

Call for Applications

After today's meeting, SFMTA Board Chair Tom Nolan announced the agency would open up the applications process, and consider candidates from outside San Francisco, even though a number of board members continued to indicate it should be a San Franciscan.

"Personally, I would hope to see someone who is wedded to the city. Someone who believes in the city, and for whom the city is sentimental," Director Joél Ramos told Streetsblog. "We're a visionary city. We've got visionary people here and I'm looking forward to the opportunity."

"Two of the things I'm looking for are someone who can be a good day to day manager and at the same time inspire the core of our agency, which is of course our workforce," said Director Malcolm Heinicke.

Nolan said the agency was not considering hiring a firm to conduct a nationwide search. He said the board would hold a special meeting July 19th to tackle hiring a replacement, and that he would appoint a subcommittee to hash out a contract with the new director, something he believed was required by the city charter.

Ford is one of the city's highest paid employees. His salary this year, after a small pay cut, was $315,000. As the Bay Citizen pointed out, the city was not required to pay Ford a severance, but the directors opted to to avoid a potential lawsuit and because “he's done a very good job under extremely difficult circumstances.”

Nolan was asked today what the salary should be for the next SFMTA chief.

"The job deserves a really good salary because it's a 24/7 thing, for sure," Nolan told reporters. "Even when Nat was out of town, he was texting all the time, and emailing and was never very far away. It really is that kind of job where you're called in the middle of the night, you know, if there's an accident or something happens, and you need to pay for the right person to do that."

If the board does not name a permanent replacement by the time Rohan leaves, Nolan said SFMTA Sustainable Streets Director Bond Yee, or SFMTA Director of Administration Debra Johnson would step into the role on a temporary basis.

"It behooves us to act as quickly and responsibly as we can to fill it," Nolan said.

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