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

A staffer for State Senator Leland Yee 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: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/transportationcamp/5540205425/in/photostream##transportation camp##

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.

  • Might also point out that $384,000 could pay for a right-turn camera at Octavia, except that Yee opposes.them.

  • Anonymous

    Not surprising – after making a big deal about it, Yee couldn’t show up to the meeting on time. Proof once again that he’s all talk at election time but if Mayor, would be another Newsom – maybe worse. He opposed the teardown of the Embarcadero freeway, and worse, as a legislator voted for the illegal looting of Muni and all transit agencies across the state. The only thing Yee knows to do with a bus is to throw people under them when it’s politically expedient.

  • Stuart Chuang Matthews

    No city employee should be paid more than, say, $200k.

  • Dave

    Ha! I’m glad this article criticized Yee for putting cars first in his example, as he’s perhaps the most anti-transit-first among the leading candidates for Mayor. But look how far we’ve come! He mentioned bike lanes! That’s progress my friends.

  • Masonic will be the death….

    I can’t say yet how my ranked choice ballot will look, but I can give my ranked choice for who I won’t be voting for:
    1, Leland Yee
    2, Joanna Rees
    3, Michela Alioto-Pier

    Yee is a protectionist and apologist for red light violators, who tried to spin intersection cameras (that have extremely limited legal use) into the start of a surveillance state. Which is just down right disingenuous, and sad on Yee’s part. I lost any trust in him on that day. He also seems to have his head stuck firmly in the mid 20th (50’s) century when it comes to the transit needs of our city. Way to pander to to the CAA, and AAA Yee. I hope all those campaign funds they gave you don’t work out.

    Pier and Rees are much the same, but from them it is to be expected as they pander to the rightest leaning San Franciscans, and both are more fringe candidates.

  • Masonic will be the death….

    I am glad I am not the only one with this etched in my memory. I hope that SFBC and every ped./bike group reminds their members of this fact.

  • The head of the MTA is responsible for a $800 million operating budget, several hundred million dollars in yearly capital expenditures, thousands of employees, and over a million daily users (you have to include peds, bicyclists, drivers, and taxi users too). Do you really think it would be to limit their salary such that a truly capable leader wouldn’t accept the job?

  • We the people of SFMTA

    debra johnson…get serious!


    Debra Johnson is a joke! She was previously a Board Secretary and is being considered for the top spot.  I would loose total respect for this board if they mention her name again!



  • Chris Talbert


  • Carol Baldwin

    several staff has stated they will sign a petition against the appointment of DEBRA JOHNSON.

  • staff – or TWU?

  • mikesonn

    Talk about some spam. Can we get an IP check on those names? No way did 4 separate people all write the same thing within 5 min on a Friday evening.

  • Richard Smalls

    She does not have the experience to run the SFMTA it don’t matter who sent it in.  SFMTA Board of Directors has disappointed the staff…Morale is extra low since her appointment.

  • ExasperatedSFcitizen

    Give it a rest and take these useless comments back to SFGate, please.


Can Nat Ford Keep His Job as SFMTA Executive Director?

Now that it appears unlikely SFMTA Executive Director/CEO Nat Ford is headed to D.C., the focus turns to whether the veteran transit professional can keep his job in San Francisco. While no one we spoke to at City Hall was willing to publicly talk about whether Ford should stay or go, there is a growing […]

Mayor Outlines SFMTA Chief Qualifications as List of Candidates Narrows

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 […]

Decision Appears Imminent on SFMTA Chief Nat Ford’s Future

The Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority Board of Directors is scheduled to meet tomorrow beginning at 8 a.m. EST to decide whether to hire SFMTA Chief Nat Ford as its chief executive, according a spokesperson for the agency. If recent coverage in the Washington Post is any indication, there’s no guarantee Ford has the job. Ford, […]

SFMTA to Name Bond Yee as Sustainable Streets Director

Yee at a press conference recently celebrating the Valencia Streetscape Improvement Project. Photo: Bryan Goebel. Bond Yee, a veteran traffic engineer who has spent thirty years designing and managing San Francisco’s streets, will be named to fill the recently created Sustainable Streets Director position permanently, Streetsblog has learned. Yee was appointed interim director of the […]

Leland Yee’s Downfall No Loss for Livable Streets

Now that State Senator Leland Yee has been arrested on charges of accepting bribes to facilitate trafficking of illegal firearms from a militia group in the Philippines, it’s probably a safe bet that his political career is over. State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has called for Yee’s resignation in light of the FBI’s charges. Yee […]