Why Nathaniel Ford Failed Muni, the SFMTA, and You, the Owner/Rider

By now the news about Mr. Ford’s departure is the news heard ’round the SF Interwebs. Read all about the news at SFGate, the SF Weekly, the Bay Citizen, and more. This didn’t come as a complete surprise – there were indications the only reason Ford was sticking around as long as he did was due to the contentious nature of the recent negotiations concluded with TWU Local 250A.
Ford’s recent behavior made it clear he was on the way out – from the many, many weeks out of town looking for a job, to the public dance he did with the airport authority in DC (all on the taxpayer dime). This, while he was the highest paid public official, no less, while employees were being asked to give up pay and benefits during a recession. Way to inspire morale, Mr. Ford.
It’s a tad ironic that Mr. Ford is leaving in June, in that this month marks the sixth anniversary (!) of the blog. For almost the entire time I’ve been writing this, Mr. Ford has been the CEO of the SFMTA. While I, like many, was willing to give him the benefit of an open mind when he started, I was one of the first to question the sanity of paying someone big pay with a contract that allowed him to get paid no matter how good or bad a job he did. (for almost all posts mentioning Mr. Ford, click this link)
Now, to be fair, one of Muni’s biggest problems – a lack of money to adequately fund a functioning system – can’t and shouldn’t be blamed on Ford. It’s not his fault that Governor Schwarzenegger and Democrats in the Legislature looted the state transit fund to all transit agencies. However, it is his fault he went along with former Mayor Newsom’s looting of the agency to fund other departments via reasoning that would make any rational thinking adult say “What the f*ck?”
In fact, the true reason Ford has failed as the CEO of the SFMTA is because in the end, he never was the CEO, despite the big salary, mortgage, pension and benefits. Ford was nothing more than a puppet for the former Mayor, who reveled in soundbite politics, gimmicky programs, and using Muni as an ATM machine for departments more valuable to him politically.
Ford never once stood up to Newsom, while at the same time grinding down moral with his blend of authoritarianism and non-management. Ford (along with his easily intimidated colleagues on previous MTA Boards) were easily intimidated by Newsom staffers and the Mayor himself, to keep valid local revenue options off the table.
In the end, despite spending millions on the Transit Effectiveness Project to build a better Muni, he instead used it to make cuts. When my colleague Joe Eskenazi and I called bullshit on Muni’s downward spiral, he called us liars – but when challenged could not refute a single thing we said. Instead he screamed and yelled at his staff. And so on. He just never stepped up and did the job that he was so well paid for. Instead, he either didn’t care or didn’t perform.
However, now that he’s leaving, we as the owners and riders of Muni need to take some responsibility too. We cannot allow an opportunity to bring in inspirational and competent leadershpi to a major city department get pissed away by politics and the typical San Francsico foolishness that often governs these decisions.
It’s our Muni – let’s make sure that the Supervisors, the new SFMTA Board and our temporary Mayor understand it’s not time for games or who knows who – let’s get the best of the best and start a new chapter in Muni history.

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3 Responses to Why Nathaniel Ford Failed Muni, the SFMTA, and You, the Owner/Rider

  1. Missiondweller says:

    I absolutely agree we must take responsibility. The question is, who makes the next hiring decision?
    As Muni riders we need to express our desire that a track record of competence should be the number one factor in choosing the next person. In addition, as you stated, pay must be tied to performance. And perhaps Muni could save money by cutting the pay by $100k.

  2. david vartanoff says:

    Not only should the replacement be paid less, early severance should also be MUCH lower.

  3. OK corral says:

    SF Examiner scores w/headline “N-Judas.” This guy Ford is the King-of-all-MuniJudas’.
    SF Memo to Judas Ford: Just take your gold coins and go.

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