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Muni oversight board to nominate new leadership as group calls for ouster

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The SFMTA Board of Directors is set to vote on a new chair and vice chair next week. (Kevin Kelleher/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The transportation oversight board that oversees San Francisco’s Muni system — and hires and fires its executive director — is set to see a shakeup in its leadership.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors is poised to vote among its members for a new chair and vice chair next week, the agency confirmed. The move comes during a time of great scrutiny for the agency.

Yet even as the board is on the cusp of reshuffling its seats, one vocal democratic club is calling for drastic change, citing sexual harassment scandals at the transit agency and poor Muni service for riders.

The co-presidents of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, an influential political group in the local LGBT community, called on Mayor London Breed to oust its longest standing directors in a letter

The letter cites the summer Muni meltdown, ongoing Muni train “switchbacks,” and an agency contractor laying 3 miles of the wrong type of steel track as mounting grievances that it lays on the shoulders of the current SFMTA board.

The SFMTA board “has proven itself to be ineffective,” the Toklas club wrote, and those who have been serving four years or more — four out of the seven current members — “should step down to make room for new leadership” who have “more of a stake in the agency’s success.”

The letter noted those directors could fire SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin, who Breed herself put on notice with her own scathing letter earlier this year.

The Toklas club said it was “extremely dismayed to see that since then, transit director John Haley was able to quietly retire with high praise from Director Reiskin amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment and verbal abuse that was apparently a poorly-kept secret inside the agency for quite some time.”

While many groups have called out SFMTA recently, Toklas is a Democratic Club with some clout in elections where Mayor London Breed would also have a stake. The Mayor’s Office confirmed it would meet with the Toklas club to hear its members concerns.

While current members of the SFMTA board also did not respond to requests for comment, Tom Nolan, former chair of the SFMTA Board of Directors, said its a more limited job than people think.

It’s a mostly volunteer position with a modest stipend of about $200 a month, he added.

As for Reiskin, Nolan said he believes in the SFMTA director.

“I think he’s very smart. I think he’s done a great job through the years,” Nolan said.

There is precedent for a clean sweep of the SFMTA board, Nolan added. In 2007 then-mayor Gavin Newsom asked all board commissioners and directors to resign as a show of loyalty, so he could reappoint or re-hire who he wished.

“He did accept the resignations, at that time, three of them on the MTA board,” Nolan recalled.

Cheryl Brinkman is now board chair, but a vote to take place next week is expected by some insiders to see long-time taxi industry supporter and SFMTA board vice-chair Malcolm Heinicke take the reins as chair.

Heinicke, who has served on the board since 2008, has often been the voice for the ailing taxi industry, but is also known as a pragmatist who weighs both drivers and transit options.

“Drivers are people too,” he argued last September when asking SFMTA staff to reach out to local drivers while planning a pedestrian safety project.

Gwyneth Borden, another SFMTA board director and head of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, is expected to be voted in as vice-chair. She also is seen by some insiders as a vote to possibly oust Reiskin, the SFMTA director.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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