Today the board of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is scheduled to vote on whether to approve the first salary increase and bonus for Executive Director Nathaniel Ford, who has been The City’s highest-paid municipal employee since taking over Muni in January 2006 at an annual salary of $298,000. The Examiner’s stance on executive compensation bonusesor major pay raises has been simple and consistent, whether for corporate managers or public administrators: Compensation should be tied to performance, specifically to attaining improved results.
By contract, Ford is entitled to an annual performance review at the end of each fiscal year, a salary hike of no less than the annual cost-of-living increase and a bonus of up to 10 percent of his salary. That package could total at least $42,000 this year, a 14 percent pay boost. Ford already had his 2007 review and
we see no problem with his mandated cost-of-living raise, which at 4.4 percent gives him $13,112, according to the Bay Area Consumer Price Index.
However, the question that should be asked about his possible 10 percent bonus of $29,800 is: Are average Muni riders 10 percent happier with their bus and light-rail service now? And the answer is already known to be “no.” According to the April report of the city services auditor, residents gave the public transportation system a C-minus for timeliness.
Therefore, The Examiner suggests that Ford has not earned any “merit bonus” or a raise larger than the cost of living. To clarify, we do not think Nathaniel Ford is doing a bad job. On the whole, we actually rate him as more energetic and effective than his predecessors, more capable of seeing the big picture and seriously attempting to revamp Muni’s bloated morass of bureaucratic practices.
But having now given credit where credit is due, it must also be said that Muni’s 70 percent on-time rate remains exactly what it was in 2002. And this spring’s full-time debut of the Bayview T-Third line resulted in a major foul-up that made a shambles of the entire downtown light-rail schedule for several weeks.
Admittedly, San Francisco’s congested streets plus the entrenched inefficiencies of Muni practices and City Hall oversight make The City’s most-used transit system extremely resistant to improvement. And during the T-Third meltdown, Ford deserved respect for his nonstop efforts to get out on the rail line and fix the problem.
We truly are rooting for Ford to make a genuine impact in creating a better Muni for the people of San Francisco. If and when he does, we will be the first to call for giving him a substantial merit bonus. But for now, it seems that meeting real improvement goals has to come before getting paid for it.