What San Francisco needs from Muni's next boss

It seems fair to say that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s next executive director and CEO should be someone who is not Nathaniel Ford.

In what Muni officials and Ford describe as a mutual agreement, he is exiting his job as the highest-paid public official in San Francisco at the end of the month. Ford’s departure leaves the troubled transit agency in a particularly challenging phase. Muni faces a seemingly nonstop fiscal crisis and is falling far behind a growing backlog of needed capital spending. It is also just entering the enforcement stage of a highly contentious contract arbitration that could yet trigger wildcat strikes or courtroom rejections.

What Muni and its beleaguered riders need from their next transit-traffic-parking chief is a in-it-for-the-long-haul, 100 percent commitment to solving the problems. Success would require a long-term vision that translates into a practical plan for improvements — and the willingness to stay in San Francisco to see it through.

Especially imperative would be a strong leadership ability winning the trust of both rank-and-file Muni employees and the SFMTA board — most of whom Ford had obviously estranged by the end of his 5½ years here. To give credit where due, Ford did make Muni somewhat better — just not nearly better enough.

Not long after arriving from Atlanta, he made it all too clear he was strongly interested in using San Francisco as a stepping stone to some even-larger city’s better-paying transit post. The SFMTA board was discussing buying out his contract as early as March, while Ford eagerly pursued a job in Washington, D.C.

Regrettably, the board had just given him a three-year contract extension in January, so it was stuck paying him $384,000 of our taxpayer money to go quietly, including three months of a $3,000-per-month family health care policy. This comes at a time when Muni is balancing its $22 million deficit by making parking fees and monthly transit passes more expensive.

The last thing Muni needs is another out-of-town transit executive “star” who shows up here with one foot already out the door. So at least it is encouraging that the SFMTA board wants to find a local hire this time — someone with proven experience in successfully leading a Bay Area public agency, even if not necessarily a transit specialist.

The first replacement possibilities being floated include Ed Reiskin, chief of the San Francisco Department of Public Works; Phil Ginsburg, heading the Recreation and Park Department; and Carter Rohan, the SFMTA’s executive deputy director and interim boss. Reiskin deservedly seems like the early favorite. Ginsburg already announced he doesn’t want the job and Rohan spends a lot of time in Texas because his family lives there.

However, all three men appear to have the type of qualifications San Francisco needs for its Muni turnaround leader. If none of them get the job, it should be somebody like them.

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