DC transit agency likely to pass on hiring SFMTA's Nathaniel Ford 

Defying expectations, a Washington, D.C., airport authority declined to name Nathaniel Ford its executive director Wednesday, leaving the status of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s chief in limbo and raising questions about whether the SFMTA needs a leader more committed to The City’s transportation system.

For the past month, Ford has been rumored to be the leading candidate to become executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. It was widely believed he would be named to the post Wednesday. The authority’s board declined to make a decision, however, attributing the delay to the addition of three new board members.

Tom Nolan, the chair of the SFMTA’s board of directors, said the Washington agency reopened its national search for a new leader later that day, a development that almost certainly eliminates Ford from contention. But authority officials would not confirm that.

Consequently, the SFMTA board now plans to discuss Ford’s job status Tuesday. Nolan, who has repeatedly offered his support for Ford throughout the rumors, said the board will discuss Ford’s employment with him in a closed session.

“We’re going to talk with him about what he wants and what’s best for the agency,” said Nolan, who criticized the Washington agency’s decision to hold off on hiring Ford. “Obviously, this uncertainty can’t go on forever.”

Rafael Cabrera, the president of the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents Muni operators, questioned Ford’s commitment to the SFMTA.

“You really have to question where his heart is right now,” Cabrera said. “How can you trust someone to run an agency as big as Muni when they’re constantly looking for a new job?”

Some SFMTA observers, who declined to speak on the record, suggested the board should buy out Ford’s contract and begin searching for a new transit chief. Ford makes $308,000 a year and has a contract through Jan. 16, 2014.

Ford is actually in Washington this week, lobbying federal officials for support of local projects. He said he didn’t know what would come next in the Washington agency’s search for a new executive director.

“My commitment is with the SFMTA, and I will remain focused on the agency until something changes,” Ford said.

Any decisions about his status would be made by the seven-person SFMTA board. Nolan said Mayor Ed Lee supports the board in whatever decision it makes.

The uncertainty about Ford comes at a crucial time for the agency. SFpark, an innovative parking meter strategy that has been lauded nationally, is set to launch next month. Meanwhile, construction has started on the $1.6 billion Central Subway project, recent Muni service cuts have yet to be fully restored, and negotiations over work rules and employee pay have begun between management and the operators union.

The union recently sued to prevent the implementation of Proposition G, a voter-backed measure that gave management unprecedented leverage to negotiate with its operators.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

A history of looking

In recent years, SFMTA head Nathaniel Ford has been rumored to be in the running for several top transit positions across the country. Where he’s been linked to:

- New York City
- Los Angeles
- Washington, D.C.
- Houston

Source: Published reports

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Will Reisman

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