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Monday, November 26, 2007

Like a Rock (Star): Muni Chief Ford’s Gargantuan Raise Puts Him Among Nation's Very Highest Paid

Posted By on Mon, Nov 26, 2007 at 7:25 AM

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Is Nathaniel Ford worth $336K? Is anyone?

By Joe Eskenazi

Don’t you just love it when you get one of those $38,000 pay spikes? Personally, it’s right up there on my list of favorite things, way higher than raindrops on roses and perhaps even better than whiskers on kittens.

Muni Director Nathaniel Ford enjoyed one of those magical moments last week, when he received a $17,000 raise in base pay on top of a $20,860 bonus, pushing his overall compensation to $336,000 a year. That’s the highest of any city employee – and enough money to buy a Muni FastPass every month until the year 2630.

For the average San Franciscan – hell, for the average Earth dweller -- $336,000 seems like … how to put this best … a metric shit load of money. True, it would have made him last year’s lowest-paid San Francisco Giant, but among his colleagues directing big city transportation agencies, it’s very nearly the largest contract in the nation:

The Chicago Transit Authority’s newly installed head, Ron Huberman, earns $197,000 a year; Daniel Grabauskas, the general manager of Boston’s MBTA draws ...

$255,000 and Washington D.C. honcho John Catoe, Jr. pulls down around $300,000 a year.

Finaly, Elliot “Lee” Sander, the CEO of New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority – a system serving nearly 12.5 times Muni’s daily riders (8.3 million to Muni's 668,000) -- earns $340,000.

Clearly, one need not be Alan Dershowitz to make the case that Ford’s raise was premature and excessive. Muni hasn’t come close to alleviating most of the glitches revealed in a truly scathing 2005 analysis by San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (you can read a good summary of SPUR’s Muni beatdown here at SFist).

Also, in a truly ill-timed statement, Mayor Gavin Newsom last week said it would be “unrealistic” for Muni to achieve on-time goals – just in time for Ford to receive a huge raise.

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Finally, Ford presents an image to the public that’s about as cuddly as a cactus. SF Weekly’s own John Geluardi revealed that Ford issued a dictum to Muni employees “advising staffers that should they be fortunate enough to encounter the executive director's personage in the hallways, elevators or bathrooms, they were not to speak to him unless first spoken to. The directive was issued, according to several staffers, after Mr. Ford — as he prefers to be called — paid a visit to the bathroom and some misguided employee violated his sense of lavatory sensibilities by trying to make small talk.”

Blowing off voter-mandated on-time performance standards, earning an astronomical salary and projecting a “Let them eat cake (but not on Muni)” attitude to the public can make those 37 minute waits for the No. 22 especially galling. And it's hard to justify why Ford should make $336K because it's hard to justify why anyone should make $336K.

In Ford’s defense, however, a stellar report by my colleague Benjamin Wachs reveals Muni is hampered by several truly paradoxical hurdles that lead to rampant inefficiency.

And, let’s face it, directing a massive transportation agency is not as simple as kicking a ball into an empty net. Despite the oft-repeated refrain, even Mussolini could not get Italy’s rail service to run on time (despite having considerably more authority than Nathaniel Ford).

Incidentally, Mussolini treated himself to a higher equivalent salary than Ford’s as well – though Il Duce’s severance package was one of the least generous in history: His severed body was paraded through the streets of Rome.

Illustration | Aaron Farmer

Photo | Courtesy of http://shooter.net/index.php

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Bio:
Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

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