ford_scooby.jpgAs you probably already know from reading the internet, SF MTA Executive Director Nathaniel Ford is hoping to leave our beleaguered (too many links to choose) agency for a job in Washington DC. Everyone who’s ever ridden Muni can probably think of reasons why he might want to leave a job that even after a recent pay cut keeps him one of SF’s best paid workers, but the Chron has another theory: Ford’s serious tax troubles might be forcing him to cash out and move on.

Ford, who as recently September, and again in January announced “I’m not going anywhere” (an irony unwasted on Muni riders), confirmed through a spokesperson that he has been vying for the top job at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority for, SFMTA Board Chair Tom Nolan told Streetsblog, “the last few months.”

According to the Ex, Ford’s the “favorite” for the job, which would put him in charge of running the two main airports In Washington, D.C., as well as a 23 mile transit extension being built from downtown DC to Dulles Airport.

The man some affectionately refer to as “Natty Tatty Ford” recently became vested in and eligible for SF’s benefits package once he hits retirement age.

But long before he can take part in SF’s lucrative pension plan, he needs to deal with the IRS — in an editorial entitled “How not to choose a executive” (ouch), The Washington Post reports that “(a)t least $75,000 in liens for unpaid taxes were filed against (Ford) last year by the IRS and the state of California.” (Double ouch!)

That tax issue, which according to the Chron’s Matier and Ross, dates back to 2007, includes a $13,000 state lien (which he has since paid) and a $63,341 federal lien (still outstanding).

How can a guy who’s making a base salary of $308,837, and who’s been voluntarily deferring incentive compensation be unable to pay his taxes? According to M&R, “the expenses from an unrented home in Atlanta where he used to work, the cost of putting two kids through college and big penalties for cashing in a tax annuity from his last job”
left Ford underwater.

Sources told the Post (you should read that article, it’s really interesting), and Nolan confirmed to the Chron that “the problem stemmed from compensation Ford anticipated but that didn’t come through.”

If Ford quit, M&R say, he’d “cash out with $80,000 in deferred compensation and unused vacation time,” MTA spokesperson Paul Rose confirmed, enough to pay off the IRS, with a smidge left over.

Ford’s expecting to hear if DC wants him around March 1. If he gets the gig, he’s supposed to stick around SF for about 45 more days, after which the SFMTA Board of Directors will (after a search) name his replacement.

Want more news, sent to your inbox every day? Then how about subscribing to our email newsletter? Here’s why we think you should. Come on, give it a try.

the author

Eve Batey is the editor and publisher of the San Francisco Appeal. She used to be the San Francisco Chronicle's Deputy Managing Editor for Online, and started at the Chronicle as their blogging and interactive editor. Before that, she was a co-founding writer and the lead editor of SFist. She's been in the city since 1997, presently living in the Outer Sunset with her husband, cat, and dog. You can reach Eve at

Please make sure your comment adheres to our comment policy. If it doesn't, it may be deleted. Repeat violations may cause us to revoke your commenting privileges. No one wants that!