ford_scooby.jpgAfter the widespread ire directed at Muni head Nat Ford for very publicly entering into negotiations to take over Washington D.C.’s Airport Authority, there’s doubtlessly going to be more than a bit of citywide schadenfreude in the discovery that, not only has he been passed over for the position, but he was reportedly informed of the decision through text message. Meanwhile at home, as SFMTA’s governing board considers trying to buy Ford out of his lucrative contract, scrutiny of Muni’s budget continues to grow.

According to the Chron, the DC Airport Authority, which oversees both of the D.C. area’s airports, sent Ford a text telling him they were putting their offer on hold, then another “telling him that Washington was starting a whole new search – effectively leaving both him and Muni in limbo.”

Maybe the message said something like, “we wnt 2 c other ppl.”

It looks like D.C. chose to ignore transit blogger Akit’s delightfully tongue-in-cheek letter asking to them hire Ford and take him off of our collective hands.

Ford has come under intense criticism for spending his energy (and vacation days) looking for a new job instead of focusing on solving the beleaguered transit agency’s multitude of woes.

“The MTA is facing a lot of challenges, from labor negotiations to the Central Subway,” Mayor Ed Lee told the Chron, “We need leadership at the top that is 150 percent focused on the tasks at hand, both short term and in the long run.”

The uproar over Ford’s possible defection to the East Coast, along with the revelation that he owed $70,000 in back taxes, has reportedly lead SFMFTA to begin a tentative search for his replacement. The chorus of calls for Ford’s ousting has grown so overwhelming, that the agency is considering buying out the remainder of his contract to the tune of nearly $400,000.

With Ford’s decamping to the nation’s capital looking increasingly unlikely, the buyout may be the best option SFMTA has to provide Muni with some much needed new leadership. That said, the prospect of an expensive, high-profile buyout couldn’t come at a worse time for the agency. This year, Muni is facing a $21 million budget deficit and plans to raise revenue by increasing enforcement of parking violations have fallen far short of expectations. The agency is looking at a long-term shortfall of well over a billion dollars and is under pressure to preform some expensive, yet much-needed, repairs on many of its facilities.

A buyout would also be a big thorn in the side of Muni’s management in their increasingly bitter ongoing negotiations with the operators union. Convincing the approximately 2,000 operators to take a pay cut or a decrease in benefits will be made much more difficult after shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars to a senior executive essentially resigning in disgrace.

The operator’s union is in the process of suing the city to invalidate certain provisions of Measure G. Passed by voters last year, the measure says that, should contract negotiations between the operators and management fall though, a final decision would be reached by an independent arbiter. The union argues that the wording of the measure essentially prohibits the arbiter from ruling in the union’s favor.

Board of Supervisors President and current mayoral aspirant, David Chiu is setting Muni squarely in his sights. Chiu is calling for a hearing for Muni to, “provide us with an update on their budget, on ongoing labor negotiations, on the agency’s priorities across all modes – pedestrian, bicycling, taxis and cars – as well as a report on key performance indicators such as recent customer surveys and on-time performance data from the agency’s service standards.”

If Ford is still the face of Muni at the time of the hearing, and into the campaign season beyond, it’s inevitable that the deeply unpopular transit chief will quickly become a political hot potato. If he gets canned from Muni before that happens, let’s hope that SFMTA officials have the courtesy to tell him to his face.

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