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SF Muni Chief Nate Ford Gets Nearly $400,000 'Golden Parachute'

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- After months of speculation that the head of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency was looking to leave, executive director Nathaniel Ford confirmed Wednesday night that he would depart the agency by month's end - two and a half years before his contract's end - with a severance package totaling nearly $400,000.

The decision to part ways was mutual, according to Tom Nolan, chairman of the MTA's Board of Directors.

"A series of things came together. The bottom line is it's a good time for him and a good time for us," Nolan said.

Ford, who joined the SFMTA as its CEO in 2006, will receive a separation package of $384,000 that includes a year's salary, deferred compensation and unused vacation time.

Some lawmakers, like state Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) who is also a mayoral candidate, were quick to blast what they called a "golden parachute" for Ford.

"I am deeply disappointed that MTA would approve a nearly $400,000 golden parachute for an outgoing city executive," Yee reacted. "At a time when our budget is cutting critical services... we can ill-afford to be paying excessive payouts to administrators who are no longer working for the public."

The embattled Ford, whose commitment to overseeing the city's public transportation agency had been questioned in recent months after highly-publicized accounts of job search efforts elsewhere, defended his record.

"Did I accomplish everything I set out to do? No, but I think that I'm leaving the agency in much better shape than I found it," Ford said late Wednesday.

Recent developments at the agency include a new, binding three-year contract between the SFMTA and the San Francisco Municipal Railway transit operators' union and progress with planning and securing funding for the Central Subway project.

"A great deal of action has been taken care of, or are on task," Ford said.

Ford said that he did not yet have another job lined up, and planned to spend time with friends and family while evaluating his options.

His departure was set to be certified at the MTA's regularly scheduled board meeting next Tuesday.

Mayor Ed Lee, who in a statement issued Wednesday night thanked Ford for his leadership and service to the city and the SFMTA, did not mention the severance package and instead stressed the need for the city to move forward.

"Now is the time to focus on the future of the SFMTA and continue to make good on our promise to San Francisco transit riders and taxpayers," he said.

Lee said the city's transit system needed to streamlined and on-time performance improved -- a voter-mandated target that Muni consistently misses.

The MTA's board will be charged with selecting Ford's successor, and Lee said he expected the board would scrutinize candidates to ensure that the agency continues the city's "efforts to build the best public transit system for all San Franciscans."

Should the board not have Ford's replacement lined up before June 30, the agency's first deputy executive director, Carter Rohan, would become the interim executive director.

As for the qualifications the candidate should possess, Nolan said the board was searching for someone who is familiar with both the city and the agency.

"We all want as seamless a transition as possible," Nolan said. "I think we have plenty of local talent to look at."

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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