SAN FRANCISCO / Taxi board fires Newsom-named director / Lame-duck panel dumps top staffer in surprise move
In the middle of the night and without giving a reason, the San Francisco Taxicab Commission fired Mayor Gavin Newsom's handpicked director who has a reputation for being tough on the cab industry.
The Wednesday morning firing of Heidi Machen was quickly assailed by her supporters, including Newsom, who said she was singled out for enforcing laws aimed at keeping cab companies honest.
Machen previously worked as an aide to Newsom when he was a member of the Board of Supervisors and was appointed by him to the Taxi Commission post last year.
"In my view, it's a case of the taxi industry running over the executive director," said Mark Gruberg, a spokesman for United Taxicab Workers, an advocacy group for drivers. "They do not want to have a person like Heidi who at long last was enforcing the laws and rules and regulations that govern the industry."
The 4-2 vote to fire Machen followed an eight-hour meeting, including a three-hour closed-door session, and ended at 2 a.m. with her immediate termination.
All six commissioners who serve on the board at Newsom's pleasure are currently working under expired terms, which fueled criticism of the mayor on Wednesday by some who said he shared the responsibility for Machen's fate because he has ignored the oversight panel and failed to appoint new members.
Newsom said he was "just about to make dramatic changes on the (taxi) commission" before Machen was fired, but because his city commission-appointments secretary, Ruby Tourk, is on leave, the changes were never implemented.
"It's one of those rare instances of timing. Everything has worked against you to allow this to happen," Newsom said.
He said he was surprised to learn the news of Machen's dismissal and is considering moving the Taxi Commission to the jurisdiction of the Municipal Transportation Agency this year so that all the city's transportation boards are under one umbrella. He said he had planned to wait until 2007 to make that move.
His own commissioners who serve at his pleasure went against his administration, he said.
"We had assurances yesterday this was not going to happen by some of the commissioners who then went another way after telling us," Newsom said.
During Machen's year on the job, she earned a reputation for cracking down on taxicab companies by requiring annual audits to ensure they keep accurate books and by enforcing laws that require those who own coveted medallions to actually drive cabs.