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Criticism follows dismissal
of taxi commission director

By Angela Hokanson, Bay City News Service

June 29, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - The executive director of the San Francisco Taxicab Commission, who was dismissed from her post at Tuesday's commission meeting, attributes her removal to differences of opinion among the commissioners as to how stringently taxicab industry regulations should be enforced.

The commission voted 4-2 to remove Heidi Machen after about three hours of deliberation in a closed session meeting Tuesday, according to Tristan Bettencourt, a senior administrative analyst with the commission.

Machen was not present during the closed-door meeting, and the commissioners have declined to discuss the reasoning behind the dismissal, Machen said.

Machen said that as the head of the commission she was charged with enforcing the laws in the highly regulated taxicab industry, but that the commission had received some "noisy complaints" from industry representatives who were unhappy with Machen's degree of regulation.

"That's a compliment I suppose," Machen said of losing her job as a regulator because, in her view, she was regulating the industry so well.

For example, Machen said that she had been enforcing the 1978 law that requires the holders of medallions -- which function as taxicab permits -- to drive their taxis for at least 800 hours a year instead of simply leasing the medallions to other drivers all of the time.

Medallion holders are permitted to lease their medallions at a rate of $200 a day, Machen said, and can earn up to $6,000 a month doing so.

But some members of the commission either do not think the 1978 law constitutes a driving requirement for medallion holders, or believe that the driving requirement should not be enforced, Machen said.

Machen's removal was "completely unjustified" and came about because "cab companies do not want to comply with laws and rules that govern the industry," according to Mark Gruberg, a spokesman for United Taxicab Workers, a taxicab driver advocacy organization.

Machen had been doing an excellent job, Gruberg said, and was reviewing regulatory lapses and initiating reforms in an industry that needed it.

The taxicab commission has become subservient to the interests of taxicab companies and medallion holders, according to Gruberg, in part because the president of the commission, Martin Smith, serves on the commission as a representative of the cab companies and the medallion holders.

The commission is supposed to have a balanced mix of representatives from labor as well as permit holders, but that balance has become skewed, Gruberg said.

Commissioner Mary McGuire is supposed to be serving on the commission as a representative of labor, but McGuire is a medallion holder and acts more as a representative of other taxi permit holders, according to Gruberg.

"It's really a commission out of control," Gruberg said.

The commission has had difficulties since April, when then commission president Arthur Jackson died, according to Machen. Jackson was "the glue that held things together" on the commission, according to Machen, and he strongly believed in enforcing the annual 800-hour driving requirement.

Commissioners Smith, McGuire, Patricia Bresslin, and Michael Kwok voted to remove Machen. Commissioners Paul Gillespie and Min Paek voted not to remove Machen.

Gruberg said Smith did not follow proper procedure in having the commission staff add the agenda item related to the review of Machen's performance after the agenda was printed.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said yesterday he was concerned about the process that led to the removal of Machen, according to the mayor's office of communications. Newsom is consulting with the city attorney's office and the city's human resources department on the situation, according to the mayor's office.

Machen said that she has faith that Newsom will do the right thing in regard to the situation.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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