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
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
"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
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
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
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.
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