Wed, Aug

Will the Ratepayers Advocate Be Independent?

LA WATCHDOG - The Citizens Committee for the Appointment of the Executive Director of the Office of Public Accountability (the “Citizens Committee”) met for the first time on Wednesday afternoon in City Hall, 28 weeks after 78% of the voters approved the formation of the Ratepayers Advocate.

This unconscionable delay by the Mayor and the IBEW’s water boys on the City Council has caused the proposed water and power rate increases to be put on hold, resulting in our Department of Water and Power “implementing service cuts that will reduce maintenance and modernization efforts” on the its “aging network of water pipes and power poles.”

At the Wednesday meeting, one of the first orders of business was to elect a Chairman.  And before you could blink an eye, and without any meaningful discussion, John Murray, a Villaraigosa appointee and a seasoned City Hall political operative, was elected, despite the interest expressed by Silver Lake Neighborhood Council member Rusty Millar, a Garcetti appointee who was one of the leading proponents of the 2005 Memorandum of Understanding between the Neighborhood Councils and the DWP.

We were also treated to a perfunctory and snooze-inducing presentations and comments from the City Attorney, the Chief Legislative Analyst, the City Administrative Officer, the Personnel Department, and representatives from the offices of Mayor Villaraigosa and Council Member Eric Garcetti.

But the overriding concern was not the Ratepayers, the Ratepayers Advocate, or the well being of our Department of Water and Power.  

Rather, the focus appeared to be on preserving the prerogatives of the Elected Elite and their cronies.

Throughout these presentations, constant references were made to the Mayor and the City Council, the same negligent entities who have not drafted the necessary ordinances needed to define the role and budget of the Ratepayers Advocate.  

There is also no meaningful effort to educate the public, the Neighborhood Councils, or the various classes of Ratepayers (homeowners, apartment owners, institutions, and the business community) as all meetings of this Citizens Commission will be held on weekday afternoons at City Hall.  This inconvenient schedule contrasts with the last year’s six DWP Reform Hearings that were held all around the City at times that were more convenient for Ratepayers, resulting in the participation of almost 1,000 Angelenos.

This lack of outreach will be further compounded by closed session meetings where a number of personnel issues will be discussed.  Reference was also made to the super secretive Executive Employee Relations Committee.  This five member body is controlled by Mayor Villaraigosa and Council Member Garcetti and is the very same committee that negotiates the City’s labor agreements, including the very generous labor agreement between the DWP and the IBEW, the DWP’s domineering union whose members have been richly rewarded over time, especially when compared to other City employees and other regional utility workers.

This committee was also instrumental in dumping 1,600 City employees and their $200 million of unfunded pension liabilities on the DWP.

One very constructive suggestion was made by Sandy Itkoff, a Garcetti nominee, who recommended that the job description for the Executive Director / Ratepayers Advocate include qualifications relating to “business rigor,” implying the need for relevant operating and industry experience as well as a high level of financial acumen.

The Citizens Commission is under considerable pressure from the Mayor and others to make a selection within 60 days. But that may not be a reasonable time frame given that the Citizens Commission does not have a job description, an organizational structure, a budget, or salary range. Nor has the Citizens Committee retained a qualified executive recruiting firm to conduct a comprehensive search for a qualified candidate.

Rather than rushing to make a selection within the artificial timeframe of 60 days, it is more important that the Citizens Commission select the right person that will have the respect as well as the trust and confidence of the Ratepayers.

In the interim, the Mayor and City Council may want to consider an interim rate increase of 5% for both water and power (Proposition 26 permitting), subject to the later review and analysis by the Ratepayers Advocate.  This rate increase would allow the DWP to “address its infrastructure needs.”

DWP has been turned into a political football as the Mayor and the Elected Elite have interfered with its orderly and efficient operation.

We are all aware of the Mayor-induced ECAF Fiasco that would have raised our power rates by 28%; Measure B, the Mayor’s Solar Initiative that was a blatant payback for Union Bo$$ d’Arcy’s generous campaign contributions; the IBEW Labor Premium that costs Ratepayers hundreds of millions per year; and the failure to implement efficiency studies recommended by the last two Charter mandated Industrial, Economic, and Administrative Surveys because of the IBEW’s strenuous objections.  

There are also the misleading 2008 rate increases in our base rates as well as the sneaky Shortage Year Water Rates and the Power Rate Restructuring Plan that are an additional assault on the wallets of single family home owners. And there is the unexplained 60% increase in the beloved Power Transfer Fee that tags Ratepayers for an additional $100 million a year.

And then there is the dumping of 1,600 City employees on the DWP, increasing the DWP’s work force by 20%, and burdening its already 30% underfunded pension plan with an additional burden of $200 million.  And we are aware of pet projects, such as underground reservoirs in Elysian Park and Upper Stone Canyon that will cost an additional $200 million and the $1 billion proposal to bury transmission lines along a seven mile stretch of the Los Angeles River.

The Citizens Committee needs to understand that the City needs a “well funded, empowered, and truly independent Ratepayers Advocate to oversee the operations, finances, and management of DWP on a timely and continuous basis.”

78% of the voters agree.

Note: The Citizens Commission will hold its second meeting on Wednesday, September 28 at 3 PM at City Hall in Room 1060.  For history buffs, September 28 marks the anniversary of the Duke of Normandy’s (William the Conqueror) invasion of England in 1066

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and the Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: [email protected] ) –cw

Tags: Ratepayer Advocate, Citizens Committee, Mayor, City Council, DWP, Department of Water and Power, rate increases, IBEW, Eric Garcetti

Vol 9 Issue 77
Pub: Sept 27, 2011