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Your Voice is Needed: Where Do You Stand on the DWP Inspector General?

LA WATCHDOG--The following letter of January 13, 2020 to Mayor Eric Garcetti from Dan Schnur outlines his preliminary findings on establishing an Office of Inspector General for the Department of Water and Power. 

Schnur, a well-respected USC professor, was retained by Garcetti as an advisor to “conduct a 90-day review of DWP’s internal processes and provide recommendations for incorporating the role of the Inspector General” into the DWP organization.  

The purpose of this letter is to solicit the thoughts and comments from Angelenos on “how best to provide the necessary oversight for DWP.”  They may include the relationship of DWP with the Mayor and the City Council, the role of the politically appointed Board of Commissioners, the Ratepayers Advocate, the $232 million transfer from the Power System to the City, the Power System’s goal of 100% Renewables by 2045, and the $8 billion Hyperion project to recycle waste water into drinking water (DPR - direct potable reuse or “toilet to tap”).  

Importantly, over the past decade, the Department (beginning with General Managers Austin Beutner and Ron Nichols and continuing with Marty Adams) has made great strides in increasing the transparency and accountability of the Department.  We have also benefitted from the establishment of the Ratepayers Advocate, in large part thanks to former City Council Members Jan Perry, the forceful head of the Energy and Environment Committee, Greig Smith, Bernard Parks, and Eric Garcetti.  

Comments from Department employees are also welcome and will be treated in confidence if so requested. 

Please forward your comments (please keep them civil) to me at LAJack@gmail.com so that I can forward them to Schnur.

 

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  • Here is the letter from Daniel Schnur to Mayor Garcetti.

 

January 13, 2019

 

Dear Mayor Garcetti: 

This past fall, you asked me to conduct a review of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power toward the goal of establishing an oversight structure and an Office of Inspector General that will enhance accountability and transparency at DWP. Over the past months, I have met with numerous Los Angeles elected and appointed officials, community leaders, DWP Commissioners and staff, as well as several individuals who have served as Inspector Generals and in similar oversight roles at local, county and state public agencies. 

In particular, I want to compliment DWP General Manager Marty Adams and his team for the cooperation and support they provided me in my efforts to learn about their work. DWP Board of Commissioners President Mel Levine and his colleagues Cynthia McClain-Hill, Jill Banks Barad

and Susana Reyes were also extremely generous in sharing their time, knowledge, and insights with me. I conclude the first stage of this project with a tremendous respect for the women and men of DWP and with strong confidence that the overwhelming majority of them will support reforms that can improve department operations and increase accountability and transparency. 

City Controller Ron Galperin, City Attorney Mike Feuer, Board of Public Works President Kevin James, Office of Public Accountability Executive Director Fred Pickel, and City Council President Herb Wesson were all tremendously helpful as well, as were International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 Business Manager Brian D’Arcy, DWP Advocacy Committee President Jack Humphreville and City Council District 6 Chief of Staff Ackley Padilla. It’s clear to me that our city’s leaders take their roles in this oversight process very seriously and that they are committed to helping our efforts succeed. 

One of the most important things that I have learned in the first stage of my work is the benefit of expanding the department’s public outreach and engagement so the people of Los Angeles can develop a fuller understanding and appreciation of DWP’s work. Toward that end, I am writing you today with an overview of my preliminary findings and with a recommendation that these findings be made publicly available so that Angelenos and their representatives can be part of a public dialogue about how to best provide the necessary oversight for DWP. My hope would be to devote the next month to soliciting a broader range of input and then preparing a final set of recommendations for you and the City Council to review. 

Through my meetings and research, I have identified three broad areas that would be essential for the establishment of an effective oversight function. They are: 

  1. Public Engagement/Involvement
  2. Contracting/Purchasing/Procurement
  3. Workforce Development/Workplace Conduct  

Public Engagement/Involvement 

As I mentioned above, it is critically important for the people of Los Angeles to understand the operations of DWP and for their representatives to work together to develop a more efficient and coordinated oversight structure that can protect against potential malfeasance. Toward those ends, I will recommend the creation of a Joint Oversight Committee co-chaired by the DWP Inspector General and Ratepayer Advocate. The Committee would include representatives from the offices of the City Attorney, the City Controller, the City Council, the Los Angeles Ethics Commission, the Los Angeles Police Department, and the Office of the Mayor, as well as designated community representatives. Such coordination would create a more streamlined form of communications and allow for more effective cooperation between the public agencies with the most important responsibilities. 

In addition, there are a number of communications functions for DWP to consider that can facilitate public input and feedback for both staff and Commissioners, as well as outreach efforts that can help strengthen relationships between the department and the people they serve. 

Contracting/Purchasing/Procurement 

The previous paragraphs offer one example of how enhanced collaboration between existing external oversight entities can allow relevant information to be shared and acted upon, but a similar internal structure will be able to facilitate more effective communications within the DWP as well. Without adding unnecessary hierarchy or bureaucracy, an Office of Inspector General can and should be able to assist the various existing internal oversight entities in coordinating their efforts and eliminate structural barriers that can often slow necessary tasks from becoming accomplished as quickly and efficiently as possible. 

It’s also clear that the Board of Commissioners must be provided with sufficient staff support and resources to perform their oversight responsibilities as effectively as possible. The Office of Inspector General will be able to provide the Board with an independent voice to offer advice, guidance and recommendations on critical matters that come before them and work with staff to make sure that potential concerns receive the attention they deserve. 

Identifying and addressing questions of financial impropriety becomes much less difficult if information regarding staff and commissioner economic interests are available to the public. Requiring disclosure of such interests from a wider range of DWP staff will represent an important step forward toward that goal, providing the Inspector General with the tools necessary to address potential misconduct. 

Workforce Development/Workplace Conduct 

The most effective way to protect against bad behavior is not through corrective action and punishment, but rather to prevent that behavior from occurring in the first place. While investigations and remediation are obviously necessary, pro-active measures that lessen the likelihood of malfeasance are even more important. This means an increased focus on developing a DWP workforce with the skills necessary to meet the rapidly changing responsibilities of the department, and providing additional support systems for recruitment, hiring, training and mentoring of DWP workers. In addition, a department workforce and management structure that reflects the changing demographics of the city it serves is necessary as well, a goal which can only be achieved through purposeful recruitment and personnel support efforts. 

There are several offices within DWP that perform these tasks in an admirable fashion, but increased support for those efforts and enhanced coordination between them can create more opportunities for DWP employees to identify and achieve their professional goals. In addition to additional internal coordination, these workforce development efforts will also require a strengthened partnership with employee labor unions representing department workers. Labor has a vested interest in the professional development of its members and must be part of the planning and implementation of these types of projects. 

An Office of Inspector General must also oversee issues regarding workplace misconduct. Workers who want to report inappropriate behavior may often hesitate because of worries about potential retribution against them. There is also potential for confusion among staff members on where various types of conduct should be reported. A more cohesive oversight structure can address both these concerns, both by offering protections against employees who are motivated to have such workplace problems addressed and by simplifying and clarifying the reporting process. 

Inspector General Independence 

None of the work of an Inspector General will survive public scrutiny unless the office is acknowledged to be free of any potential interference. Because the City Charter does not permit a DWP Office of Inspector General exist outside of the department, extra efforts must be made to preserve the independence of the Inspector General so that office can fulfill its function without concerns that either DWP leadership or elected officials would attempt to prevent any investigation or other corrective measure from taking place. 

In order to create a truly independent Office of Inspector General that can function without obstruction and enjoy the full confidence of the public, the following steps are necessary: 

  1. Both the Board of Commissioners and the General Manager shall play a role in the appointment of the Inspector General and therefore the Inspector General will report directly not just to the General Manager but to the Board of Commissioners as well. 
  1. The Inspector General will receive a fixed term, and can only be removed from office before the completion of that term if the Inspector General violates a federal or state law or regulation, a local ordinance, or a policy or practice of the authority, relative to ethical practices, including, but not limited to, the acceptance of gifts or contributions. 
  1. The Office of Inspector General will have independent authority to review all potential conflict of interest and workplace conduct issues for both staff and Commissioners and make public recommendations based on its conclusions; 
  1. The Inspector General will be required to issue a comprehensive report quarterly of the office’s activities, including but not limited to investigations into potential malfeasance and misconduct. The report would be presented to the Joint Oversight Committee and be made publicly available upon completion. 
  1. One year after the Inspector General has taken office, the Mayor will have the option of recommending to the City Council that a ballot initiative be placed before the voters that would establish the Inspector General outside of the Department of Water and Power. If the Mayor and Council determine that sufficient independence for the office exists, no vote will be taken. If they determine that additional independence would be desirable, the people of Los Angeles would make the final decision. 

Please keep in mind that this letter is meant to be a preliminary update and progress report. I’ll look forward to sharing a comprehensive set of recommendations with you upon conclusion of our public input process. But I hope that this overview can provide you and the people of Los Angeles with some insight into the progress that has been made and the direction in which this work is heading. I’ll look forward to hearing from you – and them – as we move forward. 

Thank you again for your confidence in entrusting me with such important work, and I will look forward to discussing this preliminary progress report at your convenience.

 

Sincerely,

 

Daniel Schnur

LADWP Ratepayer

 

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Additional Information

 

A DWP Inspector General?

Mayor Garcetti Creates DWP Inspector General

Jack Humphreville   

12 SEPTEMBER 2019

 

 

DWP, reeling from scandals and FBI raids, gets a new watchdog office

Dakota Smith / Los Angeles Times

September 13, 2019

 

 

DWP Board of Commissioners Needs a Major Overhaul

Jack Humphreville

16 SEPTEMBER 2019

 

 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

-cw