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LA’s Ratepayer Advocate and What Might have Been

CROSS TALK- (Ed Note: This column is in response to LA Times editorial “A Loose Rein on the DWP”)

In the run-up to putting Measure I on the ballot, the DWP, under the leadership of then General Manager Austin Beutner, presented a coherent, well designed plan to the DWP Board of Commissioners to establish an Office of the Rate Payers Advocate.
This plan by an Advisory Panel with members from diverse constituencies was based on the principles of Transparency, Independence and Objectivity. Ratepayer Advocate Offices from around the country were studied as a basis for the plan. I was privileged to serve as the Neighborhood Councils’ representative on the Advisory Panel.

If this plan had been implemented by the board, we would have had a Ratepayers Advocate for over a year by now.

When it became apparent that the City Council wanted to place the creation of the Office of Public Accountability on the ballot for last March, I wholeheartedly supported the idea because of my belief that a vote of the people would ensure that this initiative towards improved governance of the DWP would result in a strong oversight that would be perceived by all as adhering to the principles of Transparency, Independence and Objectivity.

The advocates for Measure I were assured that the City Council would quickly enact the enabling ordinances to establish the Office of Public Accountability (OPA). Instead we have had delay after delay.

Now we have the paradoxical situation where a citizens’ commission is charged with hiring the first Executive Director of the OPA by mid-January while the City Council has yet to define the scope of the office and the skills and experience that its Executive Director should possess. I believe that it is already too late for the City Council to respond to the overwhelming mandate of the people.  

Now the citizens’ commission should select an individual who understands the workings of our city government and has been an active participant in the discussions leading to the creation of the Office of Public Accountability. This individual needn’t be compensated at the rates being proposed, which are about twice that of comparable directors of Ratepayer Advocate Offices in other states.

The City Council, in the meantime, should await the commission’s selection and work with that individual to define the scope and organizational structure of the Office of Public Accountability.

The DWP along with other utilities has been mandated to make expensive changes to its infrastructure. The management claims that the current expenditures exceed income, forcing the DWP to borrow just to maintain their current operations.

Some time ago, I suggested that the Mayor could use his authority to name an interim Executive Director to address the red ink situation at DWP. This suggestion was met with deafening silence.

(Chuck Ray is the Co-Chair, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Mar Vista Community Council and Vice-Chair of the NC-LADWP MOU Oversight Committee. He can be reached at: -cw

Tags: Mayor, Ratepayer Advocate, DWP

Vol 9 Issue 97
Pub: Dec 6, 2011