Ratepayer Advocate Search: Consider the Intangibles … and Hurry
- 13 Dec 2011
- Written by Chuck Ray
MEMO - The Citizens Committee for selecting the first Executive Director for the DWP Office of Public Accountability has set an ambitious deadline of Friday, January 13, 2012 for selecting their choice for this important position. They have laid out a number of quantifiable capabilities that their ideal candidate should possess. In addition to evaluating each candidate against these, the committee should consider some less quantifiable capabilities.
Consider what we want the Executive Director to be: a visionary who can articulate a common purpose that unites all stakeholder groups; a master negotiator who can advance the ratepayers’ interests while countering the combined resistance of lobbyists and entrenched groups; a bold, decisive leader who can objectively analyze rate requests and decode their essence into presentations understandable by all; and a manager who can put together an integrated team of specialists and keep it operating smoothly.
The Executive Director should be aware of the proposals that were created both prior to and after Measure I was placed on the ballot. Some of the key points here are:
● The DWP Advisory Panel on the Office of the Ratepayers Advocate which prepared a plan that was considered by the Board of Commissioners of the DWP. This panel was established by the last General Manager of the DWP, Austin Beutner.
● The Neighborhood Councils term sheet formed the basis of Measure I which created the OPA.
● A study of how to organize the OPA produced by a group of researchers from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Policy.
● The final report by the Civil Grand Jury of LA County which has a significant section devoted to the DWP and its need for a Ratepayers Advocate.
My view is that the OPA needs to be non-adversarial and concentrate on providing objective, understandable information about rate proposals. The Office should be built on the three principles of independence, transparency and objectivity.
How does the OPA interface with ALL the stakeholders?
Of the many stakeholder groups, the ordinary ratepayers have had the most difficulty obtaining information on and understanding the rate proposals of the DWP. Rectifying this must be a prime goal of the OPA. In evaluating the reasonableness of rate requests, the OPA must take into consideration the concerns of the all ratepayers. This includes the residential, apartment, small business, large business and non-profit business ratepayers.
It is also vitally important to the work of the OPA that it builds and maintains a good working relationship with the DWP, the Mayor’s Office and the City Council. We need an Executive Director who is familiar with the workings of City Hall so he doesn’t find the independence undercut by the inner circles desire to control everything. The OPA must get a proper start.
In addition to the reporting requirements now under discussion by the ad-hoc working group inside City Hall, the OPA should have a web site where the dissemination data and communications can be easily facilitated.
What should the OPA do about rates?
The OPA was built out of controversy. However, as an adversary it would be doomed to failure. The OPA should aim to be a non-controversial source of objective information on all things that impact the rates of the DWP. Perhaps a good model for the OPA is the Congressional Budget Office, which is respected by all sides in Washington for its unbiased, objective information.
Of course, initially the Office will not have the institutional memory to work effectively. I see a need for the Office to begin to solve the immediate requirements and to build the institutional memory by hiring the best consultant organization in the field to analyze the current rate requests from the DWP. Quick action is necessary because the department claims that it is receiving less revenue than its operating expenses and therefore has been borrowing to cover the shortfall.
Over the longer term, I see the OPA as having the ability in its own staff to produce a rapid response to DWP rate requests. This will occur because the Office will be continually tracking the progress of the department and will know and understand its needs and challenges.
On the question of the Director’s salary, I’ve seen recommendations that it be in a range of $150,000 to $250,000 per annum in line with Department Heads elsewhere in the city. My study of Ratepayer Advocate functions elsewhere in the country showed that the prevailing salaries for the heads of these functions ranged from $90,000 to $140,000 per annum in 2010. Considering the need to balance the pressures from the City Hall, Labor and ordinary Ratepayers the pay might be a little more. I’d suggest a range of $120,000 to 175,000 per annum would be appropriate.
Of equal priority with all of the above is the need for the Citizens Committee and the City Council to move effectively and quickly to meet the deadline set and the need timely action on rate approval. Else this worthy project could get off on the wrong foot and be marred from the start.
(Chuck Ray Co-Chairs the Mar Vista Community Council Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and serves as Vice Chair of the NC LADWP MOU Oversight Committee. Reach him at: Chuck@MarVista.org) -cw
Tags: Ratepayer Advocate, Office of Public Accountability, DWP
Vol 9 Issue 99
Pub: Dec 13, 2011