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Fri, Mar

What’s Really Behind the Metro Water District Hiring Adel Hagekhalil?

THE EASTSIDER - After my March article on the hiring of Adel Hagekhalil, former Mayor Eric Garcetti’s previously appointed Department Head of Street Services, as the new General Manager for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), something still seemed off. 

Recently thanks to a CityWatchLA reader, I was pointed to an audio recording of the June 8, 2021 Board meeting, where MWD’s Directors were asked to adopt his employment contract. It was Agenda Item 10-3, with the title of “Approve New General Manager Employment Contract; the General Manager has determined that the proposed action is exempt or otherwise no subject to CEQA.”  

A number of things came out when the Item was called.  First, it turns out that the Board members had signed a confidentiality agreement, when they interviewed Adel Hagekhalil in closed session for the position of General Manager of MWD on May 8, 2021. It also turned out that a number of Board members talked to the press anyway, breaking the confidentiality agreement they had just signed. 

Quickly one Board member brought this up, pointing as well as the fact that those members had violated the Brown Act, and alleged that there was selective outreach during the process of voting for Adel as General Manager. That Board member opined that the next couple of years for MWD faces huge, complicated, and challenging issues, and that Adel simply lacked the expertise to handle them. 

Director Pressman then kicked off the discussion by making a substitute motion that the Board should not vote on approval of Hagekhalil’s contract until the Board was able to ask questions and vet him in a public session. That motion carried. 

The Board Chair then reached out to Hagekhalil by phone to see if he would be amenable to talking to the Board and answering questions.  He was quickly reached by telephone and agreed to answer questions by the Board. 

While my notes are incomplete (I’ll go back over the audio later to verify), there were evidently two lawsuits in the City of Los Angeles against Adel still pending, one a whistleblowing case, and the other a sexual harassment suit.  Understandably, MWD’s Board wanted to know more about these potentially damaging issues. 

Adel indicated that he was in contact with Mike Feuer, the LA City Attorney, who believe that both cases were meritless, and would be filing for summary judgment. 

From the questions asked, it appeared that there was an alliance of the Los Angeles and San Diego delegations to MWD’s Board, who wanted to hire Adel, while other MWD Directors understandably continued to express grave misgivings. 

Ultimately, after Adel was excused, the vote took place on his contract. The apparent LA/San Diego alliance voted yes. For the opposition, there were a few actual No votes, with a large number of Abstentions.  The final tally was that Adel Hagekhalil was appointed to the position of General Manager of MWD by an underwhelming margin of 50.42%. 

Thanks to another source that raises some questions, it also appears that way back in August of 2020, MWD retained the services of the Hawkins Group to handle the hiring process. There was nothing too remarkable about that, as Hawkins is often called upon by agencies to lead executive recruitments. 

However, at the insistence of then MWD Director John Murray, representing the City of Los Angeles, the Hawkins group then retained MS Christine Boulware to take the lead on the recruitment process.  As it turns out, Ms. Boulware had close ties to Murray, and as it also turns out, Murray was an ardent supporter of Adel Hagekhalil.  As one MWD source put it, “it’s like starting a ball game and one team gets to pick its own referees.” 

Was the Fix In From the Start?

Remember, as early as 2018, Garcetti was telling everyone that LA has plenty of water and the Delta Tunnels are unnecessary. 

“EASTSIDER-Mayor Garcetti got ahead of a critical vote by the Metropolitan Water District over the Delta Tunnels, aka WaterFix, with his very own Daily Newsarticle about a New Mulholland moment. If you believe his tale, I know where the Tooth Fairy lives.  

In the piece, he blithely states, “I’m often asked if we have enough water in Los Angeles for our future. And I always answer that we have plenty of water.”Clearly, as he opposes WaterFix, he airily assumes that we can survive without the Tunnels and with environmentally nice reclamation plus DWP customer belt-tightening. 

The City Council, like the good little boys and girls they are, unanimously supported Hiz Honor on March 21 by voting to oppose the project. As reported by Lloyd Carter in his Chronicles of the Hydraulic Brotherhood,  the Council voted 13-0 “if any more costs fall on Los Angeles water customers.”  

And it is clear that Adel is a guy who rode the Garcetti agenda all the way to being a Department Head of Street Services, as well as the Mayor’s candidate for General Manager of the Metropolitan Water District.  

The Takeaway

As we know, one of the fracture lines in the hiring of a new General Manager, was the issue of  the Delta Tunnels. Former MWD GM Jeff Kightlinger was a fan and got the MWD to sign on.  Garcetti, on the other hand, boasted that there is plenty of water for Los Angeles and no need for the Delta Tunnel project

“From its 12-story headquarters next door to Union Station in downtown L.A., the 1,800-employee agency operates the 242-mile Colorado River aqueduct, a thin blue strip through the desert that brings water to sinks, showerheads, swimming pools and golf courses. It’s a powerful player in state politics, buying much of the water that’s pumped south from Northern California rivers and lobbying aggressively for a controversial $16-billion tunnel near the Bay Area that would help keep that water flowing.” 

It was clear from the audio recording of Hagekhalil’s contract that there are a significant number of agencies who need something like the Delta Tunnel project so that they don’t wind up with the short stick in water allocation.  Yet he rode in on a coalition led by Los Angeles & San Diego  Directors who bought in to Garcetti’s glib statements. 

You have to wonder if Adel is up to the job - getting hired with 50.42 percent of the vote is hardly a mandate, and his Mentor Eric Garcetti is off to India as ambassador.  

In the meantime, If I read the substance of his contract, it provides for “involuntary severance”, which sure sounds to me like “at will”. 

In addition, according to the April 11th LA Times, big time cuts are coming to the Colorado River: 

“The federal government on Tuesday laid out two options for preventing the Colorado River’s depleted reservoirs from falling to critically low levels, saying it could either impose cuts across the Southwest by following the water-rights priority system or by using an across-the-board percentage.

The stakes of this decision are high for California, which receives the largest share of water from the Colorado River. An across-the-board cut could hit California harder, particularly agricultural regions.” 

We live in interesting times. In our next installment, we will examine the day-to-day impacts of Adel Hagekhalil’s hiring.  Particularly in the areas of personnel decisions, and a surprising pay raise on December 12, 2022. 

Stay tuned.../

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.)