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MWD Facing Calls for General Manager Hagekhalil's Resignation Amid Controversy

THE EASTSIDER - OK, here’s the latest out of the Metropolitan Water District, that water industry giant that can’t seem to keep itself out of the news.  The attorney representing multiple current and former MWD employees, has called on the MWD Board of Directors to replace its controversial General Manager, Adel Hagekhalil. 

Speaking at an event on February 13th in downtown Santa Ana that was part political rally, part press conference, Attorney Arthur Kim accused the MWD under Adel’s leadership of racism against white employees.  CityWatch readers may recall that I described one of those cases in my columns, most recently on January 4th.  That was the case of a white male employee who was repeatedly harassed, called a “fucking white male” (among other epithets), and accused of only having his job because of his color.  Yet when presented with a mountain of evidence to this effect, Adel personally intervened to let the perpetrator off Scot free.  In fact, readers of my column may recall that the perpetrator even got a promotion from Adel. 

Again folks, anti-discrimination laws are there to protect EVERYONE, white guys included.  And if you’re thinking that maybe Arthur Kim is just some MAGA-like apologist for the proverbial angry white male, think again.  I did some research on Mr. Kim, himself an Asian American, and it turns out he’s an accomplished civil rights attorney fighting on behalf of all manner of clients who’ve been the victims of sexual harassment, racial discrimination and retaliation.  He was even a human rights attorney in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, putting his own personal safety at risk to represent women who’d suffered “crimes against humanity.” 

In fact, his event in Santa Ana was billed as a call to end ALL racism, and featured a diverse group of speakers and participants, while invoking the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King.  As Kim declared, “we, standing here today, brothers and sisters from all of our different races, declare that racism against any of us is wrong.  There is no acceptable racism.  There is no acceptable hatred.”  He added that if Adel as MWD’s Chief Executive is unwilling to stop unlawful racism, then it’s time for his bosses on the MWD Board to replace him. 

It will be interesting to see whether the Board is paying attention, particularly if Kim is true to his word and continues more of these rallies in the months to come.   I would especially be looking to see how the five Board members representing the City of Los Angeles respond to all of this.  After all, it was their benefactor, current Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti, who was largely responsible for putting Adel in the General Manager job to begin with.  Stay tuned! 

P.S. 

As I was getting ready to hit the “send” button to CityWatch, sources within MWD brought up another Adel scandal; that being the hiring without Board approval, and amidst a budget shortfall, his crony Mohsen Mortada to a $423,000 a year “Chief of Staff” position.  I covered this story in my last column, and recently I filed a Public Records Act request hoping to get more information.  Indications are so far it is going to be a lengthy process, and they have taken the unusual step of retaining outside counsel to handle issue. 

Meanwhile, sources describe a recent Adel zoom call with the entire MWD workforce.  Billed as “Coffee With the GM” (presumably without actual coffee, since it was a virtual meeting, but I digress…), Adel was reportedly on his back foot trying to defend Mr. Mortada’s salary to employees, going so far as to argue that Mohsen was actually “losing money” by deigning to work for MWD.  Which I’m sure was comforting to an understaffed workforce that’s been told it can’t hire additional help. 

Predictably, the “live chat” feature on zoom lit up with angry employees venting their frustration. 

“How did the GM hire someone at $425k/year without board approval?” asked one employee, while another questioned Mohsen’s qualifications, wondering “why wasn’t someone hired internally.”

“I smell manure,” replied another. 

Other employees were critical of Adel for skirting any tough questions in what was supposed to be an open, townhall-type format.  One individual suggested that the only thing Adel valued about them was the “scripted questions” fed to him by his staff, with another chiming in, “yep, dodged all the hard ones.  Typical politicians…” 

It’s also clear that MWD employees are a smart bunch who are well aware of the fiscal hole that Adel has helped place them in.  One questioned why in the middle of budget cuts, a “[company] picnic is a priority.  Seems like the tail wagging the dog situation.”  Another wondered, “when do layoffs begin.”  

Not surprisingly, I’m told that at some point during the zoom call, Adel’s staff turned off the live chat.  I guess it’s safe to say that if Adel has “lost the zoom chat,” then he has lost his workforce. 

(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.)