By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
I intend to deal with it by having employee meetings, by talking to the employees directly, and by doing away with this disconnect between the 15th floor of JFB, where you and I are sitting right now, and the 8,500 workers out there.
I was just at a function this morning with the electric-construction workers, and they were very happy to see me there. They feel like they do good work day in and day out, but they don’t feel that they have any connection with management.
While I was a commissioner, three DWP workers were on a job and they were consumed by a fireball. I visited the hospital and sat with them and their families. One of them later on lost his life. He was in his early 50s. And my very first function as G.M. was to go to an event held in the Valley, the 25th anniversary of an event held for burn survivors put on by the Grossman Burn Center in the Valley. A number of the people there were DWP employees, and they called me up to say something, and what I said at the event is that the Grossman Burn Center bears silent witness to the service and sacrifice of the men and women of the Department of Water and Power. Because so many of them suffer in accidents, get electrocuted, fall off poles — and when a crisis hits, they’re out there in all kinds of weather dealing with live electricity, trying to fix it. They provide a dedicated service, and I want them to know that that is appreciated by those who manage this organization.
I don’t think that’s been done terribly much in the past. And I think, and believe, that in having that conversation, we can also talk about the adaptability of the organization, and the need for certain changes to occur — on the power side, on the water side, internally on the information-technology side, in the ways that we do business — I think that I can remind the work force of the fact that each of them are ambassadors of the organization as well.
I think there’s a great deal to be proud of. I think there are changes that must be made. But I’m very confident, very optimistic, that the changes that need to be made can be brought about. And I think the organization is very much willing to accept leadership that’s decisive, unequivocal, that sets forth a direction and asks the organization to follow.
The DWP has had a long-standing problem with transparency. I’ve run up against it as a reporter — I’ve found ordinary information extremely difficult to get out of the DWP’s media-relations people, and staffers routinely have been forbidden from speaking to the press, even under controlled circumstances. Employees have also complained of retaliation when they make accusations of discrimination within the organization.
When I first got on the commission and was given the chairmanship of the personal-relations committee, and heard that drumbeat of complaints about retaliation and discrimination, I held three days of hearings just to encourage rank-and-file employees to come forward and talk. And they did. We gave them whistleblower-status protection, and as a result of that, I had six business units audited here, by outside auditors, at considerable cost, to try to root out any retaliatory or discriminatory type of practices.
As a result of that, there’s management training that’s going to be going on, a new kind of management ethos, a new way of communicating that’s going to be introduced. I’ve been very sensitive from day one to breaking down these kinds of barriers.
I remember when I did it back then, some people said, “Here comes this novice, outside commissioner opening up these floodgates. What will this do to the organization?” But people came and expressed themselves, there were investigations that were done, and as a result there are going to be improvements in this system.
At the moment, the Los Angeles City Council is taking 60 days to consider the 9 percent rate increase the DWP has proposed to pay for its infrastructure repairs. Part of what they’re looking at is whether that money will be wisely used. Why does the DWP need to impose a rate increase?
What the rate increases do is, they enable us to deal with Wall Street. In the parlance of financiers, you have to maintain certain “minimal capital requirements.” If you can do that, you can finance the money that you need at very low rates and have a payback period that’s very long-term, so that the pain of returning that money is hardly felt among the people.
If you can’t have your minimal capital, or you don’t have a sufficient rate base, your interest rates go up. So if we can get this additional money in, we’ll be able to deal with our infrastructure problems at very low rates. If we don’t, we’ll still have to spend the money, but it will be spent on the ghost of higher interest rates, without a concomitant benefit.
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