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"I would caution that he has to become more familiar with DWP operations," says Patsaouras. "The department, even in my time and Nahai's, visited that issue" — of the city's often-detrimental influence over the far-off Owens Valley. He adds, "It's a very delicate political issue."
As he tiptoes through land mines laid for DWP general managers, most crucial will be how Beutner handles D'Arcy, and D'Arcy's greatest friend in upper management, Raj, the controversial chief operating officer.
Raj was fired in 2001 after the DWP was forced to pay $1.3 million to an equal-opportunity manager who accused Raj and his underlings of interfering, on behalf of IBEW, in workplace equal-opportunity probes. Raj then threatened to sue the DWP and got a private "separation agreement." Today, Raj denies wrongdoing.
That seemed to be the last of Raj. But in 2005, this paper reported that Henry Martinez, another DWP boss said to be cowed by D'Arcy, awarded Raj's firm a contract. After Villaraigosa became mayor, Raj, who outside of work was active in political fund-raising, was brought back inside DWP.
It is widely believed that D'Arcy pushed to get Raj rehired, and Villaraigosa, keen to tap IBEW campaign funds, complied.
Increasingly emboldened under Villaraigosa, Raj openly feuded with the City Council over a rate hike last month while his boss, David Freeman, was on vacation. He further outraged city leaders by refusing to transfer a long-promised $73.5 million to city coffers. And days ago, Raj proposed a DWP budget so impossible to untangle that Beutner, a man who can really read his numbers, slammed it as "Greek — and I don't know Greek."
Yet in February, Freeman predicted Raj would succeed him (Beutner is doing it only temporarily), telling 200 DWP employees in Van Nuys that "Raj is the next general manager and it's just a matter of time."
That's very unlikely now. Raj has behaved with toxicity toward duly elected leaders. And former chief Nahai notes that, "The next GM must have vision, knowledge, moral fiber, independence and credibility. As recent missteps have amply proven, DWP's present top staff officials simply don't fit the bill."
Now, Beutner must somehow conduct a serious search for a world-class utility chief, even as he tries to launch changes of his own.
"When there's a new interim general manager, your physical presence is absolutely essential," notes City Councilman Bernard Parks. Parks, the former LAPD chief, grilled Beutner when he appeared before the City Council recently because, Parks says, "the real meat of running an organization is an ability to change the actual institutional culture. There's an old saying — 'steady by jerks' — you have to do things a little at a time, you can't just say it once and go away."
As for the internal DWP "investigation" of its ninja-adorned bucket truck parked — or was it ditched? — on St. George Street in Los Feliz, DWP officials couldn't provide the Weekly a street address where they insist the real work happened.
"Investigating themselves? It's like expecting the knife to cut its own handle," a DWP employee says.