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Bernard Parks v. Forescee Hogan-Rowles

Los Angeles City Council candidate Forescee Hogan-Rowles has flown well below the media radar in the March 8 election, even as cash-rich unions have poured more than $650,000 into backing her candidacy against former Chief of Police Bernard Parks — the City Council fiscal watchdog who made enemies of DWP and police union brass by backing furloughs and layoffs for city employees.

A long L.A. Times article on Feb. 22 is typical of local media coverage of Hogan-Rowles, focusing heavily on how much money unions are spending on her and barely touching on the largely unknown candidate's history, particularly as a political appointee of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

In fact, Hogan-Rowles' public track record is fraught with controversy.

She was quietly forced from her appointment to the DWP Retirement Board in 2009 by the mayor's office after the poverty program she runs solicited and received $12,800 in donations from money managers who were doing, or seeking to do, business with DWP.

L.A. Weekly learned of the incident from former DWP chief David Freeman as it conducted interviews about Hogan-Rowles' five votes in favor of DWP rate hikes when she sat on the utility's other board, the DWP Commission.

According to Freeman, who at the time was Villaraigosa's deputy mayor for energy and the environment, "She solicited or obtained contributions from people doing business with the Retirement Board, and we didn't like the smell of it." He adds: "She resigned from the Retirement Board at the request of the mayor's office."

Freeman says that in 2009 the mayor's office grew concerned after Hogan-Rowles solicited — and got — money for her South L.A. nonprofit, Community Financial Resource Center, from money managers who rely on the Retirement Board for often lucrative contracts with DWP. The seven-member Retirement Board hires the money managers who decide how to invest DWP retirement and health funds of some $7 billion.

Hogan-Rowles responds that she didn't know her Community Financial Resource Center nonprofit, where she earns a six-figure salary, had solicited cash from money managers seeking business from or doing business with the DWP Retirement Board. She says the request for money was made in a mass mailing to thousands of people in the nonprofit's database.

"It was nothing we did on purpose," she says; she informed the mayor's office about it and gave the money back.

Bernard Parks questioned how the money market managers' names got into Hogan-Rowles' nonprofit's database. "It's not done by accident," he says. "Those names in the database, you have every intention of using them."

Hogan-Rowles eventually also left her corollary post as a DWP commissioner — having missed 47 of the commission's 142 meetings.

She left a wake of criticism behind her.

On the DWP Commission, Hogan-Rowles was heavily focused on how black and other minorities were being treated by the utility. She clashed with other commissioners, but often over minor issues such as etiquette, once publicly scolding then–commission president Lee Kanon Alpert for using the expression "damned if you do, damned if you don't" in public.

She resigned last May, overlapping with Freeman's tenure as DWP's acting general manager. Asked about her performance as a DWP commissioner, Freeman says, "If you have nothing good to say about someone, just shut up."

Hogan-Rowles' work is more specifically criticized by Nick Patsaouras, who was DWP Commission president for part of her tenure. "She never questioned anything" proposed by the DWP's powerful International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union or DWP management, says Patsaouras, who grades her commission work a "C-minus."

Patsaouras says, "Whatever [DWP] staff wanted, she went along with" — including the numerous rate hikes now paid by L.A. residents and businesses.

Former commission president and former DWP general manager David Nahai recalls Hogan-Rowles in a more positive light, saying she focused on whether suppliers and other DWP contractors included minority businesses and the treatment of minorities by DWP.

"She brought a particular viewpoint and she brought it with passion," Nahai says. "It was a very useful voice to hear." But she "wasn't technically well-versed in water and power issues."

Hogan-Rowles defends her extensive absentee record while on the DWP Commission, saying, "I had to go to work."

Parks has been targeted for removal by the DWP's union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, and its affiliate IBEW 11, as well as the city's police union and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and SEIU Local 721.

The cash-rich unions representing thousands of city workers have organized a massive independent expenditure campaign, pouring more than $650,000 in contributions into electing Hogan-Rowles.

Parks, as head of the City Council Finance and Budget Committee, has infuriated IBEW Local 18's outspoken and powerful business manager, Brian D'Arcy, and L.A. Police Protective League president Paul Weber, by seeking more control over DWP pensions and benefits, challenging the public utility's rationale for rate hikes, voting against a costly police contract and backing layoffs and furlough days for city workers.

The County Federation spent more than $8.5 million to defeat Parks when he ran in 2008 for the 2nd District Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors seat, which he lost to Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Mayor Villaraigosa appointed Hogan-Rowles to the DWP Commission in November 2005. She then was named the commission's representative on the Retirement Board, a post she held under four different DWP board presidents.

Freeman tells the Weekly he personally told Hogan-Rowles that the mayor's office wanted her to step down from the DWP's Retirement Board, but she was "offended" and refused to leave until someone higher up — Freeman says it was not the mayor himself — orchestrated her departure.

Freeman, who previously headed the DWP and then returned as Villaraigosa's interim DWP general manager, says the mayor's office didn't believe Hogan-Rowles had broken the law, but Freeman and others didn't want the vulnerability of "someone in a position who might be accused, with some validity, with conflict of interest."

Freeman adds: "We took care of it very quietly, we thought," and he doesn't believe a formal complaint was made to the Los Angeles Ethics Commission.

At a minimum, Freeman says, Hogan-Rowles' actions had the "appearance of a conflict" and that "on the face of it, it doesn't look good at all."

Hogan-Rowles hits back at Freeman for criticizing her, saying it has more to do with the fact that she didn't support his elevation to interim general manager — and she plays the race card, declaring that she "didn't like his track record with women, with African-American women."

She says she believed she was removed from the DWP retirement board in 2009 only as part of a broader mayoral shakeup of other retirement boards whose appointees came under fire for the way they oversaw police and fire pensions.

Her nonprofit was created in post-riots 1993 as L.A.'s first public-private partnership among banks, the city and community leaders; it was intended to increase investment opportunities in South Los Angeles. She is paid more than $100,000 as CFRC's president and CEO.

IBEW's D'Arcy today refers to her as a "trailblazer."

But Freeman doesn't think D'Arcy took much notice of Hogan-Rowles when she was a city utilities commissioner. "I didn't know [D'Arcy] even fooled around with commissioners," Freeman says. "He uses his money with council people and mayors. I never heard of him being involved with members of the board."

Patsaouras agrees, saying, "I don't think Brian [D'Arcy] knew she was there, other than that she didn't challenge him."

Hogan-Rowles provided a clear political contrast to Parks, telling the Weekly she believes there is a better way to trim the budget than to reduce the city's 37,000-person workforce.

She touts the budget approach at the DWP, saying, "We went line by line item." The City Council uses the same method, yet she says, "I'm not sure they've done that. ... With the current Budget and Finance chair [her opponent, Parks], he continues to offer what we can't do" — cuts in the city worker ranks.

Parks responds that Hogan-Rowles is being used as a puppet by ego-driven union leaders vested in ousting him. "What does she mean (she) won't balance the budget on the backs of city employees? Ninety-three percent of the budget is employees. She has no clue. She says things to ingratiate herself to the unions, but none of it makes sense when you look at the issues before us."

IBEW Local 18, which represents more than 8,600 DWP employees, has contributed $300,000, and IBEW Local 11’s political action committee another $50,000, to Working Californians to Support Forescee Hogan-Rowles for City Council 2011. The Alliance to Support Forescee Hogan-Rowles for City Council 2011 has received $155,000 from the L.A. County Federation of Labor and $150,000 from SEIU Local 721 CTW-CLC Workers’ Strength Committee.

The committees operate independently of her campaign, and have spent a sizable $426,000 for mailers, phone banks, consultants, political advertisements and other efforts to back Hogan-Rowles.
Independent expenditures from special-interest groups backing Parks have been negligible by contrast —  $25,000 by a pro-business political action committee and $115 from L.A. Clean Sweep. 

Reach the writer at bbarr223@yahoo.com.


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