Friday, November 22, 2013 at 2:18 p.m.
It was only a few months ago that Mayor Eric Garcetti and union boss Brian D'Arcy met at a bar in Silver Lake to put aside their differences and shake on a new contract. Turns out, the truce was only temporary and their battles were only beginning.
Today, after taking heat for weeks over two off-the-books union training institutes
, D'Arcy punched back, blaming Garcetti and management at the Department of Water and Power for botching the roll-out of a new customer service system.
In a press statement, D'Arcy said that Garcetti and DWP managers "owe thousands of DWP customers an apology" for glitches in the new system.
DWP managers acknowledged
earlier this week that the new system has caused thousands of customers to get inaccurate bills. Additionally, customers who call to complain are being kept on hold for as long as 45 minutes.
In his press release, D'Arcy said that some customers are being sent termination notices because they never received their bills. Some customers have been taking out their frustration on the DWP employees who eventually answer the customer service line.
"The current situation is so dire that employees feel threatened by the hostile environment that has resulted from this epic failure," D'Arcy said.
D'Arcy further alleged that the new system is much more expensive than DWP managers have acknowledged. The department has pegged the cost at $50 million, but D'Arcy said the true figure is nearer to $150 million.
"The city's management decided to 'go live' on the system despite the high likelihood for a failure of this nature," D'Arcy said.
In response, Garcetti's spokesman accused D'Arcy of playing politics.
"Mayor Garcetti was elected to fix the problems at DWP," said spokesman Jeff Millman. "The voters rejected the union's control of the DWP and the union should stop the political games because the campaign is over."
Millman also said that the DWP is working to institute a system whereby customers are automatically called back, so they don't have to wait on hold. That system should be up and running next week, Millman said.
It's pretty clear that D'Arcy would like to change the subject away from the Joint Training Institute and the Joint Safety Institute, two non-profits that spend about $4 million per year with little oversight over accountability. So far, D'Arcy has blocked the mayor's efforts to open up the financial records to public scrutiny.
It's also the case, however, that Garcetti has cultivated an image of being tech-savvy, which exposes him to additional scrutiny when his administration bungles the roll-out of a new system.
Joe Ramallo, the DWP spokesman, said that roughly 60,000 to 100,000 DWP customers have either been getting erroneous bill estimates or abrupt termination notices. The new system -- three years in the making -- entails a change in the routes for meter readers. As they learn their new routes, some meter readers are not getting to every house. If a meter reader does not get to a customer, the system will issue an estimated bill. In many cases, the estimate turns out to be wrong, often very wrong.
Ramallo said the DWP is taking a number of steps to deal with this, including encouraging workers to staff the call centers and implementing the "virtual hold" system. He also said that no one would have their power shut off due to this glitch, because the utility is only shutting off power to those customers who have failed to pay for several billing periods.
Meanwhile, Brian D'Arcy takes a few more swings: "I am disappointed that the mayor is not focused on solving this $150 million debacle that is impacting ratepayers across the city. Homeowners and businesses are being unfairly targeted and threatened about having their power shut off. Rather than slow walk a solution for the next several months, the Mayor and DWP management need to step up and take responsibility. This isn't about politics. It's about solving problems for the people of Los Angeles."