When last we checked in on the Department of Water and Power, the new commissioners were trying to pry some financial information out of the DWP union. Not surprisingly, they hit a brick wall of obstruction — but they vowed to keep trying.
Now it's a month later, and it's time for an update. Turns out, the DWP union still hasn't coughed up anything about the finances of the Joint Training Institute and the Joint Safety Institute. And it doesn't look like they're in any great hurry to do so either.
So, in frustration, the commission voted Tuesday to turn the matter over to L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin for an audit.
This is the City Hall equivalent of trying mightily to open a pickle jar, without success, and then handing it off to somebody else who thinks he will have better luck.
“The games have to end,” Galperin told the Weekly. “One way or the other we are going to get this information.”
The games began back in September, when the L.A. Times reported that the Joint Training Institute and Joint Safety Institute had burned through $40 million in ratepayer money with little to no accountability. (The L.A. Weekly reported the same thing in 2005.)
Newly-elected Mayor Eric Garcetti — who campaigned on a platform of reforming the DWP — responded by vowing to get to the bottom of it. But the two institutes are set up as 50-50 partnerships between the DWP and IBEW Local 18, the union that represents most DWP workers. That means that the institutes can't do anything without the agreement of the union.
So far, union boss Brian D'Arcy has refused to disclose the institutes' records to public scrutiny. Instead, he offered have the institutes' own accountant do an internal audit, without necessarily making that public.
The new DWP commissioners — appointed by Garcetti — have been pushing for more disclosure, but they haven't gotten anywhere.
“We discussed it on Oct. 1, and here it is Nov. 19 and we haven't gotten anything,” said Commissioner Jill Banks Barad. “I don't understand why a lot of this is not readily available.”
So the commission voted Tuesday to ask Galperin to do an audit. Galperin has been champing at the bit for a while, although so far, his requests for information on the two institutes have also been met with stony silence.
Nevertheless, he remains eager to get his auditors in there. In the interview, Galperin said he has clear legal authority to audit the two institutes, and that he would take a much more comprehensive look at them than the internal auditor would.
“We know we have those rights,” Galperin said. “How long this takes depends on the level of cooperation we get. They can make this a simple process, or they can make it difficult. But if they make it difficult, they'll be making it difficult on themselves as well.”
The commission also voted Tuesday to withhold further funding to the two institutes until the financial records are made available. However, the institutes have already received their annual $4 million payment for 2013, and are not due for another payment until next July, said DWP spokesman Joe Ramallo.
Who knows how this conflict will play out between now and then. But if it's still going on, it's not clear the commission would have the right to withhold funding, because the funding is established by city ordinances. Ramallo said the commission would have to consult with attorneys before withholding any payments.