Mayor Eric Garcetti has taken a hard line against two ratepayer-funded training programs at the Department of Water and Power. Garcetti has threatened to withhold funding from the programs unless Brian D'Arcy, the head of the DWP union, agrees to reveal more information about how the money is spent.
But with the deadline looming for an annual payment of $4 million to fund the programs, that hard line seems to be wavering. At a meeting last week, the city's lawyers advised Garcetti's DWP commissioners that they must hand over the money under the terms of the union contract.
“We're not happy,” said DWP Commissioner Jill Banks Barad. “If it were up to us, they wouldn't get any more money, but it's more complicated than that.”
The controversy over the two programs – the Joint Training Institute and Joint Safety Institute – has been going on for nearly a year. The L.A. Times first reported on them last September, in a follow-up to a 2005 L.A. Weekly story, which first raised concerns about their secrecy. The Times' report came in the wake of D'Arcy's failed effort to elect Wendy Greuel as mayor, which left him politically weakened.
After the Times story, Controller Ron Galperin and Garcetti both vowed to get to the bottom of how the programs spend their money. But so far that's proven impossible. D'Arcy holds 50 percent of the seats on the program boards, and he has vetoed all efforts to release information.
Galperin ultimately went to court and won a favorable ruling, but D'Arcy appealed and the issue remains in legal limbo.
In frustration, Garcetti's commissioners last November voted to withhold all funding from the programs until the information is released. However, the funding was mandated under the union contract – which was clear even at the time.
The $4 million payment is typically made in the first couple weeks of July. Last week, the union held a protest outside DWP headquarters, demanding that the city adhere to the contract and make the payment.
While workers were outside protesting, the DWP commissioners were inside holding a private meeting with their lawyers. Behind closed doors, deputy city attorneys advised the commission that they must make the payment or expose the city to liability.
Mel Levine, the chair of the commission, said that no decisions have been made on transferring the funds. “We're talking to our lawyers. We're trying to assess our options,” he said.
In a statement to the Weekly, D'Arcy said, “We have not seen the described opinion by the City Attorney, but clearly know that the contract between DWP and its more than 8,000 employees is binding. The contract was reached through the collective bargaining process and must be honored by all parties.”
Joe Ramallo, the DWP spokesman, declined to comment Tuesday. The final decision rests with Garcetti. Doane Liu, the deputy mayor who oversees DWP, referred questions to the mayor's spokesman, Jeff Millman, who declined to state the mayor's position.