Updated after the jump with new details on today's debate.
Of all the frenzied March ballot decisions going down at City Hall today, before the Wednesday deadline — outlined in the Weekly's “Rushed and Confused L.A. City Council” — there's one councilmembers have little excuse to shelve for a year:
Creating oversight positions for the Department of Water and Power, a monopoly operating almost free of check known for its unruly rate hikes and pensions that soar beyond all other city workers'.
DWP union head Brian D'Arcy ran massive ads attacking a proposed Office of Public Accountability in the Los Angeles Times and Daily News last Thursday — just what the endless DWP pot o' gold is good for — on an age-old “this is too last-minute” platform:
Sure, the City Council and City Attorney have been mind-numbingly slow about deciding what kind of independent oversight to put before voters — this office of accountability idea includes an executive director, a ratepayer advocate and an inspector general.
But former DWP Board President Nick Patsaouras proposed the damn thing three years ago.
Patsaouras told the Weekly:
“My proposal has been on their desks — god, for seven or eight months. It's badly, badly needed. I even threatened to get 250,000 signatures so I could put it on the ballot [without them], but that's almost impossible. I need the City Council to put it on the ballot. But they are each a fiefdom of one.”
What in the name of Los Angeles took so long?
Well, D'Arcy's fierce investment in keeping the DWP insular (read: well-paid and self-serving) hasn't helped.
Aside from that, Patsaouras thinks councilmembers just didn't take enough interest at first; it took major blowups like the unsupervised rate-hike scandal last spring to shake them into seriously thinking about installing some oversight.
This week, Patsaouras says he's confident City Councilmembers will finally approve a plan that Los Angeles voters would be asked to approve in March.
However, with councilmembers like Paul Koretz — who received $40,000 from the DWP union for his 2009 campaign — at the table, we're not so sure.
Especially if D'Autry's DWP army shows up outside City Hall again, truck engines revving.
The new positions in the Office of Public Accountability plan are defined by the City Attorney as “appointed and removed by a citizens committee, subject to confirmation in appointment and removal by the Council and Mayor.” Furthermore, the executive director shall:
… (1) report directly to, but shall not be instructed by, the board; (2) have full charge and control of all work of the OPA; (3) be responsible for the proper administration of its affairs; (4) appoint, discharge, suspend, or transfer all of its employees, subject to the civil service provisions of the Charter; (5) issue instructions to OPA employees in the line of their duties, subject to the civil service provisions of the Charter; (6) prior to the beginning of each fiscal year and in accordance with a schedule prescribed by ordinance, submit to the City Administrative Officer a proposed annual budget covering the anticipated expenditures of the OPA; (7) expend the funds of the OPA (including, without limitation, awarding contracts) in accordance with the provisions of the budget appropriations or of appropriations made after adoption of the budget; and (8) perform such other duties as may be prescribed by ordinance.
Still, neighborhood councilmember and DWP gadfly Jack Humphreyville said he foresees a few more obstacles at the meeting today
“Yes, we're very concerned with the details of the positions — we just don't know what they are,” Humphreyville said, referring to the City Attorney's vague, hard-to-pin-down report.
“I think there's going to be issues with regard to its role, its financing and its independence.”
The package was brought before the council by City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who Kaye and other City Hall watchers have credited with taking the toughest stance toward the DWP and D'Arcy.
Most other Los Angeles City Council members are openly afraid of, or servile toward, IBEW union chief D'Arcy, whose union has enough cash and enough foot soldiers to turn out candidates and people against any one of the 15 City Councilmembers at election time.
Other DWP-related ballot possibilities on the agenda today are:
- The City Council could remove any DWP commissioner with a 2/3 vote.
- The City Council could remove the DWP general manager. (Judging by his opinion of current General Manager Austin Beutner, ex-LA Daily News editor Ron Kaye will like this one.)
- The DWP budget would be due March 31, with the possibility of surplus transfers from the Power Revenue Fund.
Download the City Attorney's full report here. And stay tuned as we rubberneck the train wreck that will be the next two days at City Hall.