Mayor Eric Garcetti said this week that he would direct the Department of Water and Power to disclose how millions of dollars in ratepayer money is being spent at two “training institutes.” The DWP has been unwilling or unable to account for the finances of the organizations, which are jointly operated with the DWP union.
Quote from Mayor Quimby in the classic Simpsons burlesque house episode.
Garcetti's move came in response to an L.A. Times story last week, but the institutes are far from a new development. They have been around for a dozen years, and they were first exposed by the L.A. Weekly all the way back in 2005.
So Garcetti is now springing into action, after biding his time for eight years.
The Weekly story went into some detail about how the DWP union, IBEW Local 18, was able to keep secret the operations of the ratepayer-funded Joint Training Institute and the Joint Safety Institute. At that time, they had been funded to the tune of $12 million, and now that figure is up to $40 million.
Though lawyers in the city attorney's office believed that the groups' meetings and records should be open to the public, IBEW managed to work its connections in Sacramento to obtain a friendly opinion from the office of Attorney General Bill Lockyer. Since then, the groups' activities have been shrouded in secrecy.
In a statement to the L.A. Daily News and KPCC this week, Garcetti said he had instructed DWP general manager Ron Nichols to account for spending at the institutes.
“I am also calling on my new DWP commission to seek full disclosure of all spending by these two organizations, and to explore all legal avenues to account for every ratepayer dollar spent,” Garcetti said in the statement.
And yet: Garcetti was serving on the City Council back in 2005, and the Weekly story would have been hard to miss had he been interested in DWP oversight at the time. In fact, elected officials typically employ clip services to make sure that they see news articles relevant to their jobs.
The Daily News asked Garcetti's office Wednesday what had taken him so long, and was told that “the mayor was not aware of that L.A. Weekly story” and only learned of the issue when the L.A. Times reported on it last week.
Garcetti also voted for DWP labor contracts that included provisions maintaining these institutes.
DWP reform has been a key theme of the young Garcetti administration. But Garcetti showed relatively little interest in the topic until IBEW Local 18 began spending millions of dollars on TV ads attacking him in the mayor's race.
Garcetti responded during the campaign by calling the IBEW leadership “power brokers” and accusing his opponent, Controller Wendy Greuel, of “letting them off the hook” by failing to examine the DWP. But Garcetti stopped short of alleging that the IBEW's contracts — which he voted for in 2005 and 2009 — were tilted in the union's favor.
When asked in March if those contracts were too lucrative, Garcetti ducked the question, saying, “It would certainly be nice to have analysis on that.” He subsequently defended the 2009 contract, saying it saved money by giving raises in the form of a cash bonus.
IBEW Local 18 ratified a new contract on Wednesday, which freezes wages in place for three years. In a release, the mayor's office touted the deal as “a dramatic shift away from the generous contracts of the past.”
The mayor's office did not acknowledge that Garcetti had supported those contracts, or explain the change in his thinking about them.