By Tony Wilkinson

On the November 8 ballot, City of Los Angeles voters will be asked to approve Charter changes to improve governance of the Department of Water and Power. At least that’s the theory. The measure contains some new contracting freedom, gives the DWP Board its own staff, and doubles the minimum budget for the Ratepayer Advocate’s Office of Public Accountability. It also opens the possibility that some or all of the city’s Civil Service standards may be modified through a binding labor agreement, provided that merit-based hiring, retention and discharge (not promotion) are retained. These changes are significant. They deserve a YES vote.

The reality is that the ballot measure does not really free DWP from the political meddling of elected officials. It includes a new “strategic planning” process. This process will give the City Council an oversight role for LADWP investments and rates that it does not have today. Strategic planning is good. Strategic planning for a utility by elected officials who are strongly influenced by election cycles and special interests is not in keeping with the concept of reduced political interference.

What DWP really needs to resolve its hiring crisis is more positions that are exempt from Civil Service rules. The County of Los Angeles has 10 percent. DWP has 18 positions out of 8,000. Exemptions didn’t make it to the ballot. As a result, DWP is totally dependent on labor negotiations with its dominant union for a solution to its hiring crisis. That is going to be expensive.

Furthermore, the City Council apparently has no intention of allowing the DWP Board to make the decisions on changes to Civil Service at DWP. The ballot measure requires that any changes made through a valid labor agreement must be approved by the “salary setting authority”. That authority is the City Council. Note that none of the remaining 23 recommendations for DWP Reform include making the DWP Board the salary setting authority for DWP.

Shortening the terms of DWP Commissioners from five years to four means that all members can be replaced by every Mayor, even with staggered terms. This partially offsets the new ability of commissioners to appeal their dismissal to the City Council. Expansion of the Board to seven members and some decorative skill “requirements” will have little effect on the powers of the Board. The only areas in which elected officials have given the Board additional powers are contracting and setting the salary of the General Manager. Four recommendations (20, 21, 22, 23) are classic political meddling.

Inserting into the Charter a requirement that DWP implement monthly billing by January 1, 2020, raises the specter of a three-year (2017, 2018, 2019) forced march to a major billing system software change that can’t be halted if it is not ready. Did we learn anything from the last billing system fiasco?

The following list is a summary of the 24 DWP Reform recommendations from the Rules, Elections, Intergovernmental Relations and Neighborhoods committee (REIRN, or just “Rules”). It breaks them down into categories by the type of action and the timing.

Ballot Measure, November 8

—- 01 –Charter Changes –Board GM DWPAO OPA StrategicPlan Personnel Billing

Ordinances, IF Ballot Measure passes

—- 02 –Board –Stipend of $2000 per month proposed
—- 03 –Board –Transition schedule and staggered terms
—- 14 –Contracts –Eliminate council approval of power contracts and design-build contracts
—- 16 –Oversight –Four-year investment and revenue Strategic Plans and approvals

Other actions, IF Ballot Measure passes

—- 07 –OPA_RPA –(Request) Hiring plan with additional exempt positions

Ordinances, NOW

—- 04 –Gen Mgr –Board sets compensation annually with approval of EERC
—- 05 –OPA_RPA –Appropriate and necessary access to DWP documents
—- 11 –Contracts –GM authority to $5 mil wo Board OK Board up to ($15 mil?) wo Sec 245
—- 12 –Contracts –Quarterly and annual contracting reports including outsourcing
—- 13 –Contracts –Board approves contracts up to 5 years (some 10) wo Council OK
—- 15 –Contracts –DWP may use RFPs and competitive negotiation for special equip

Other actions, NOW

—- 09 –Personnel –By Aug 1: a Plan to address DWP hiring needs in existing system
—- 10 –Personnel –DWP labor negotiations to expedite existing hiring and promotions
—- 17 –Independence –Ask Mayor to exempt DWP from sweeping oversight of ED4
—- 18 –Independence –CAO: Options for DWP Board to do own collective bargaining
—- 19 –Power Transfer –Litigation update with options to modify transfer or resolve the case
—- 24 –Attorney –Authorize technical or legal changes w advice of CAO, CLA, CC Pres

Reports for POSSIBLE ordinances

—- 06 –OPA_RPA — Potential changes to

[Charter!] role by ordinance
—- 08 –Attorney –“Strengthen Board oversight of litigation” without an outside counsel
—- 20 –Water System –Report: Options for integrated water group (BurSan merger)
—- 21 –Discounts –Report: How to give discounts to Rec&Parks, non-profits, seniors
—- 22 –Green Power –Report: Options to assure access to green power by low income
—- 23 –Low Income –Report: Creating an executive level low income advocate at DWP

For full details on these 23 additional proposals, go to http://dwpreform.lacity.org, click on “Information for Neighborhood Councils”, and look at the related document “REIRN Committee Recommendations on DWP Governance Reform”. The charter changes (the ballot measure) are contained in recommendation number 1. They became new CF 16-1800. Each of the recommendations 2 through 24 is still open for Neighborhood Council input. Community Impact Statements can be filed on the original motion (CF 16-0093). Make sure to send a copy of any Neighborhood Council or individual recommendation on DWP Reform to Council President Herb Wesson’s Assistant Chief Deputy Andrew Westall (andrew.westall@lacity.org).

Please send your questions and comments on DWP Reform to dwpmou@EmpowerLA.org. DWP Reform information will be posted regularly at http://empowerla.org/dwpmou. There is additional information at http://dwpreform.lacity.org.

Tony Wilkinson is the Chair of the Neighborhood Council – DWP MOU Oversight Committee. He will be contributing information on the DWP Reform process to the EmpowerLA newsletter each week.