Monday, November 21, 2005

What Is In Center Stage?

There were a couple of comments made in the November 15, 2005 DWP Board meeting that give the impression that this new Board might be just what the doctor ordered. If so, we are most thankful. For those of us who are more experienced with the means and methods of politics, we remain cautious, vigilant, and perhaps too tolerant.

Department of Water and Power Board seems to have two goals: one, move the DWP as quickly as possible to green power and two, to get a handle on contracting. Both goals are aimed at symptoms and don’t get to the root cause. Emphasizing a few statements and reading between the lines, we would venture to say the Board has chosen not to identify the root cause because it might implicate one of the most influential political organizations in Los Angeles, the City Attorneys Office, and their relationship with the DWP. Logically, one looking for a root cause would ask, “Why isn’t the DWP green?” and “Why have the contracts run amok?” In both cases, the answer would lead to leadership, decision makers, and systemic mis-management. One such comment was from Commissioner Nick Patsaouras. By the way, we at Civil Action Press are really getting to enjoy him.

Let us preface with… the meetings are long and grueling. And, the brain can only assimilate what the butt can endure. So, the facts might be a bit hazy but the Commissioners are clearly tripping over the heart of the matter.

The Department apparently invested some millions in a research and development firm, which developed exchangeable off-peak rechargeable battery packs for electric vehicles and are in the process of presenting their achievements to the world. Apparently, the new Board knows nothing about the investment or the subsequently developed products and they have been unable to discuss it because the DWP is in litigation with the firm. Like many of the employees, vendors and whistleblowers at DWP, the firm’s representatives are communicating with the Board in two-minute sound bites via channels normally reserved for public comments. To say that communication is rather guarded at the DWP grossly understates the problem. Board President Mary Nichols suggested discussing the matter in closed session. By insisting on transparency, Nichols could save a bundle wasted in litigation. Patsaouras made a comment referring to too many attorneys. Patsaouras’ comment hit pay dirt.

At meetings, City Attorneys frequently outnumber DWP management. At the Board meeting Assistant General Manager and former Chief Deputy City Attorney, Thomas Hokinson sat to the left of General Manager Ron Deaton and to his right sat Assistant General Manager Hal Lindsey, also an attorney. At a preceding Commerce, Energy, and Natural Resources Committee meeting, Chief Administrative Officer, Robert Rosanski was surrounded by City Attorneys Cecil Marr, Daniel Lowenthal, and Assistant General Manager Hal Lindsey. What the Department severely lacks in leadership, it makes up for in litigious might.

Attorneys are not a good sign. Attorneys are defenders and advocates. They should never be mistaken for judges. It would be a conflict of interest. Ask any divorcé, their presence clearly says to the citizens of Los Angeles we are in an adversarial position, we are not going to be amicable, and the costs are going to be high.

Recall the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Rampart scandals. The situation was bad before and with the help of the City Attorneys Office, the situation has been institutionalized. In 2001, Rocky Delgadillo was quoted in the Metropolitan News,

“Mr. Hokinson’s combination of talent, experience and familiarity with the City Attorney’s Office will help us hit the ground running, and tackle critical issues such as improving our children’s education, reducing the city’s liability expenditures, ensuring the highest level of public safety, reforming the Los Angeles Police Department, and improving the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” Delgadillo said in a statement. “Hokinson headed the Los Angeles City Attorneys Office Liabilities Division, and has been the city’s point man on reducing lawsuits against the LAPD. He took a lead role in cutting LAPD-related payouts in 1993, in the wake of the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots. But city liabilities have since soared—especially those stemming from suits against the LAPD. Hokinson helped craft multimillion-dollar settlements last year in lawsuits stemming from the Rampart police corruption scandal. Although the move drew public criticism, inside City Hall, Hokinson is credited with keeping the city’s payout in the Rampart scandal to a minimum.”

In retrospect, the City Attorney’s Office has grown to be one of the biggest law firms in the State and its main function has become to contain, squelch, tie-up, and retaliate against anything and everything that threatens or questions the status quo. The status quo we are talking about here is mismanagement and lack of accountability. After 35 years, Hokinson says he is ready to retire (good riddance). His accomplishments are the prerequisites to the problems that have become the culture at LAPD, DWP, and the pinnacle of City achievement – unabashed lack of accountability. Lack of accountability will remain a pox upon this city. To this day, LAPD still is understaffed in comparison to New York and Chicago Police Departments for good reason – No accountability. We citizens pay the price of not holding our city managers and their cronies accountable.

Did the City Attorneys Office go after the city managers that authored, requisitioned, and approved Fleischman-Hillard contract expenditures? No. Instead, they identified and went after the resultant symptoms (Fleischman-Hillard) rather than the root causers.

Does the City Attorneys Office bend the rules to protect its friends? Yes. It seems there is no concern for public opinion.

When the City Attorneys Office was investigated, what happens to those investigators? In the case of Dan Carvin, a retired Federal Investigator who was hired to investigate City corruption, he was fired, tied up in litigation, and the City paid $490,000 to settle and the facts of what he was after remain buried from the public in the City Attorneys Office. It seems Laura Chick has relegated her investigations to the periphery, parking lot skimming at $800 a pop.

The Owens Valley Lake is another billion dollar boondoggle tied up in litigation. Patsaouras asks simple questions. Each management response is carefully couched and delivered in closed session with the City Attorneys carefully positioned in every other seat. The crux of the matter is that the management at DWP and the purely advocate roll of the City Attorneys Office has become a barbed-wire no-man’s land for the truth and a costly liability for the citizens of Los Angeles.

Patsaouras’ comments seem to reflect that DWP management and the City Attorneys Office have clearly insulated the Board. DWP employees have made every effort to tell management about systemic mismanagement problems and issues brewing at Owens Lake. Until the Board removes these managers, they will have to be content to steer the organization from a trailer hitched to the back of the organization based upon information they receive from the media. The Board would not be talking about Owens Lake or CH2MHill, if it were not for a rightfully concerned handful of dedicated civil servants and Jeffrey Anderson at LA Weekly. What is wrong with this picture?

Is this just a continuation of the Hahn administration? True to form, executive level management sent employees working in the Owens Valley letters with their checks advising employees to forward media requests to the Public Relations. So rather than holding management accountable and establishing an obviously needed flow of information on projects and operations, is the Board further insulating itself and condoning more of the same policies that have caused the problem in the first place?


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