Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Shrader asks DWP Board and Mayor Villaraigosa for change agents

Daniel N. Shrader made the following public comment to the Board of Water and Power.
The city’s civil service system was created in 1903 to prevent political patronage from dominating decisions of employment. The idea was that city government should search for those people with the skills and experience to do each city job and assure that jobs were allocated on the basis of merit. Moreover, it was designed to protect those who performed their jobs responsibly from arbitrary or retaliatory suspension or firing. Ten years later on November 5, 1913, Chief Engineer William Mulholland delivered the aqueduct system on schedule and under budget.

I have dedicated the majority of my career in service to this city and this Department. During my first week on the job in 1983, General Manager and Chief Engineer, Paul Lane, knew me by name and articulated a vision of our potential. Since that time, I have served proudly under many General Managers and Chief Engineers who have advanced through merit and qualification and shaped the vision and culture of our organization.

In 1995, city politicians convinced voters to change the Charter and increase the ranks of exempt executives who serve at the pleasure of the mayor, his appointed commissioners, and the city council. The reason for vesting this power with the mayor was to ensure our management was accountable and responsive to the public. The change in our culture is tied to the influences of these mayoral appointments. In the aftermath of deregulation, we downsized. Exempt positions and 1014 transfers were to be used to reposition existing employees of merit. But instead, these hiring privileges have been abused, qualifications lowered, and the quality of our management undermined. In effect, we are restoring the patronage that civil service was designed to prevent – doling out jobs to those with connections.

On November 7th, I questioned management integrity and the direction of these personnel investigations, because I have spent 6 years working my way mano a mano through an organizational labyrinth of agents, loopholes, and dead ends controlled by exempt executives sitting before you. I can claim with reasonable certainty that this organization is in denial and its management spends more time ruining employees rather than addressing their concerns and refocusing their efforts to the benefit of our customers.

My complaints about management are not unique to personnel. I hope you can recall calming an elderly woman, a residential customer, who came weeping into the Board meeting with bill in hand. I don’t know how or if the situation was resolved but, it is important to note she came here as a last resort. Our organization could not address her needs without executive deliberation and she had to return 2 weeks later for a resolution.

In another instance, the Chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District demonstrated to you at this podium that our executives treated him cavalierly and would not address his needs. It was no surprise that the Los Angeles Community College District announced, it planned to build and generate its own green power.

These two customer service failures are noteworthy not because they demonstrate that we treat a broad range of customers equally poorly, but because the failure of one exacerbates the failure of the other. Each commercial customer lost will result in a multitude of residential customers weeping about their bill.

Coupled with a lack of operational transparency, an inability to assess, foresee, avoid, or, at the very least, provide a managerial explanation of the latest media covered fiasco without having to wait 6 months for a blue ribbon investigation bona fide by the city attorney, these instances reflect poorly upon city management.

These management issues are not specific to DWP. The video clips of ruffians in blue, cruel antics of firefighters, refusal to hold managers accountable, and millions in settlements, have soiled our reputations, violated our civil rights, and cost the city its integrity, its standards, and its vision. These examples have come to characterize our expectations from city management. They contribute to middle management malaise, the lack of accountability, and the inability to change the culture where we work. These deplorable examples of managerial incompetence have become institutionalized and seem unaffected by scores of proclamations, appointed second-career managers, investigations, and reorganizations.

Consequently, I believe management, merit, and accountability have been compromised. I am asking Mayor Villaraigosa and this Board again, to take advantage of the employees who risk their careers before you for the sake of this city department and its stakeholders. Rather than labeling us as inflammatory and demanding our patience, harness our passion, energy, and diligence as change agents and employ our talent and loyalty to achieve your goals and the mayor’s vision.

The partnership of change agents and culture changing opportunities is priceless.

I am submitting a recent article from the Wall Street Journal about an unlikely change agent who seized an opportunity and saved an entrenched and failing company. He effectively changed the culture of his company in two years by changing the traditions and attitudes of management.

Thank you for your time and consideration.