L.A. City Councilman Says LADWP Ratepayer Advocate Has ‘Failed’

By Contributing Editors, MYNEWSLA.COM

November 21, 2018

https://mynewsla.com/business/2018/11/21/l-a-city-councilman-says-ladwp…

Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz kept up his public pressure Wednesday on Department of Water and Power watchdog and ratepayer advocate Fred Pickel, saying he should be subjected to an in-depth performance review before he is granted another five-year term.

The longtime energy industry consultant was appointed in February 2012 to be the official watchdog of the LADWP. Since his five-year term expired, he has been working on a month-to-month contract.

Pickel was recently recommended for reappointment by the Citizens Committee for the Selection of the Executive Director of the Office of Public Accountability. But his reappointment must also be approved by Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council.

“The current incumbent in this position failed to do the most obvious thing requested when the charter was written and the position was created,” Koretz said Wednesday during a meeting of the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee, although Koretz was the only member present.

In a motion he introduced earlier, Koretz wrote that Pickel was recommended for reappointment “without any review of his job performance in his first 6 1/2 years on the job, and the chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee which nominated him has stated that no such review has taken place nor ever would.” Koretz’s motion also says that “to date, the OPA has not improved DWP transparency or adequately addressed common consumer complaints.”

The Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee, which Koretz chairs, could not take any official action because the other two members, Mitchell Englander and Curren Price, were not present, but Koretz is allowed under city rules to issue a “recommendation of the chair” that his motion be approved by the full City Council. He also recommended that city staff report back to the council on the contents of an ordinance to more fully explain the duties and responsibility of the ratepayer advocate and the Office of Public Accountability.

Pickel did not speak at the meeting.

Tony Wilkinson, chair of the search committee, told Koretz the committee did not do any job performance review of Pickel, because “the employment job review did not appear to be authorized by the charter and the ordinance as it currently stands.”

He added, “We were going forward with this, we were not looking backward. However, we did evaluate this candidate’s experience and writing, just like we did of those of other candidates.”

Koretz and Wilkinson also engaged in a conversation about whether Pickel, as executive director of his office, was allowed to also appoint himself as the ratepayer advocate. The charter that created the OPA states that “the employees of the OPA shall include a Ratepayer Advocate and additional positions as prescribed by ordinance.”

Wilkinson and Koretz agreed that Pickel had essentially appointed himself as the ratepayer advocate but disagreed on the appropriateness of the action.

“If you’re saying, which I think violates the charter, that he appointed and hired himself as ratepayer advocate, he’s also publicly stated that he doesn’t view himself as the ratepayer advocate,” Koretz said. “So if he’s hired himself as the ratepayer advocate, which appears to violate the charter because I don’t think he can hire himself, and then says, `I’m not the ratepayer advocate,’ how could a body say that this guy has fulfilled his task and deserves to be rehired?”

Wilkinson said the answer would come down to clarification in the ordinance that created the OPA.

Pickel’s work has been criticized heavily by Consumer Watchdog and the environmental group Food & Water Watch, which have said he does not stand up to the LADWP enough on issues including rate hikes and the Delta Tunnels project.

“Choosing to nominate Fred Pickel to another five-year contract at nearly $300,000 a year without even talking to some of the most qualified applicants for the job betrays all DWP ratepayers,” Liza Tucker of Consumer Watchdog said after Pickel was recommended for reappointment. “It had nothing to do with picking a true ratepayer advocate to protect the interests of ratepayers and everything to do with Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council President Herb Wesson wanting a rubber-stamper of DWP decisions.”

Consumer Watchdog issued a report in March that outlined its claim that Pickel has cost ratepayers nearly $7 billion through either faulty advice or failing to oppose costly projects.

Pickel has brushed off the criticism. He earlier told City News Service, “I believe the Consumer Watchdog has plenty of fire but is short on fact.”

Pickel also said he has done plenty to fight rate hikes, including a hike that was being proposed in 2012 that he fought when he first took office. Although a hike did go through, changes he proposed saved ratepayers $50 million per year, he said.