Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Ethics procedure changes advance toward approval at Metropolitan Water District

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A policy to streamline the way ethics complaints are handled at the agency responsible for supplying water to 19 million people in Southern California was approved by a subcommittee on Monday.  Tomorrow the Metropolitan Water District’s board of directors will consider the policy, and if approved, it will make MWD’s Ethics Office responsible for screening and investigating allegations of conflicts of interest, gifts and harassment. Under existing policy, committees are charged with receiving and reviewing complaints. 
“Because there are so many people involved at the outset before an investigation actually commences, there is a sense from people who either have been through the process or who know about it, that there isn’t sufficient confidentiality," MWD Ethics Officer Deena Ghaly told KPCC. 
"So that if you wanted to bring forward a sensitive matter, the issue would be that many people would know about it."
If the new proposal passes, the Ethics Office would take over responsibility for conducting preliminary investigations. 
Despite the size of the agency, the Ethics Office has just three employees and a professional services budget of $15,000. The policy approved by a subcommittee Monday included up to $245,000 for a policy analyst and investigator 
“I’m not anxious to add to the overhead of this organization,” MWD Director Larry Dick said of the agency, which has an annual budget of $1.5 billion. 
Dick was one of two dissenting votes. Several directors who are not members of the Audit and Ethics Committee attended the afternoon meeting. Director Glen Peterson, who is not on the committee, said he supports some of the internal changes but wants to see the committees stay in place. He also questioned the additional funding. 
“I feel the budget increase is way over the top, just way over the top. It just seems to me like it’s kingdom building,” Peterson said. 
It’s unclear what will happen when the ethics policy is taken up by the full board. One director who supported the plan in committee questioned those who opposed the ethics plan as too expensive and politically motivated.  
“I actually don’t understand the lack of support from this board,” said MWD Director Sylvia Ballin. “Several people have said to me, primarily women, why is it the men of the MWD Board feel so threatened by this change?”
“If there’s ever an organization that needs it, it’s MWD.”
The Metropolitan Water District’s board of directors will meet tomorrow at noon. 

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