Politics, government and public life for Southern California

New DWP commissioners demand documents on nonprofits' spending

Karen Foshay/KPCC

The DWP Valley Steam Plant is home to two nonprofits jointly run by the Department of Water and Power and its powerful union. The newly installed Board of Water and Power Commissioners wants a full accounting of the money given by the utility to the two groups.

The newly appointed Board of Water and Power Commissioners told the Department of Water and Power's top brass Tuesday it wants to see a full accounting for two trusts funded by the utility. 

The function and spending of the Joint Safety Institute and Joint Training Institute have been the subject of questions for years. Over the past dozen years, the two trusts — which have tax-exempt status — have received $41 million from the DWP. The trusts are jointly run by the DWP and its labor union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 18. 

The trusts were created by the Los Angeles City Council in 2000 and 2002 to develop safety initiatives and programs to reduce injury rates, according to DWP officials. 

"The issue that really is on the table is linking the expenditures with these activities and results," said DWP Commission President Mel Levine. 

Levine and his colleagues want to see detailed spending records by their next board meeting to get a better idea of where ratepayers' money is going. Beyond that, some commissioners questioned why the trusts' functions can't be performed by the utility itself. 

"I'm still not clear if there are internal training programs within DWP, why are these additional ones needed?," said Commissioner Jill Banks Barad. "I still don't understand why you had to create these two institutes." 

The two similarly named groups share the same group of trustees, including IBEW's Brian D'Arcy and DWP General Manager Ron Nichols.

In addressing the board, Nichols said one advantage of the trusts is that they are more nimble than the much larger DWP and it doesn't take them as long to vet safety policies and contracts. However, he added, "there is no reason for not having greater transparency with respect to this."

The inquiry comes at the same time City Controller Ron Galperin is auditing the trusts. In a letter to Nichols, Galperin said he's seeking details on expenses, payroll and lease agreements, as well as meeting minutes, performance metrics and budget documents. In total, the controller wants three years worth of financial records by Oct. 11.

 

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