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Politics, government and public life for Southern California

DWP general manager Ron Nichols to step down at end of January (updated)

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The general manager of the Department of Water and Power will leave the utility at the end of the month, Mayor Eric Garcetti's office announced Thursday. 

Ron Nichols is leaving the utility after three years as its leader. In a letter to the mayor, Nichols explains the decision "to leave is my own and is for personal reasons." He has not yet made any future plans for another role in the utility industry, Nichols said in his letter.

The departure follows a bumpy year for the DWP. The power and influence of its labor union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 18, was the cause for much debate in the 2013 mayoral race after the union spent millions to back Wendy Greuel over Garcetti.

Once Garcetti was elected, he drew attention to hundreds of rules contained in the union's contract, perks such as unlimited sick days and bonuses for DWP employees if the utility uses outside contractors.

That also brought attention to two nonprofit trusts, the Joint Safety Institute and Joint Training Institute, operated by DWP and the union. The two institutes received more than $40 million in taxpayer money over a 12-year period. Nichols' announcement comes one day after City Controller Ron Galperin said he would subpoena union chief Brian D'Arcy to get financial records for those groups. Even though both men are trustees of the nonprofits, the controller's office believes D'Arcy, not Nichols, has the documents they're looking for. 

DWP also finished 2013 by switching to a new customer service computer program that led to tens of thousands of inflated bills. When customers called to complain, they faced outrageous wait times. 

"I thank Ron for his service to our city as head of a department that serves every L.A. resident and business," Garcetti said in a prepared statement. "I'm focused on continuing to reform the DWP to cut costs, improve customer service and increase transparency."

Nichols' departure follows the first round of a rigorous performance review exercise undertaken by the new mayor. The Garcetti administration made all of the city's general managers reapply for their jobs and submit memos detailing their accomplishments and goals. Garcetti held face-to-face meetings with all of the managers before deciding who would stay and who would go. Though the initial round has been completed, a spokesman for the mayor described the new review structure as a rolling process. 

The mayor's office confirmed to KPCC it would look outside the DWP for the utility's next general manager.

In a statement, the chair of the Energy and Environment Committee, Councilman Felipe Fuentes, said he was "disappointed" to hear of Nichols' resignation.

"Given the repeated turnover in leadership at DWP, I hope that moving forward we can bring greater stability to the utility in the selection of its next general manager," Feuntes said.

 

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