The Water and Power Commission Tuesday officially backed Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's nomination of Marcie Edwards to replace Ron Nichols as general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
The five-person panel voted unanimously to confirm Anaheim's city manager for the position. If confirmed by the City Council, Edwards will take over for Nichols, who stepped down last week after three years as head of the LADWP.
Edwards would be the first woman to lead the 112-year-old utility.
Prior to serving as Anaheim's city manager, Edwards ran Anaheim Public Utilities for 13 years, but she has deep roots within the DWP, where her father and grandfather both worked, as did she. Edwards began working at the DWP as a clerk typist at age 19, and worked her way up to the position of assistant general manager of the marketing and customer service business units.
Commission President Mel Levine noted that Edwards was the "one name that kept coming up" as a candidate to replace Nichols.
"She is an insider, and she's an outsider," Levine said.
Commissioner Jill Banks Barad urged Edwards to strengthen the "very fragile relationship" between ratepayers and the LADWP.
"I say that euphemistically. I have found in my short time (on the commission) ... that the customer service is unacceptable at every level," Barad said, pointing to the hour-long hold times that ratepayers experienced last fall when calling customer service lines and the lack of answers when an LADWP employee finally responds.
"I'm tired of hearing, 'Well, we're working on it.' And this response perpetuates the idea that government just can't do anything right," Barad said.
Edwards responded that she is "very comfortable with feedback," while reaffirming that a public utility like DWP "is bought and paid for by the ratepayers. They own it. They're ultimately the party that we should be held accountable to."
As general manager, she said she will "focus on managing" the "very tenuous relationship" between ratepayers and the utility, while digging deep into the organization to root out the "small barriers, internally, that keep progress from being made."
If confirmed, Edwards would come to the LADWP as it works to patch over a troubled overhaul of its 39-year-old billing and customer information system. Glitches in the initial months of the $162 million changeover resulted in tens of thousands of incorrect bills being sent out, with some customers being charged several times more than they owed and receiving shutoff threats from the utility. Customer service call wait times also ballooned as people called in to fix their bills.
Edwards would also be stepping into the middle of intense scrutiny into a pair of trusts that received more than $40 million in ratepayer money from the DWP.