LOS ANGELES (CBS) — City lawmakers moved one step closer on Monday toward the creation of an independent watchdog to oversee budget management for the Department of Water and Power.
Voters on March 8 approved a charter amendment to set aside 0.25 percent of DWP’s budget in order to create an Office of Public Accountability.
After the council put the measure on the ballot after a bitter fight with the DWP over rate hikes last year, the Energy and Environment Committee voted to direct the city attorney, chief legislative analyst and chief administrative officer to figure out what needs to happen legally for the positions to be created.
The committee asked for a report back within 30 days.
“I think we need to let the public know that we’ve heard them,” said Councilwoman Jan Perry, who introduced the motion to advance the Office of Public Accountability. “It’s been voted on. It’s passed. We gotta keep it moving and get it done.”
Perry asked Fred Merken, special counsel in the city attorney’s office, if the Office of Public Accountability’s executive director could also serve as the ratepayer advocate.
“I should tell you there’s some doubts about that,” Merken replied.
He said a citizens committee would have to be formed to nominate an executive director, which would require a new a ordinance and be a “major undertaking.”
He said the city attorney willl also need to draft administrative procedures that spell out how much access the OPA will have to DWP information and documents, how the public will submit complaints to the office, and how to remove an executive director if necessary.
“It’s an emulation of the procedure by which the city council would remove the chief of police. So that will be very straightforward and very much the same as that particular mechanism,” Merken told the committee.
Dr. Clyde Williams, with the LA-32 Neighborhood Council, said he is worried about the public’s access to OPA.
“Will the Office of Public Accountability be accountable to the public? How? The easiest way is through the neighborhood councils,” he said. “We need to have more access, more transparency to whatever the ratepayers’ advocate will be doing.”
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