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L.A. lawmakers vote for plan to settle gridlock on DWP trusts

L.A. lawmakers vote to demand 'unfettered access' to DWP nonprofit records before $4 million can be paid

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to demand that city auditors get “unfettered access” to records for two controversial nonprofits affiliated with the Department of Water and Power, one of a string of conditions they want to impose to end the city's legal battles with the leaders of a powerful DWP union.

The plan, proposed by five lawmakers, ties a disputed $4 million payment to the nonprofits to more than a dozen conditions, including allowing the city controller and city budget officials to perform audits covering the past five years.

The nonprofits, which are run jointly by labor- and management-appointed trustees, have so far refused to open their detailed financial records to inspection. With the council's action, they would also have to agree to annual audits in the future, conducted by an auditor agreed upon by both sets of trustees.

After talking over the issue behind closed doors, the council voted 12-0 to instruct the city attorney and city administrative officer to sit down with union leaders and try to negotiate a settlement based on the plan.

Union business manager Brian D'Arcy said after the vote that he supports the principles behind the council proposal, and backed Wednesday's action. "There is still much work to do including negotiating a detailed Letter of Agreement, but we are confident that there are solutions that result in the desired outcome," he said. 

The proposed plan would also resolve an ongoing feud over who represents management on the nonprofit boards. It would allow DWP managers and supervisors to replace two appointees allied with the mayor but opposed by union officials. Both sides would also need to drop lawsuits tied to the trusts. 

Lawmakers said the plan gave them a road map to resolving the longstanding dispute, which they hoped would let city officials shift their attention to other problems such as repairing aging pipes like the ones that recently ruptured and flooded part of the UCLA campus.

"I think that it's important that we resolve this issue and get moving on the really phenomenal issues the department is dealing with -- about moving to greener sources of energy, about fixing our decaying infrastructure, and fixing ... the customer service system at DWP," Councilman Mike Bonin said.

Council President Herb Wesson rejected suggestions that the city had given in to the politically muscular union, arguing that L.A. had set tough conditions for settling the lawsuits and providing the $4 million payment. If the union does not agree to those conditions, "there's no agreement," he said.

"Do you really think labor ... are in the middle of the street dancing because they’ve been ordered to do these things?" Wesson asked a reporter after the vote.

He later added, "Nobody is doing this because they are kowtowing to anyone else."

For months, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 has resisted attempts by city leaders to get access to financial details for the two nonprofits, which have received more than $40 million in ratepayer money over the years to improve employee training and safety.

Mayor Eric Garcetti has already declared his support for the Council proposal. And City Controller Ron Galperin, who earlier announced he would refuse to make the $4 million payment to the nonprofits, said it was “an important step” to back up his own call for a thorough audit.

Earlier this year, the union filed a claim with the city's Employee Relations Board arguing that Galperin's refusal to pay money to the nonprofits violated labor law. Several council members said they were concerned that not paying the money could jeopardize the labor agreement reached with utility workers last year -- a pact that included workers forgoing raises for three years.

"We don't want to do anything that will jeopardize that," Councilman Mitch O'Farrell said.

Follow @latimesemily for what's happening at Los Angeles City Hall.

Times staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this report.

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