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Mayor picks new DWP boss, ousts another top utility executive

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Thursday continued his effort to overhaul the leadership of the city’s much-criticized municipal utility and curb the influence of its powerful employees union by nominating a new agency boss and dismissing a top-ranking executive. 

Garcetti recommended Anaheim City Manager Marcie Edwards as the new general manager of the Department of Water and Power, which has been struggling to manage a series of controversies over spending and customer service.

Edwards, who ran Anahiem’s utility and previously worked at the DWP for more than two decades, was chosen because she has the experience  to run one of the nation’s largest municipal utilities like a business, a knowledgeable City Hall source said. Garcetti has “absolutely no doubt she will be tough, but fair, in dealing with the union,” said the source, who asked not to be identified because the mayor hadn't yet announced the changes. 

Edwards, who must be confirmed by the DWP’s Board of Commissioners and City Council, would replace General Manager Ron Nichols, who announced his resignation earlier this month. Garcetti publicly voiced a desire for Nichols to be more aggressive with the DWP union in a City Hall effort to determine how two utility-funded nonprofit trusts have spent more than $40 million in ratepayer money.

Also on Thursday, Senior Assistant General Manager Aram Benyamin was being placed on administrative leave, the source said.  A 30-year veteran of the DWP, Benyamin was in charge of the utility’s power system, and one of two senior assistants who report to the department general manager. Some agency observers considered Benyamin an ally of electrical workers union leader Brian D’Arcy, who strongly backed Garcetti’s opponent in last year’s mayoral campaign.

Benyamin has the choice of going back to the non-management DWP Civil Service job he had before rising to the executive offices or retiring, the source said. 

Benyamin also has served as a trustee of the two nonprofit training and safety institutes that have been resisting efforts of Garcetti’s DWP commissioners and the city controller to get a detailed accounting of how they used tens of millions of dollars in public money since 2000. 

The battle over the records began in September, after The Times reported that DWP officials had only scant information showing how the nonprofits were spending up to $4 million a year.

D’Arcy, who leads International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 18, also serves as a trustee for the nonprofits. He has fought release of the financial records, saying that the institutes are not subject to state public records laws or the auditing authority of City Controller Ron Galperin.

D’Arcy has sued Galperin in an effort to quash an administrative subpoena that seeks to compel him to turn over records and answer auditors’ questions.

The controversy escalated Tuesday when the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office said its prosecutors and investigators were also seeking the nonprofits’ records to determine if any crimes had been committed.

Edwards would take over an agency also trying to fix a new, $162-million computerized billing system that sent as many as 70,000 late or inaccurate bills to customers in recent months.

In addition, the agency will soon have to make the case for rate increases that it says are needed to ensure adequate electricity and water supplies. Higher bills are required to fulfill city obligations to replenish water supplies in the Owens Valley and increase the amount of power obtained from renewable sources, city officials say.

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jack.dolan@latimes.com

Twitter: @jackdolanLAT

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