After all three debates, see who our analysts say emerged victorious

The DWP and the $40-million question

The public has a right to know how public money is spent. That's a fundamental, common-sense premise of our government. Tell that to Brian D'Arcy.

D'Arcy is the business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, which represents Los Angeles Department of Water and Power employees. He's considered one of the most powerful men in L.A., able to make or break political careers as head of a well-financed political action committee. It's thanks to D'Arcy that the public is now watching an unnecessary and expensive standoff over the release of financial records showing how $40 million in ratepayer funds were spent.

The standoff involves two nonprofit trusts created more than a decade ago to improve labor-management relations at the DWP and to advise agency managers on training and safety issues. The DWP has funneled $40 million over 10 years to the Joint Training Institute and the Joint Safety Institute. But they have operated in secret, with virtually no public accounting of ratepayer money.

SOCAL POLITICS IN 2013: Some rose, some fell -- and L.A. lost its women, almost

Since The Times reported on the nonprofits in September, the Board of Water and Power Commissioners, which controls the purse strings of the utility, and City Controller Ron Galperin have tried to find out how the money was spent. But they've gotten a big, fat "no" from D'Arcy.

How is it possible that a private individual can prevent the release of public information, you might ask? It's a testament to the IBEW's power in the city of L.A. that these nonprofits were established in such a manner that the union has been able to block it.

The trusts are overseen by three IBEW members, including D'Arcy, and three DWP managers, including General Manager Ron Nichols. Yet even Nichols doesn't have copies of the financial records, he says, nor can he compel the trusts to release them. Last week, Nichols said he asked D'Arcy to release the documents for an audit being conducted by the controller and D'Arcy refused. So Nichols has to hire an attorney to try to compel the institutes to release the records.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Kindness in the world of politics? 7 uplifting examples from 2013

And what for? Galperin has the power to subpoena the records and can compel union managers to appear before his auditors. D'Arcy is simply delaying the inevitable. DWP Commissioner Michael Fleming hit the nail on the head Tuesday when he called D'Arcy a "bully who can't face reality."

That reality is that D'Arcy is not the powerhouse he used to be. The IBEW's PAC raised $4 million for Eric Garcetti's opponent in the mayor's race, but the heavy spending backfired and Garcetti won. As a result, the new mayor is not beholden to D'Arcy. He has a mandate to run an efficient, transparent utility, accountable to the ratepayers, not to the union.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times