DWP Chief's $2,800 Charter Flight Attacked

TIMES STAFF WRITER

City Controller Rick Tuttle said Wednesday that he is preparing to blast Department of Water and Power General Manager Norm Nichols for spending $2,800 in city funds on a charter flight to Sacramento when less expensive commercial flights were available.

Tuttle, who has previously squared off with the DWP chief over expense account charges, has scheduled a press conference for this morning at which he said he will "criticize" Nichols' expenditure for the trip he made last month.

In the past, Tuttle has refused to pay for high-priced lunches and other expenditures by Nichols and other DWP officials, leaving them to pick up the tabs themselves.

Nichols could not be reached for comment. But in a statement, the DWP said, "On April 24, 1990, DWP General Manager Norm Nichols utilized charter air services to Sacramento in order to meet with the chairman of the California Energy Commission. . . . Due to the press of business in both Sacramento and Los Angeles on that day, it was necessary for (Nichols) to utilize charter air services to meet the department's business commitments."

Officials in Tuttle's office, however, said routine flight arrangements could have been made at a much cheaper price. U.S. Air, for instance, charges from $156 to $456 round trip between Los Angeles and Sacramento.

It was unclear whether Nichols was joined by any other DWP officials on the flight. And it was not clear what type of aircraft was chartered.

The city controller, one of only three officials elected citywide, has historically overseen an office concerned more with ledgers and balance sheets than with public sparring with other city officials.

But in recent years, former City Controller Ira Reiner turned the obscure office into a high-visibility position by rejecting expense accounts and other excessive charges submitted for payment by the Harbor Department. Reiner and his successor, James K. Hahn, both used their position as city controller as a steppingstone to higher office. Reiner is now district attorney running for state attorney general. Hahn is city attorney.

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