DWP board president is out amid ethics questions, power struggle at utility

Cynthia McClain-Hill after stepping down as president of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power board.
Cynthia McClain-Hill, center, hugs a co-worker after stepping down as president of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power during a board meeting on Tuesday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Political veteran Cynthia McClain-Hill announced Tuesday that she is stepping down as president of the Los Angeles Board of Water and Power Commissioners following ethics-related complaints involving her and growing tensions over the utility’s leadership.

McClain-Hill made the announcement at Tuesday’s board meeting, saying that it had been a “distinct honor, privilege and pleasure to serve” the public and that she will depart the board.

The Times on Friday reported on criticism leveled against McClain-Hill and then-DWP commission President Mel Levine over a private phone call the pair had in 2019 with two cybersecurity executives to walk them through the utility’s plans to award their company a new contract.


The city’s ethics law bars commissioners from privately reviewing contracts with vendors. Both Levine and McClain-Hill said the call was proper. The five-member DWP board oversees the department and carries out the policies of the mayor.

L.A. city commissioners are barred from privately discussing contracts that they will be later voting on. Two DWP commissioners spoke privately with a vendor but deny breaking any rules.

Jan. 5, 2024

McClain-Hill, who previously served on the city’s police commission and has sat on an array of state and city commissions, was also a target of a lawsuit in October by four former and current DWP employees alleging retaliation. She has denied wrongdoing in connection with the suit.

She was appointed to the volunteer board by then-Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2018 and has served as its president since 2020. She’s leaving the DWP — the largest municipal water and power utility in the nation — at a crucial moment as it strives to meet its environmental goals.

Also, the utility’s top executive, General Manager Martin Adams, will retire in March.

McClain-Hill was a forceful leader at the utility, challenging DWP policies and supporting protections for workers. She worked on an array of environmental and governance issues and spearheaded efforts to make the utility’s workforce more diverse.

At the same time, she clashed with Adams and questioned his management of the department. That fraught relationship helped fuel divisions among the staff.

It remains to be seen whether Mayor Karen Bass will choose a manager favored by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, which represents thousands of DWP workers.


Dozens of IBEW members went to Tuesday’s meeting to support McClain-Hill and held white signs that thanked her. “President Cynthia McClain-Hill Change Maker for the Working Class” read one message. She received a standing ovation. Environmental and community leaders also thanked McClain-Hill at the meeting.

The DWP’s next general manager will play a key role in determining whether Los Angeles reaches 100% climate-friendly energy by 2035, the ambitious goal set by Garcetti and endorsed by Bass. Scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory say it’s possible, but city officials have big hurdles to overcome, such as making sure they can keep the lights on without burning natural gas, a fossil fuel, at four local power plants.

Environmentalists want to make sure Adams’ replacement is committed to getting fossil fuels off the power grid by 2035. IBEW members staff the local gas plants and have fought to keep them open.

The next general manager will also be forced to grapple with growing water shortages, as global warming leads to less water supply overall and worsens California’s historic swings between drought and flood.

Bass’ office declined to respond to questions from The Times when a message circulated over the weekend among top IBEW executives, urging its members to come out and support McClain-Hill at her final board meeting Tuesday.

Bass spokesperson De’Marcus Finnell said in a statement Tuesday night that McClain-Hill submitted her resignation on Wednesday. “Cynthia leaves a long legacy of work in areas impacting climate justice, worker’s rights, and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at LADWP,” he said.


In the lawsuit targeting McClain-Hill, one employee alleged that DWP staff and a DWP contractor worked together to purposely mislabel an invoice sent to the utility so McClain-Hill could receive free food and beverages at an April conference in Beverly Hills hosted by the contractor.

Internal emails among DWP staff discussing the invoice and conference were filed in a separate State Bar complaint filed last month by onetime attorney and DWP consultant Paul Paradis, raising more questions. The complaint by Paradis, who became an FBI informant after admitting his role in a bribery scheme, also detailed how McClain-Hill received a $700-a-night hotel room while attending a conference in Dubai.

McClain-Hill told The Times the handling of the invoice and her acceptance of the hotel room were proper. Accenture, the contractor that hosted the Beverly Hills conference, declined to comment.

A DWP spokesperson told The Times that DWP staff asked Accenture to calculate the costs of the conference as a DWP-related business expense. The DWP declined to answer other questions about the invoice.

McClain-Hill declined to speak with The Times on Tuesday.

During McClain-Hill’s time at the utility, the commission board added professional staff, whom she used to help carry out her priorities. She worked long hours, treating her position like a full-time job rather than a volunteer advisor.


In her final meeting on Tuesday, she highlighted several accomplishments, including launching a program to mentor DWP’s female workforce.

“This accomplishment on behalf of our women on the front line in labor, and in our department’s professional ranks, shall remain one of my proudest achievements,” McClain-Hill said.

Times staff writer Sammy Roth contributed to this report.