Garcetti’s surprising and controversial <em>other</em> hire at the DWP
On Thursday, in the last line of the press release announcing Mayor Eric Garcetti’s pick for general manager of the Department of Water and Power, was news of another hire: David Wiggs, it said, would return to the agency to serve as assistant general manager of its power system.
Wiggs was previously general manager of the city-owned utility from 2001 to 2004, when he resigned for health reasons; he’d been on leave while undergoing treatment for cancer. He left, however, amid a scandal: A public relations firm with close ties to then-Mayor James Hahn had routinely overbilled the DWP. The utility was paying FleishmanHillard $3 million a year to improve its public image, and the firm worked closely with Wiggs, even writing his talking points when he spoke to the City Council.
Ultimately, the head of FleishmanHillard’s L.A. office, Doug Dowie, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in federal prison for defrauding taxpayers, stemming from overcharging the DWP.
Wiggs and the DWP were considered victims in the case. But even though his agency was defrauded, Wiggs submitted a letter to the court defending Dowie, according to a report in the Los Angeles Daily News.
“I had complete trust in Doug and if I were to run a company again, I would not hesitate to seek out and hire Doug,” Wiggs’ letter said.
Wiggs was not implicated in the crimes, and he said he testified to the grand jury that he refused to allow FleishmanHillard to bill for services that were not related to the DWP. Yet there were questions as to how DWP officials missed the overbilling and why the utility’s leaders allowed some $400,000 in ratepayer funds to be spent on PR that seemed primarily aimed at making Hahn look good.
In the end, the DWP investigation and prosecutions, along with allegations that his administration traded contracts for big political donations, probably cost Hahn reelection.
That is why it’s so odd that Garcetti, who has made transparency and DWP reform his signature issues, would bring back a guy who ran the utility during a scandal involving financial shenanigans and ethical lapses.
It’s particularly strange because Garcetti is in the middle of a fight with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 chief Brian D’Arcy over how two nonprofits run by the union and the DWP spent $40 million in ratepayer money. D’Arcy has refused to turn over financial documents needed for an audit of the programs.
Garcetti is rightly claiming the moral high ground, saying the DWP needs to be accountable to the ratepayers. Yet during Wiggs’ tenure, the DWP was neither particularly accountable to the public nor a good steward of ratepayer money.
Garcetti’s office wanted to get rid of the current assistant general manager, Aram Benyamin, whom Wiggs will be replacing. Benyamin was seen as too close to D’Arcy and was put on administrative leave.
Wiggs has the expertise and insider knowledge. He may be the ideal choice. But the DWP is an agency that cycles through controversy, and that has hurt the utility and ratepayers. It’s surprising that Garcetti so quickly forgot such a recent scandal.
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