L.A. Mayor James Hahn, struggling to shore up all three of the city's revenue-producing departments, has come up with an answer most everyone at City Hall can agree on.
The appointment of City Legislative Analyst Ron Deaton as new head of the Department of Water & Power is receiving a warm response from most all corners.
In his 11 years as the city's chief legislative analyst, Deaton has gained the respect of the City Council's 15 members and a reputation for building consensus on some of the city's largest projects.
And while he faces questions about his lack of experience operating a major city department and his conservative approach to renewable energy mandates, potential detractors have been hard-pressed to challenge the choice.
Brian D'Arcy, business manager of Local 18 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents 98 percent of DWP's workers, cautiously welcomed Deaton's arrival.
"The one piece that's been missing is the bridge between the proprietary department and the City Council, and he brings credibility," D'Arcy said. "On the other side, he needs people around him who have operating experience. He goes to a department with 8,200 skilled, craft and technical people who deliver water and power."
Deaton is expected to sail through the confirmation process, and there is now stability at the top of the DWP and Los Angeles World Airports, where after a year as interim executive director, Kim Day assumed the position permanently last month.
That leaves the Harbor Department, where a search is under way to replace former Executive Director Larry Keller, who resigned under pressure in September. Former Chief Operating Officer Bruce Seaton is serving as interim executive director.
"We've been without a (DWP) general manager since February," said Deputy Mayor Doane Liu. "This department is in critical need of leadership immediately. Having been without a general manager for this long, it has not been performing at the standards the mayor expects."
It was during the past year that the DWP came under scrutiny for rate hikes at a time it was engaged in a $3 million-per-year contract with public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard Inc. During the past several months, county and federal investigators have subpoenaed documents and conducted interviews to determine whether Fleishman overbilled the department by inflating hours on invoices. City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo has filed a civil suit against the company for fraud, and City Controller Laura Chick is expected to wrap up an audit of the contract this month.
If there is a perceived downside in the appointment, it is managerial, not political.
Deaton is moving to a $311,000-a-year post overseeing a business with 8,450 employees. For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2005, the department has a budget of $3.27 billion a far cry from the Legislative Analyst's office, where he managed a staff of 50.
Deaton, who started his career in 1965 with a three-and-a-half year stint in budget preparation and market research at the DWP, defended his understanding of the electricity industry.
"I don't know if I have 100 percent knowledge, but I do know many of the issues from a city and Department of Water & Power perspective," he said. "I was here when the city faced deregulation, and I've been involved in water issues with the Metropolitan Water District for 25 years. There are aspects in which other people might have stronger qualifications, but I'll match those with mine."
The appointment also gives the impression that Hahn, in the midst of a re-election campaign, moved decisively to fill an important post. Deaton replaces David Wiggs, who resigned from the department after being diagnosed with cancer.
D'Arcy said that in the past, mayors have conducted a nationwide search for the general manager and contacted him before formally announcing their pick. In this case, Hahn bypassed the search process and did not contact him at all.
"He decided to go in his back room to bring Ron over," he said. "I think there's a lot of bad management around the Fleishman-Hillard stuff. You end up with people looking the other way when you're checking bills and stuff." Eventually, he said, "one thing leads to another, and you have a mess."
DWP Commission President Dominick Rubalcava said that faced with the choice to promote from within or hire from the outside, he was concerned that an outsider would be unable to catch up quickly enough. "My feeling was that if there were ways in which we could achieve all our goals and not have to go through all that, we might be better off," he said.
There had been talk around City Hall that Deaton, 61, was readying to retire as legislative analyst, perhaps to leave public service or to return to finish out his career at the DWP.
Deaton, who said retirement rumors have been going on for five or six years, confirmed that he had thought about ending his career at the Department of Water & Power because, as an aficionado of Los Angeles' past, he admired the department's history.
In making the switch, Hahn opened up a $286,724-a-year post that has caught the eye of termed-out City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, whose salary is in the $145,000 range. Asked last week about the speculation, Miscikowski said, "That I'm not going to talk about. They don't have a vacancy. I'll talk when they have a vacancy."
Whoever takes over as legislative analyst, it's likely Deaton will have to rely on the office as he balances what are said to be his pragmatic interests in maintaining the DWP's reliance on coal plants and a push from the council for greener technologies.
Under a new California law, private utilities must boost green energy, which includes solar and wind power, to 20 percent of the electricity generated by 2017. As a municipal utility DWP is exempt from the law, but the council has drawn up plans to reach the same objectives.
"I'd like to see him on the record coming down in support of environmental programs," said Councilman Eric Garcetti, who said he had addressed such concerns with Deaton in the days after the mayor's announcement. "DWP has been very important around green power, energy technology and some other issues. I've talked to him about his environmental credentials and how we can help grow those."
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