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Agreement Averts DWP Pact Face-Off

Labor: Agency agrees to remove four communications workers from layoff list.

April 23, 1998|BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It would have taken a solid 10.

Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon had been trying to muster 10 council votes in an effort to cancel a contract that will provide $3 million for outside public relations work for the DWP. Alarcon and Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg had objected to the contract, saying that the timing was bad because the DWP is amid layoffs and voluntary buyouts.

But a last-minute agreement Tuesday afternoon between the DWP and the Architects and Engineers Assn. conveniently avoided what could have been an embarrassing lack of support Tuesday night for Alarcon's motion to pull the contract, which is slated to go to Fleishman Hillard Inc. The firm was awarded the contract April 7 when the Board of Water and Power Commissioners approved the deal.

"It seems we have resolved the key issues involved," Alarcon said at Tuesday night's council meeting at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies. Ten of the council's 15 members showed up for the meeting--just enough for a quorum.

"Clearly, the primary concern has been to be very careful when privatizing anything in the face of layoffs in the Department of Water and Power," Alarcon said before the meeting. "We have to have the ultimate scrutiny and trust between our bargaining units. I thought it was essential we take a look at this."

But there were other, perhaps less obvious, reasons for scrutinizing this particular contract.

Alarcon is in a heated state Senate race against former Assemblyman Richard Katz, a close friend of one of the principals of Fleishman Hillard.

Another Fleishman Hillard executive is a former deputy mayor.

And in recent weeks, Goldberg's relationship with the mayor's office has been less than friendly.

But Goldberg was unable to attend Tuesday's meeting so she wasn't present to fight for her position.

In the end, however, Alarcon said he and Goldberg succeeded in drawing public attention to the issue--and forcing the DWP's hand a bit: The department has agreed to remove the four in-house communications employees from the list of employees targeted for layoffs.

"We've had some success," Alarcon said.

But DWP General Manager S. David Freeman said he still needs the advertising and public relations contract to help the municipal utility compete in the coming open energy market.

Freeman said that in a meeting earlier Tuesday with union members, the two sides came together on the contract issue. "It's not a threat to these people," Freeman said.

Neither Goldberg nor Alarcon deny that the DWP needs good public relations.

"Obviously, we need a new, revamped media presence given deregulation of the energy market," Alarcon said.

Union leader Bob Duncan said that while he was pleased that the union won't lose those four positions, he will contact Freeman if any conflicts with the contract arise.

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