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The State

DWP May Be Held in Contempt by Senate

Investigation: Panel says utility failed to deliver documents subpoenaed in probe of the state's electricity crisis. Vote on charge is set for August.

July 17, 2002|NANCY VOGEL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Senators moved Tuesday to hold the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in contempt for failing to deliver subpoenaed documents, saying the city-owned utility is either a poorly run outfit or is intentionally hindering an investigation of its behavior during the electricity crisis.

A Senate committee investigating manipulation of California's power market heard staff describe more than 40 letters or phone conversations with DWP and the Los Angeles city attorney's office in the last year in an effort to get documents related to the electricity crisis.

Other publicly owned utilities have complied with the committee's request, but DWP has offered resistance comparable to that of now-bankrupt Enron Corp., said Senate investigators.

"The quandary that I have," said Sen. Bill Morrow (R-Oceanside), vice chairman of the committee, "is whether or not this lack of compliance thus far is the result of an intentional strategy ... or representative of a disorganized and dysfunctional organization."

The panel, the Senate Select Committee to Investigate Price Manipulation, lacked a quorum and thus could not vote on a contempt charge. But Chairman Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana) said the panel will vote on the contempt motion in the first week of August, when senators return from vacation.

The Legislature last approved a charge of contempt in 1929, when several executives of a cement company were sent to jail for refusing to cooperate in a price-fixing investigation. The Supreme Court later voided the contempt citations.

The Senate committee has threatened Enron and DWP several times with contempt charges, which could carry financial or other penalties. Each time, Enron and DWP have offered the committee renewed cooperation. A contempt charge related to the electricity crisis investigation has yet to be taken up by the full Senate.

DWP General Manager David H. Wiggs and Chief Assistant City Atty. Philip Shiner promised the committee Tuesday that the department would deliver 15,000 e-mails related to DWP electricity sales by the end of the month.

"We're going to make this right and get it done," said Wiggs, who was not in charge of the utility during the power crisis of 2000 and 2001.

"We have absolutely no reason not to. It's in my best interest, it's in the mayor's best interest, he's given me that direction and we'll get these answers to you and whatever answers you need to complete this process."

Wiggs told the committee that he was "disturbed by what I hear" about DWP's failure to comply with the committee's request.

"The report I get from our city attorney differs dramatically from what you hear," he said. Wiggs said he may be to blame for not grasping that his agency had a major problem with the Senate committee, and added that the layoffs of roughly 2,000 employees several years ago left the utility less able to deal with the labor-intensive retrieval of records.

Dunn called it "offensive" that Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo did not appear at Tuesday's hearing.

"We felt the proverbial captain of the ship ought to be here to answer the questions," Dunn said.

Dunn's committee requested documents from DWP in June 2001. By November, according to Senate investigators, DWP had delivered five boxes of poorly indexed documents, compared with 132 boxes of highly organized material delivered by the smaller Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

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