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DWP Defies City, Votes for PR Pact

Spending: Board approval of $2.4-million contract sparks a council effort to shoot it down. Controller calls the agency 'dysfunctional.'

June 05, 2002|SEEMA MEHTA and JEFFREY RABIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Defying Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn and the city's top financial officer, Department of Water and Power commissioners unanimously approved a $2.4-million public relations contract Tuesday.

However, City Councilman Jack Weiss said he plans to introduce a motion today that would overturn the decision.

"It's hard to fathom why PR for a public entity is so important that millions of dollars have to be committed before public watchdogs have an opportunity to examine the books," Weiss said.

"Good PR for DWP in this instance would clearly have been to wait," he said. "Since they didn't wait, we have to act."

Under the contract, the DWP would hire Lee Andrews Group Inc. to promote DWP's Green LA program, which encourages its customers to select environmentally friendly energy sources such as wind and hydroelectric power. The contract, which runs through May 31, 2003, includes an optional one-year, $2.4-million extension.

Los Angeles City Controller Laura Chick, who has previously mocked the agency as the "Department of Wasteful Practices," had asked DWP commissioners to delay acting on the contract until she completed an audit of the $60-million public benefits program, which includes media relations for Green LA. The audit is scheduled to be finished next month.

After the commission's 3-0 vote on Tuesday, Chick called the agency "dysfunctional" and urged city leaders to kill the contract.

"In the name of good government and common sense, I ask the City Council to vote to veto this multimillion-dollar PR contract," she said.

"It's a slap in the face to the taxpayers and ratepayers," Chick said. "The commission is saying, 'We don't care how the program has been going. We don't care about an outside objective audit. We'll do what we want and we'll go ahead ... without really looking at it.'"

It would take a two-thirds vote of the 15-member council to take up Weiss' motion and another two-thirds vote to veto the agreement.

Mayor Hahn also had pressed DWP board President Kenneth T. Lombard to put off a vote on the matter until the audit is completed.

Instead, Lombard led the effort to get the contract approved. He was among black leaders who were fiercely critical of Hahn's opposition to ousted LAPD Chief Bernard C. Parks.

Julie Wong, a Hahn spokeswoman, noted that the contract was downsized from its original version--a two-year agreement with a one-year optional extension.

"At this point, the mayor accepts the commission's revised proposal, as long as they revisit it after the audit comes out," she said.

Attempts to reach DWP and Lee Andrews Group officials late Tuesday were unsuccessful.

However, earlier in the day, DWP spokesman Walter Zeisl said the public relations firm will help the agency by creating "worthwhile, cost-effective marketing and community programs."

"We think they do a very good job for us," he said. "Without this, we would be severely crippled."

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