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Mayor appoints Beutner as interim head of the DWP

Villaraigosa said that the first deputy mayor’s primary task at the utility would be to ease tensions between the agency, ratepayers and the City Council.

April 20, 2010|By Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Monday appointed First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner as interim head of the Department of Water and Power, an agency buffeted by controversy this past month over a proposed electricity rate hike and budgeting practices.

Villaraigosa said Beutner's primary task would be to salve the lingering animosity toward the DWP from ratepayers and the City Council.

"I've tasked Austin to immediately perform a top-to-bottom financial and operational review of the department, to lead a new era of accountable management and transparency, and to immediately implement business and ratepayer-friendly reforms," Villaraigosa said.

Beutner, a former investment banker who was hired by the mayor to bring business to Los Angeles, will continue to oversee 12 other city agencies in addition to his duties at the DWP. He replaces S. David Freeman, who stepped down April 12 after holding the job for six months.

With this appointment, Beutner becomes the DWP's ninth general manager in the last 10 years.

Beutner, 50, said his top priority would be to ensure that the utility regains the trust and confidence of all city leaders as well as DWP customers, and make the agency more efficient and sensitive to the needs of ratepayers. During his interim tenure, Beutner also will lead the mayor's efforts to find a permanent general manager for the utility.

Neither the mayor nor Beutner addressed a series of proposed DWP reforms introduced in the council, including putting the council in charge of the utility's budget. However, Beutner said that, given the size of the DWP, it made no sense for the council to review the DWP's budget line by line.

During a morning news conference, Beutner said the controversy swirling around the DWP grew large enough to attract international attention. It was one of the first issues that visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel asked about when she met with city leaders at the Getty Center on Wednesday, Beutner said.

During a bitter feud over a Villaraigosa-backed rate increase, council members accused DWP officials of lying and threatened to exert control over the utility's budget and its board, changes that would require voter approval.

Tensions peaked when utility officials said they could not transfer a promised $73.5 million to the depleted city treasury after the council rejected their plan for a rate hike. In a detente last week, the council once again approved a 4.8% rate increase that will take effect July 1.

This time, the DWP board, whose members are appointed by Villaraigosa, agreed to the council's terms. An aide to Villaraigosa, who appoints the commissioners to the DWP board, said the hike would allow the utility to make the transfer.

phil.willon@latimes.com

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