The announcement that Ron Nichols, the general manager of the Department of Water and Power (DWP), resigned from his position, provides an opportunity to implement some much-needed changes in the controversial utility company.
Nichols’ effectiveness at the helm of the DWP was seriously compromised because he had a hard time dealing with the union, IBEW Local 18. His inability to obtain the documentation that the city controller requested about how two internal nonprofits spent $40 million was the last straw. Because of that same attitude from the union, controller Ron Galperin issued a subpoena to union leader Brian D’Arcy.
At the same time, pressure on Nichols intensified because of failures in the new computerized billing system that led to almost 70,000 inaccurate bills, causing numerous problems for customers.
The resignation of Nichols leaves a major power vacuum in the DWP, which is still unstable. His tenure of only three years was the longest in a while. The nature of the position is complex, because it requires knowing about areas like water and energy, managing a relationship with an overbearing union and addressing the expectations of Council members and the mayor.
Choosing a new director is an important challenge, both because of the skills and ability that the next leader must have and because this position must not remain vacant for a long time.
This is an opportunity for Mayor Garcetti to make changes to the agency, so it can offer an efficient water and power service at the lowest cost possible, but also to shift the agency’s focus. That way, the interests of users and taxpayers will become a priority instead of getting lost in the tangle of interests at play inside the Department of Water and Power.