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Villaraigosa names Austin Beutner new interim head of DWP

April 19, 2010 | 11:11 am

L.A. 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 over a proposed electric-rate hike and budgeting practices.

Villaraigosa said Beutner’s primary task will be to salve the lingering animosity that ratepayers and the City Council have toward the DWP.

“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 after he becomes interim general manager. He replaces S. David Freeman, who stepped down one week ago 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 will be to ensure the utility regains the trust and confidence of city leaders and 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 manger for the utility. Neither the mayor nor Beutner directly 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 utility'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 asked about by visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel when she met with city leaders Wednesday at the Getty Center, Beutner said.

During a bitter feud over a Villaraigosa-backed rate increase, City 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 for three months.

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 at L.A. City Hall

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