Garcetti Finds New DWP Head in Anaheim

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti nominated Anaheim City Manager Marcie Edwards to be the new general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in January of 2014.

Edwards takes over for Ron Nichols, who is stepping down after three years as head of the DWP. She was the first women selected to head the century-plus-year-old utility.

Edwards previously ran Anaheim Public Utilities for 13 years. She has a long-standing connection to the DWP, however. Both her father and grandfather worked there. She too began her career there as a clerk at age 19, working her way up to an assistant general manager of the marketing and customer service business units.

“Marcie Edwards has the toughness and expertise necessary to take on the status quo at the DWP and deliver real, lasting change for DWP customers,” Garcetti said. “During the mayor’s race, L.A. voters gave me a mandate to reform the DWP, and with Marcie Edwards, we’re going to make sure the DWP is more efficient, tightly managed, reliable and that costs are cut.”

Edwards said she was prepared to institute changes in the department.

“The time is now to shed the bureaucratic insulation that impedes forward progress and replace it with an agile, risk-tolerant, cost-effective agency, one that is comfortable with transparency and willing to allow its employees do their best work,” she said. “We need them to do that in order to create sustainable water and electrical future for us all.” Edwards also made reference to the “benchmarking survey” ordered by Garcetti to line up labor costs and work policies at DWP with “best practices” at other municipal and private-sector utilities.

The goal of the survey will help DWP achieve credibility with ratepayers.” We are very familiar with our agency. The people who pay our bills, not so much,” she said.

The city Water and Power Commission was expected to consider her nomination, with DWP Assistant General Manager Jim McDaniel filling in as acting general manager until the confirmation.

David Wiggs, a former DWP general manager, is also being brought back to run the power system. Wiggs replaces Aram Benyamin, who has been placed on administrative leave.

City Controller Ron Galperin, who is conducting an audit of two trusts set up between the utility and its employee union, congratulated Edwards.

“The utility is at a crossroads, and I look forward to working with Ms. Edwards, the DWP board of commissioners, the mayor and other city leaders to build a more transparent, accountable and efficient DWP,” he said.

As his audit moves forward, “Ms. Edwards’ leadership will be vital to achieving much needed reforms within the DWP,” he said.

Nichols announced his resignation earlier in the month.

“I was brought in to lead DWP by the prior administration and I felt it important to stay on board afterward to provide time for the new administration’s transition,” wrote Nichols, who previously worked in the private sector as a water and energy consultant. He earned $345,000 a year as DWP general manager. Nichols’ resignation came amid intense scrutiny and the launching of a city controller audit into a pair of trusts that received more than $40 million in ratepayer money from the DWP.

Garcetti earlier this month thanked Nichols and said he was “focused on continuing to reform the DWP to cut costs, improve customer service and increase transparency.”

Nichols also presided over a troubled overhaul of DWP’s 39-year-old billing and customer information system. Glitches in the initial months of the $162 million changeover resulted in tens of thousands of incorrect bills being sent out, with some customers being charged several times more than they owed and receiving shutoff threats from the utility. Customer service call wait times also increased for those calling in.

The general manager position is a “tough job” that requires someone comfortable with leading an “entity right in the center of the political structure of Los Angeles” and dealing with “contending forces,” said Mel Levine, president of the Water and Power Commission, the panel that sets policy for the utility.

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