A City Council committee voted 4-1 Tuesday to support Fred Pickel’s reappointment as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s watchdog and ratepayer advocate, while tabling a second proposal that he should first be subjected to a formal job review, as a councilman critical of his tenure had urged.
Councilman Paul Koretz, who cast the dissenting vote, said he was not sure why his colleagues on the Energy, Climate Change and Environmental Justice Committee supported Pickel, but that he assumed the reappointment would pass the full council during a vote scheduled for Wednesday.
The committee did move to keep Koretz’s motion in the committee and explore the items it calls for, which includes a more clear definition of the role and a full performance review.
“All of those things will be considered, but clearly not in time for Mr. Pickel’s reappointment,” Koretz told City News Service. “I think we’ll look at a number of things going forward, but I suspect his reappointment will take place.”
Koretz said he hoped the discussions that would be continuing in the committee would impact how Pickel approaches the job.
“He is knowledgeable and capable, so with some direction he could be a better ratepayer advocate and director of the Office of Public Accountability than he has been in his first term,” Koretz said.
Koretz also noted that not many of the current members were on the council in 2010 and 2011 when the role was first conceived, and that Pickel’s approach to the post was not the what he and some other past members had in mind because Pickel seemed to view his job as more of an analyst than an advocate.
“If he had disappeared over the last five years, the general community would not have been any more or less aware of what he is advocating for,” Koretz said. `So in terms of his ability as a true advocate, I don’t think he’s done it in a way that was envisioned by all the folks that pushed for the creation of this.”
But Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who took office in 2013, said Pickel’s tenure had been “exemplary.”
Pickel, a longtime energy industry consultant, was appointed in February 2012 to be the official watchdog of the LADWP. Since his five-year term expired, he has been working on a month-to-month contract.
He defended his performance, arguing that he had helped “achieve rate reductions of at least $3.3 billion over the tenure of this period” along with other positive actions.
Pickel was recommended for reappointment by the Citizens Committee for the Selection of the Executive Director of the Office of Public Accountability, which is made up of appointees of the mayor and some City Council members. Following the recommendation, Koretz introduced the motion calling for Pickel to be subjected to a formal job review covering his tenure.
Tony Wilkinson, chair of the search committee, told the City Council committee that the panel he headed did not do a formal review of Pickel’s tenure because the charter and the ordinance as it currently stands does not call for it. He also argued that the committee had found Pickel to be the most qualified of the 31 candidates who applied.
Koretz wrote in his motion that Pickel was recommended for reappointment “without any review of his job performance in his first 6 1/2 years on the job, and the chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee which nominated him has stated that no such review has taken place nor ever would.” Koretz’s motion also says that “to date, the Office of Public Accountability has not improved DWP transparency or adequately addressed common consumer complaints.”
Koretz also took issue with the fact that Pickel had appointed himself as the ratepayer advocate in his department, as well as performing as the director of the department. The charter that created the OPA suggests the roles should be separate, with the OPA director hiring and managing a ratepayer advocate, and states that “the employees of the OPA shall include a Ratepayer Advocate and additional positions as prescribed by ordinance.”
Koretz said he did not believe Pickel could legally appointment himself to the role, and hoped the committee’s further discussions would clear up this issue in the future.
Pickel said he had only considered himself in the role, but that he had also shared the ratepayer advocate duties with his deputy. He argued budgetary limitations led him to assume the role.
>> Want to read more stories like this? Get our Free Daily Newsletters Here!Follow us: