The chairman of the DWP board is out due to ethical questions and a power struggle at the expense of utility

(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

The chairman of the DWP board is out due to ethical questions and a power struggle at the expense of utility

LA Politics, Homepage News

Dakota Smith

January 9, 2024

Political veteran Cynthia McClain-Hill announced Tuesday that she is stepping down as chair of the Los Angeles Board of Water and Power Commissioners following ethics complaints involving her and growing tensions over the utility’s leadership.

McClain-Hill made the announcement during Tuesday’s board meeting, saying it has been a “distinct honor, privilege and pleasure to serve the public” and that she will be leaving the board.

The Times reported Friday on the criticism leveled at McClain-Hill and then-DWP committee chairman Mel Levine over a private phone call the pair had in 2019 with two cybersecurity executives to guide them through utility plans to award their company a new contract.

The city’s ethics law prohibits commissioners from privately reviewing vendor contracts. Both Levine and McClain-Hill said the call was justified.

McClain-Hill, who previously served on the city’s Police Commission and served on a series of state and city commissions, was also the target of a lawsuit in October by four former and current DWP employees alleging retaliation. She denies any wrongdoing in connection with the lawsuit.

She was appointed to the volunteer board by former Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2018 and has served as president since 2020. She is leaving the DWP, the country’s largest municipal water and electricity company, at a crucial time as it strives to achieve its environmental targets.

The utility’s CEO, general manager Martin Adams, will retire in March.

McClain-Hill was a strong leader at the utility, challenging DWP policies and supporting worker protections. She worked on a range of environmental and women’s issues and led efforts to make the utility’s workforce more diverse.

At the same time, she clashed with Adams and that fraught relationship caused division among the staff.

It remains to be seen whether Mayor Karen Bass will choose a manager favored by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, which represents thousands of DWP workers.

Dozens of IBEW members went to Tuesday’s rally to support McClain-Hill, holding white signs thanking her. “President Cynthia McClain-Hill Change Maker for the Working Class” read one message. She received a standing ovation.

The DWP’s next chief executive will play a key role in determining whether Los Angeles will achieve 100% climate-friendly energy by 2035, the ambitious goal set by Garcetti and endorsed by Bass. City officials must overcome major hurdles, such as ensuring they can keep the lights on without burning natural gas, a fossil fuel, at four local power plants.

Environmentalists want to ensure that Adams’ replacement commits to removing fossil fuels from the electricity grid by 2035. IBEW members staff the local gas plants and have fought to keep them open.

The next chief executive will also be forced to grapple with growing water shortages as global warming reduces water supplies overall and worsens California’s historic swings between drought and flood.

Bass’ office declined to respond to questions from The Times as a message circulated among top IBEW executives over the weekend encouraging members to support McClain-Hill at its final board meeting Tuesday.

Bass, who has the power to appoint and fire commissioners, also did not respond to other questions about McClain-Hill, including whether the mayor still supported the commissioner.

In the lawsuit against McClain-Hill, an employee alleged that DWP personnel and a DWP contractor worked together to purposely mislabel an invoice sent to the factory.


so that McClain-Hill could receive free food and drinks at an April conference in Beverly Hills hosted by the contractor.

Internal emails between DWP employees discussing the bill and the conference were filed in a separate State Bar complaint filed last month by former attorney and DWP consultant Paul Paradis, raising more questions. The complaint by Paradis, who became an FBI informant after admitting his role in a bribery scheme, also details how McClain-Hill received a $700-a-night hotel room.

while attending

a conference in Dubai.

McClain-Hill told The Times about the handling of the bill and her acceptance of the hotel room


correct. Accenture, the contractor that organized the Beverly Hills conference, declined comment.

A DWP spokesperson told The Times that DWP staff had asked Accenture to calculate the costs of the conference as DWP-related business costs. The DWP declined to answer other questions about the bill.

Times writer Sammy Roth contributed to this report.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Hot Topics

Related Articles