LA utility body under fire for PR firm hire

LOS ANGELES: The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) angered the mayor and garnered negative press last week with its decision to hire a local PR firm.

LOS ANGELES: The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) angered the mayor and garnered negative press last week with its decision to hire a local PR firm.

Last Tuesday, DWP commissioners approved a $2.4 million one-year contract with a one-year extension for Lee Andrews Group (LA Group), a specialist in public affairs and public-private partnerships.

The contract is specifically for work on the DWP's "Green LA program, which promotes the use of environmentally friendly energy sources and initiatives to consumers. LA Group has worked on the project for three years as a subcontractor to Fleishman-Hillard, which held the $5 million overall communications contract for the DWP, according to Fleishman's LA head Doug Dowie. However, when Fleishman's contract was recently extended to September 2002, a decision was made to break out Green LA as a separate contract, according to Green LA director of communications Walter Zeisl.

That new contract drew close political scrutiny, since the city's controller, Laura Chick, is currently auditing the DWP.

LA Mayor James Hahn and Chick both previously asked the three DWP commissioners to hold off on the contract until after Chick completed the audit of the DWP's $60 million public benefits program, of which Green LA receives $30 million.

However, Zeisl said the contract was vital to the program's continuing operations.

"For Green LA programs to be successful requires our customers to not only be aware of them, but to take action to sign up, he said. "We don't have (an in-house) staff. It really negatively affects our ability to get the word out if this contract were not to come through."

Chick responded to the DWP action by asking the city council to veto the contract. The council can cancel the contract if 10 of the 15 members agree to examine the issue, and if 10 members subsequently vote in favor of a veto. So far, Chick has support from seven council members.

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