Unqualified? You’re hired

Posted on | April 20, 2010 | 3 Comments

UPDATE WEDNESDAY APRIL 21, 2010: New interim LADWP general manager Austin Beutner will guest on KCRW’s “Which Way LA?” tonight at 7.27pm. Click here for details.

For those who missed today’s article in the Los Angeles Times about the appointment of First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner as interim head of the Department of Water and Power, here’s the best line. “With this appointment, Beutner becomes the DWP’s ninth general manager in the last 10 years.”

Whatever one thought of Beutner’s two predecessors, H. David Nahai, or S. David Freeman, both men knew water and Freeman also understood power.

Beutner, described by a local public radio affiliate as a former Wall Street trader, knows neither, prompting the blog Griffith Park Wayist to ask, “Will he look at the safety of the City’s water supply as a risk-v.-return proposition?” LA Observed business columnist Mark Lacter put it this way: “While Beutner has a sterling record in the investment world (first at Blackstone and then at investment banking firm Evercore Partners), he has virtually no experience in municipal government. The joke is that he’s so green he doesn’t know what can’t be done, so he’ll never say no to an idea. That’s an admirable trait, yet you have to wonder whether this is the best time for on-the-job training. On the other hand, the guy knows all about finance, which is a skill set sorely lacking at City Hall.”

Water economics blogger David Zetland has this comment. “LADWP is ALL ABOUT money, and it’s more important to maintain a good bond rating than good service. And green energy? That’s the biggest growth area for financial engineers these days. Let’s see what happens…”

The appointment is made by the Mayor. According to a statement from the Mayor’s office,  “Villaraigosa will immediately charge Beutner with developing and executing reform initiatives to change the culture at DWP, clear out the bureaucracy and lead a new era of accountable management and transparency.”

Curious choice, Wall Street trader as reformer. However, as reported in LA Weekly, Beutner’s first order of business will be finding a suitable replacement for himself.

“Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa seemed frustrated with the applicant pool for the job, noting he’s tired of getting candidates from public utilities 1/10th the size of DWP,” reported the Weekly.

I’m not sure I follow the thinking. Qualified candidates come from smaller agencies, so why not give the job to someone where neither size of his former agency, nor experience in water matters?

This post has been updated. It has been edited to accommodate new comments and links to Griffith Park Wayist, LA Observed  and David Zetland’s Aguanomics.


3 Responses to “Unqualified? You’re hired”

  1. New interim head of L.A. DWP « Trager Water Report
    April 20th, 2010 @ 4:09 pm

    […] Read more… […]

  2. David Zetland
    April 22nd, 2010 @ 11:07 am

    Fine, I’ll take the job, but only if I get to live at the beach 🙂

  3. EmilyGreen
    April 22nd, 2010 @ 2:43 pm

    It comes with the job. The bad news is that Chateau H2O is next to the San Pedro storm drain outfall.

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