Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Chief Ron Nichols submitted his resignation to the L.A. Board of Water and Power Commissioners and City Council Thursday morning, citing “personal reasons.”
General manager of LADWP since January 2011, Nichols has been embroiled in controversy in recent months as the department made a move towards electronic billing – a system that has proven problematic from the get-go, with incorrect utility bills being sent out to thousands of ratepayers and an auto-payment function that took money directly from customer’s bank accounts.
The most recent point of contention between the utility boss and city leaders revolves around two non-profit trusts, the Joint Training Institute and the Joint Safety Institute, established to improve relations with the department’s largest unions.
According to a report in the L.A. Times, Nichols “has been unable or unwilling to produce records” that explain how more than $40 million in ratepayer money in those trusts has Nichols, as well as his predecessors, were charged with managing the trusts along with the head of the LADWP’s workers’ union.
With the support of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Controller Ron Galperin announced Wednesday that he would issue subpoenas to determine what happened to the money, the L.A. Times reported.
When contacted for information on Nichols’ resignation, LADWP Public Information Officer Chris Plakos said the LADWP general manager is appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council. “We do not have any further information right now,” Plakos said. Phone calls to L.A.-based Public Information Officer Joe Ramallo were not returned as of press time Friday.
In a letter to all LADWP employees, Nichols said his resignation will be effective at the end of the month.
Nichols served as head of the LADWP, the country’s largest public utility, for three years. When he was hired in 2011, Nichols was the department’s sixth top boss in less than five years, replacing Austin Beutner, who has served as LADWP general manager from April 2010 to January 2011.
“As the nation’s largest public utility, we are held to a high level of review and scrutiny,” Nichols said when his appointment was announced. “We must be a transparent organization that is accountable to its customers and the communities it serves. We must also be thoughtful and methodical as we balance our environmental responsibilities and the needs of our electric and water customers for reliable and affordable service. If given the opportunity to lead the organization, this balance, and this transparency, will be my top priorities.”
In his letter to LADWP employees Thursday, Nichols said the department maintained a 20 percent renewable energy delivery, and laid the groundwork for “solid plans and processes for meeting 33 percent by 2020.” He added that the department “doubled our commitment to energy efficiency.”
While the controversy in L.A. focuses on the two trust accounts and faulty electronic billing system, in Inyo Country, residents are fighting a proposed solar ranch east of Manzanar National Historic Site. Residents who are opposed to the project have raised a number of concerns, including the visual blight they say the project will create in the Owens Valley. Opponents of the 1,200-acre solar ranch have been joined by the Manzanar Committee, which has launched a letter-writting campaign in an effort to stop the project as planned and encourage the LADWP to find another, more suitable location.