Beutner hints at taking DWP post

It's sounding as if Austin Beutner, the mayor's recently appointed "jobs czar," is headed to the Department of Water and Power as interim general manager. "It's possible, stay tuned," he said during my interview with him at the Westside Urban Forum. Beutner stressed that it would be a temporary assignment, and that he would continue his work as Villaraigosa's point man on business and economic matters. The LAT reported that Beutner's selection is expected within the next few days. When I asked about the DWP spot, he took the opportunity to provide a quick overview of the utility's problems, including the high turnover of general managers ("It's referred to as the Office of death," he said), the switchover from coal to cleaner fuels, and the process by which rates are set. Little mention, though, of unions, which of course is what many of the financial problems are all about.

His standing within the city bureaucracy remains murky. He oversees many of the major departments, including airports, the port and the DWP, but that begs the question of what the commissioners for each of those departments are supposed to do. Beutner had a tough time explaining the various relationships, perhaps because they are so ambiguous. Which brings up another point: 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.

One thing he strongly opposes is the city filing for bankruptcy. In a sense, that's not surprising, given Villaraigosa's adamancy against such an approach, though former mayor Richard Riordan, who is a friend of Beutner's (he was indirectly responsible for his getting the City Hall job), suggests that bankruptcy is the most sensible way to pare down debt obligations.

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
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