So now you’re double-vaccinated, and have hugged your parents or grandkids following a year and a half home alone. But calamities on a global-scale remain yet to plague us. California is heading into an ever-hottening fire season with ever-diminishing water supplies and under drought conditions. Climate change remains a thing and Los Angeles remains governed as always, as “Chinatown” with its intense political maneuverings surrounding that most vital elixir of them all – water. We are still in need of ongoing protection against conditions poised to grow ever-harsher.

Southern California is governed by a cooperative central water authority, the Metropolitan Water District (MWD or “Met”). Created by the State legislature nearly 100 years ago, in 1928, today it serves nearly 19 million people through 26 member public agencies in Los Angeles (LA), Orange (OC), Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego (SD) and Ventura Counties. Its mission is to provide “…adequate and reliable supplies of high-quality water to meet present and future needs in an environmentally and economically responsible way.” 38 appointed board members vote in a system weighted by assessed property values, which favors larger cities and water districts (eg, LA, SD, OC, &c).

The board’s long-standing general manager since 2006, Jeff Kightlinger, joined the agency over 25 years ago not as a hydrologist or water-planner, but as a lawyer specializing in water issues. Once upon a time water managers were engineers but “getting stuff financed to be built has actually become more challenging than designing how to build it,” observed Kightlinger in an interview with the impartial, nonprofit, Water Education Foundation. Kightlinger has served exceptionally long in this highly charged, political position. He announced his retirement 15 months ago, and agreed to stay past his intended departure at the close of 2020 in order to ensure proper succession. This alone foretells real succession issues at Metropolitan. The agency’s recent split vote over initiation of contract proceedings signals significant internal strife.

There are indications of structural malaise and dysfunction at Met where working conditions are extremely remote, harsh and lonely. In 2019, an operational manager, Donald Nash, took his own life in the wake of notice that he was to be fired following an internal investigation of charges of “erratic” and “tyrannical” behaviour. An elegiac story from 2015 chronicles these conditions, but it is clear that immersion in such isolation can have pathologic manifestations in “workplace culture”. The City of LA (CoLA) lost a lawsuit to the tune of $17.4m taxpayer dollars (knocked back on appeal to $12.4m plus lawyers’ fees) regarding “harassment and failure to prevent harassment and retaliation in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act.” Letters and public testimony in front of Metropolitan’s board eventually brought public attention to these longstanding issues. But complaints persist that internal district investigations are inadequate or biased, while external, independent investigations are under pressure. Two board members who advocated for such review have been replaced by their nominating districts and retaliation is alleged. The LA City council president has threatened action around charges of inadequate workplace oversight and safety. Even while a new, personal “employment retaliation, harassment and discrimination” lawsuit around actions subsequent to the first has advanced, alleging “systematic anti-Chicano racist promotional practices and policies” from named defendant, CoLA then-Bureau of Sanitation Assistant Director, Adel H. Hagekhalil.

Mr. Hagekhalil has since been promoted to executive director and general manager of LA’s Bureau of Street Services (pay/benefits: $357K). He is a registered civil engineer, and has little experience in water policy or its arcane politics. Yet Mr. Hagekhalil is the GM candidate to whom the Met board voted last month to extend contract negotiations. This vote favored Mr. Hagekhalil by a weighted proportion of 50.4% compared with the runner-up candidate at 46.8%. The second-place finisher, legendary “water witchPat Mulroy, lost by a split vote with more absolute member-votes than her opponent: 18 to 16. But it is the vote weighted by property assessment that the agency recognizes, not 1:1 member-agency representation.

This vote comes at a time of both cultural and environmental upheaval. The Metropolitan is facing a decision about new leadership while negotiating a sea change in labor relations conducted within a new #MeToo world order. There have been accusations and findings of serious workplace misconduct, including sexual harassment and bullying, that new management must redress. And global climate change means that even while allocations of Colorado River Water will be renegotiated in the next five years, Colorado River and Lake Mead water levels continue to drop. Severe drought conditions in the southwest have just triggered Tier 1 cuts in delivery of Colorado River water to Arizona and Nevada, federal water allocations have just been drastically slashed, and the Sierra snowpack is currently at 1% of normal levels. The state’s large Bay-Delta infrastructure plan is in flux. And all these matters must be negotiated by Metropolitan’s new director.

Why then is MWD’s board mired in petty matters of political infighting and fiefdom protection?

The majority of board directors argue our region’s best interests lie unequivocally with Pat Mulroy, considered by admirers and detractors alike to be an exceptionally competent manager, and among the fiercest water mavens of all time. Yet the board’s directors representing the region’s highest-value assets (LA, SD) focus inward and in so doing diminish power from the cooperative (SD has litigated against MWD for a decade) in advancing an appointee from within LA’s own political machinery.

Appointed in August, 2018 by Los Angeles’ mayor Garcetti to head the Bureau of Street Services, Adel Hagekhalil was overseen in this position by the five Garcetti-appointed board members of LA’s Department of Public Works (DPW). This is the board investigated by the FBI for corruption. Upon leaving the DPW board to run for political office, its Vice President Repenning received the first of two contributions to her unsuccessful campaign from Hagekhalil, whom she now seeks to hire from her subsequent commission on the Metropolitan water board.

Evidence of little more than a productive working relationship, the context of Mr Hagekhalil’s #MeToo credibility is concerning. Why are his partisan boosters among the mayor’s staff and environmental community so untroubled by the moral and monetary costs to taxpayers due to his department’s ethical laxity, as well his very own impending personal legal challenge?

As advocate for Southern California’s and the Met’s water needs, it is hard to argue there is a more qualified policy negotiator than Ms Mulroy. As a bureaucratic functionary Mr Hagekhalil might be more tractable to political pressure. But Garcetti’s administration will be heading soon to India. What will be the result for the Bay-Delta water tunnel/s? Untethered, is that political football best left to a water policy or engineering professional? Perhaps we should hope that the people’s best interests overrule politicians’. The Metropolitan board will vote on a final contract offer at its next, Tuesday 6/8/21, meeting.

July in AD54: State-level Committee Selection

Dear Fellow AD 54 Folk:

This month’s LACDP meeting was a marvel of brevity. The expedience is an artifact of zoom where it is possible for the Chair to race through an agenda in part by ignoring or muting members. September’s monthly meeting is scheduled in-person so there may be a cultural shift looming.

Five resolutions passed in county committee in support of legislation at both the state and federal level: • agricultural worker protections (AB364) • prohibiting cooperation of local law enforcement with immigration enforcement (AB937) • rescinding ‘marriage’ as an exemption for rape (AB1171) • holding contractors accountable for subcontractor wage theft (SB727) • establishing tools to hold HUD and providers accountable for poor housing conditions (HR4237)

The month’s action was north. Everyone’s worried about the Newsom recall, not because things are looking bad for his campaign, but because complacency is a terrible threat. While Newsom’s underlying support is strong, it is the actual turnout of voters that matters and investing resources toward this end is frustrating. Estimates of cost have ranged most recently from $215m to $400m; $250m has been set aside for the election by the legislature. Potential consequences could be dire, with jeopardy ranging from losing the Democratic majority in DC to loss of critical CA resources for funding pandemic recovery, public education and public health, protecting the environment and first responders, etc.

The election is September 14, 2021. Every active registered voter will be mailed a vote-by-mail ballot for the recall election. Vote NO!, vote Immediately upon receipt of your ballot, Urge your neighbors to do the same.

County Dem Party is also focused north, on internal DP politics and Reform

Since the tandem frustration of Bernie Sanders’ campaigns which serially failed to attain the Democrat’s presidential nomination, cries have grown urgent for Party reform, and criticism piquant regarding the Party’s servility to establishment and robustness to change.

Internally here in California, unresolved scandal among its immediate past top leadership contributed to fractious division during recent elections for Party officers. At balance was the entitlement (and stability) of groomed succession vs the by-now commonplace voice of criticism clamoring for Reform.

Eventually the incumbent (Rusty Hicks) and his tacit slate (TS) of supporting officers (comprising Betty Yee, VC-SIF; David Campos, VC-OSIF; Melahat Rafiei, Secretary; April Verrett, Controller) all won out. But Reform is a process and not a binary outcome; the loss of its iconic Change-candidates (Daraka Larimore-Hall, Delaine Eastin, Jenny Bach, et al.) does not determine unswerving status quo. At least one ingredient for Change petitioned during the election – committee assignments shared among Party officers, distributed beyond the sole prerogative of the Chair – may have been accommodated by the victorious, “Tacit Slate” (TS).

Committee assignments reflect change

This month’s announcement of committee assignments from among the approximately 3500 2021-23 Democratic State Central Committee (DSCC) delegates can be tested for overt partisanship linked with votes for Chair and other officers. By simply assigning a score of “1” for each vote given to the TS candidates who ultimately won office, and “2” otherwise, a composite “weighted ballot score” (wbs) is associated with each voting DSCC delegate’s officer selections (n=3371; as many as 200 delegates may have abstained from voting altogether). The weighted score ranges from 5-10 as a very rough measure of “distance” from the ‘establishment’ TS; 5 results from voting a straight TS, 10 from voting entirely opposite.

There is a clear (if not statistically significant) distinction (Table 1) between average weighted ballot scores (wbs) of Party membership “types”. These three approximately equally-sized categories have been described in previous newsletters: direct representative election to the California Democratic State Central Committee (DSCC) as “ADEMS” (wbs=7.2), or indirect, internal selection at the county level, through central committees or clubs (wbs=6.9), or as a “Party Leader and Elected Official” (PLEO) (wbs=6.3). The political temperament of these groups is presumed different, reflected in the trend of wbs, showing distance from the elected, TS. PLEOs hue on average more closely to the TS, ADEMs least closely.

Average-score-by-party-status

Table 1:  Average weighted ballot score is lower among PLEOs compared with elected representatives, with directly elected members exhibiting the strongest departure from the tacit, ‘establishment’ slate (TS) that was elected.

Similarly a difference in temperament or tolerance for departure from the TS can be inferred by the difference in wbs between committees. Ranging 1 wbs point, or 20% of its range, the eight selected committees also show an increasing standard deviation, or tolerance of departure from the TS (Table 2). Core Party committees such as Finance and Platform are most closely aligned with the TS; less policy-oriented committees (ie, Diversity, Organizing, Credentials) are less closely aligned with the TS and have a greater spread of alternative-voting among the membership.

weighted-ballot-score-of-all-CDP-cmtes

Table 2:  Comparative weighted ballot score among the newly selected CDP committee membership. Committees with greater “distance” from the winning Tacit Slate aligned with the incumbent Chair (wbs=5), reflect closer alignment with alternative candidates. The standard deviation also grows with increasing wbs reflecting greater diversity.

Assignments show little relation to officer-preference

One way inertia builds within institutions is through committee memberships. Under scarce conditions their assignment can become currency, tacitly traded to exact loyalty and contain dissension. And because the work of the committee will reflect those of whom it is composed, if narrowly drawn, the committee’s output will reflect this orthodoxy. If the committee membership comprises a diversity of political perspectives (as represented by distance from the TS), the standard deviation of the wbs will be greater, and there will on average be support of officers at greater “distance” from the TS (higher average wbs), reflecting diversity from the prevailing establishment. When the TS slips closer to baseline (minwbs=5.0), the institution is buffered from that Change.

The weighted ballot measure (wbs) can therefore test one sense in which committee membership was assigned. If committees were assigned as a random subgroup of DSCC delegates, the average wbs for committee members would look like that of the whole. Departure from the overall distribution of wbs would reflect systematic bias in the selection of committees (Table 3). While recent assignments do reflect a bias toward the TS, it is on average just ½ wbs points (approximately 10% of the possible 5-point range) lower than the full DSCC body.

Average-score-by-party-status-for-cmte-membership-wide

Table 3:  Distribution of average weighted ballot score among those assigned any committee is lower than the average wbs among those assigned to none. The difference is approximately 10% the possible range of the wbs.

This bias is subdued, at least compared with that of committee selection last year in the LACDP (but note that the LACDP calculation incorporated vote-abstentions and therefore a larger range, so it is not directly comparable. Still, the wbs among those assigned a committee was far lower than those not assigned a committee, by approximately 40% the possible range. Among PLEOS that difference was negligible.) The wbs difference in CDP committee selection is consistent with the announced effort that evaluation of committee applications came from the more diverse group of all party officers, resulting in selection of membership with greater diversity.

Moreover, the wbs difference among those assigned a committee and not, is similarly subdued between each set of delegates who voted for the two rival candidates for Chair. Using a wbs for the four non-Chair officers alone (range: 4-8; Table 4), that difference is 0.2 points, or just 5% of the range. Bias in committee assignments associated with TS-support seems to be modest. Though there is a markedly higher wbs (not surprisingly) among those who voted for the alternative-Chair, Eastin.

average-score-by-chair-vote

Table 4:  Weighted ballot score for the four non-Chair officers between voters supporting the two Chair candidates. The difference between wbs scores depending on committee membership is minimal.

How did the voting fall for Chair?

An estimated 94% of DSCC delegates cast ballots for party leadership. Of the approximately 200 delegates who did not vote (that number is inferred, not calculable), 13 were nonetheless assigned committees – that is 4% of the 303 delegates assigned a committee abstained from all officer elections altogether. There were approximately twice as many votes for Hicks as Eastin (Table 5), and nearly 3x as many Hicks supporters received committee assignments.

Officer-selections-contingent-on-Chair-vote

Table 5:  Counts of votes for the Chair, showing distribution of each non-Chair officer race among their supporters. The relative proportion of each candidate’s supporter’s favor for Chair is shown as “column percent” (see Table 7). The conditional favor of each candidate among the Chair’s supporters is shown as “row percent” (see Table 6).

Hicks’ supporters were more partisan than Eastin’s. In 3 of 4 races, the spread between non-Chair candidates was under 15% among Eastin’s supporters (Table 6). Among Hicks’ supporters, the race with the smallest spread was larger than the one lopsided race of Eastin’s (for Secretary), at 37%. The race among Hicks’ supporters with the largest spread (for Controller) favored fellow labor leader Verrett by 4.5x. Nearly 20% of all ballots were cast for the TS; 30% of Hicks’ supporters voted a “straight TS ticket”.

Row-percents-pic

Table 6:  Distribution of non-Chair voting among the supporters of each candidate for Chair. The Secretary race was consistent between supporters. Support for Hicks’ supporter’s candidates was decisive.

Those who cast no Chair vote, looked very like Hicks’ supporters in the fellow labor-leader (Controller’s) race. Like both Hicks’ and Eastin’s supporters, these favored Rafiei for Secretary, but looked more like Eastin’s supporters for the Vice-Chair races. The two “third party” candidates drew approximately the same as abstentions.

Eastin’s supporters favored alternative candidates in all non-Chair races (Table 7). In no race did the TS candidate receive more than 30% of Eastin’s supporter’s favor. But as her support was half that of Hicks’ overall, this preference was subordinate.

Col-percents-pic

Table 7:  Distribution among Chair’s supporters within each non-Chair race. Eastin’s supporters collectively favored the non-TS candidate in every race.

Cause for some positivity

With just 39% of committee applicants receiving an assignment, there was a lot of disappointment among CDP delegates, me included. And not to be outdone, many long-term committee members were disenfranchised this cycle too. Nevertheless, officer’s claims of deliberative assignment are tenable; in some sense their work is even equitable. Yet it is unfortunate when volunteers are turned away – the dearth of assignments seems gratuitous. Why not mandate more committees or establish apprenticeships or associate committee membership? It’s a very large committee, this Democratic Party; failing to focus excess energy must surely be inefficient. Or perhaps it will redirect power back to a more local level. That would be an excellent outcome, worth everyone’s energy.