The union that represents most Los Angeles Department of Water and Power employees has voted against cooperating with audits of two secretive trust funds, and the votes have effectively blocked the release of financial records detailing how $41-million in public money has been spent.

DWP general manager Ron Nichols told the Board of Water and Power Commissioners Tuesday that representatives of the IBEW had voted ‘not in the interest’ of ratepayers and lawyers would have to be hired – at public expense – in order to force the issue into arbitration or court.

“This is insanity that you – Mr. Nichols – and the other trustees have to retain counsel, that we then are going to have to pay for,” said Commissioner Michael Fleming.

The IBEW has refused all requests for access to detailed accounts of how the Joint Safety Institute and Joint Training Institute have spent the money over the last 10 years, claiming the entities are private and exempt from public records requirements or open meeting laws.

The Commissioners then voted to try and stop approving any JSI or JTI payments – which are partly controlled by a DWP representative – and if that wasn’t legal, ordered the DWP trustees involved in the trusts’ business to begin keeping independent records of spending and report back to the Commission.

“At the end of the day we’re having to do this because one person, let’s really be honest here, one person has decided that he simply can’t be honest and transparent,” Fleming said, in a reference to IBEW boss Brian D’Arcy, who he later called – “one bully who can’t face reality.”

“Because of the actions of one person, this department is tainted, their reputations as Department of Water and Power employees is tainted, it’s beyond comprehension,” Fleming said.

“I resent having to pay as a ratepayer and as a commissioner,” he added, “to provide documents that are the publics’ documents to see, to the public.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti and Controller Ron Galperin had both demanded independent audits of the trusts after the Los Angeles Times reported the spending has gone unchecked for more than a decade.

“Every day that goes by, it looks worse,” said Commissioner Jill Banks Barad. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and I don’t understand why the union boss doesn’t see that.”

-- Eric Leonard at DWP Headquarters