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Continue the effort

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has written a letter to the president of the Department of Water and Power Commissioners, advising him that “our commitment to diversity and inclusion must continue unabated.”
The letter came in the wake of comments made by President Nick Patsaouras at a recently televised commission meeting.
“The nominee of the Democratic Party is African American. A woman came close to getting a nomination, but you’re gonna spend over a $100,000 on teaching employees to deal with diversity? That’s an anachronism. We’re past the sins of the past.”
The comment shocked fellow commissioner Forescee Hogan-Rowles, and prompted her to re-evaluate the progress she felt was made during the more than two years she has been on the commission.
Marie Lemelle, the former two-term president of the Water and Power African American Association, called Rowles’ comments on point, and noted that lack of diversity is part of the 100-year history of the city-owned utility.
” . . . There has never been an African American male, never a woman, never an Asian and never a Hispanic in the general manager position. They may have been interim, but never full-time. There have been two women assistant general managers more than a decade ago, and their departments left a void that has never been filled,” said Lemelle, a 11-year DWP employee in the public relations department, who left in May to advance her own career. She said in her former department there was no promotional ladder that was active, and workers in the predominantly female department have been fighting for years for equity pay and promotional opportunities, which she called “non-existent.”
“My opinion is based on fact,” continued Lemelle. “As a two-term president of the African American employee association where I oversaw more than 300 employees, it was clear there was (lack of) mutual respect for diversity issues,” said Lemelle, who added that the only succession planning and professional development training done was conducted by the African American employee association.
“If we didn’t conduct professional development workshops and how to prepare yourself for promotional opportunity, it was non-existent,” noted Lemelle, who said the problems at DWP are not limited to racial issues. They also encompass discrimination against all women as well as those with disabilities.
And it is not that there is no diversity in DWP; it’s lacking when it comes to promotional opportunities for women or minorities. These are very, very limited, added another department source, who also pointed out that the cause has not been aided by the exclusion of so many of the top-level positions which are now exempt from the civil service system, and are being filled by political appointees.
For years, the department was run by engineers who were predominantly white males, but during the early 1990s progress had begun to happen, then it was stopped by downsizing. Most of the women or minorities who had made headway into management either retired or were pushed out into other positions, said one 20-year veteran DWP worker.
DWP Commissioner Hogan-Rowles is “very pleased” with the mayor’s response to Patsaouras’ comments. “I believe that his taking a stand demonstrates that he is committed to diversity. Even his acknowledgment that as a results of Civil Rights, he is where he is today. It was a major step and the mere statement made around diversity let our commission president know that it was important.”
Rowles said diversity training is moving forward in the department, and she pointed to the fact that for the first time in 30 years, a general manager and assistant general manager and the high-level executive staff recently all went through diversity training in relation to bringing in women and minority vendors.
Now she said the training, which will focus on explaining racial, gender, sexual harassment and other such discrimination, will begin among employees in the 2008-09 fiscal year.