Former Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Aram Benyamin will become chief operating officer for Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (LADWP), the department confirmed to the Indy.
Though The Gazette cited a “Thursday news release” in first reporting the news today, Nov. 18, an LADWP spokesperson tells the Indy that no release had been issued as of 1 p.m. Nov. 18.
In any event, Benyamin was hired following his contribution of $1,405 in three separate donations to Karen Bass, a veteran Democratic congresswoman who became L.A.’s first woman elected mayor on Wednesday, Nov. 16.
Benyamin made two donations on Sept. 3 totaling $1,005 and gave Bass’s campaign another $400 on Oct. 5. Campaign finance records show he listed his address when giving those contributions as that of a home he purchased in 2005 for $1.2 million in Tarzana, California, which lies roughly 20 miles from Malibu, according to online real estate records. (Benyamin also owns a house here in the Cordera subdivision in northeast Colorado Springs.)
LADWP wouldn’t disclose when he will start work there or his salary until he is on the job. Benyamin will report to 38-year LADWP official, general manager and chief engineer Marty Adams. Online salary information for LADWP shows Adams total compensation was $430,524 in 2021.
Benyamin was paid $480,000 a year as Utilities CEO and earlier this year turned away a raise before it was offered.
Utilities Board Chair Wayne Williams tells the Indy that Benyamin’s last pay date is Dec. 1, and that he will collect pay for his unused vacation time, per state law, and for half his unused sick pay, per policy, after that. Those totals were not immediately available.
Williams says Benyamin will start his new job in L.A. “soon,” and that Utilities Chief Operations Officer Travas Deal has been appointed acting CEO effective Dec. 1. Williams says the pay range for the new CEO is $450,000 to $520,000. A consultant has not been hired to assist in the nationwide search, he says, and the Utilities Board expects to appoint a new CEO in the first quarter of 2023.
Benyamin contributed $2,500 to Williams’ mayoral campaign account on Feb. 7 and another $1,000 on May 9, campaign records show.
Benyamin was hired by Utilities in 2015 as energy supply general manager. He was promoted to CEO in October 2018.
He was ousted from LADWP, where he served for 30 years, in 2014 due to his close association with the electrical workers union, according to media reports. Benyamin also had supported the challenger of Eric Garcetti, who was elected as mayor and served until Bass was elected this week.
As we previously reported, Benyamin had been placed on administrative leave in 2014 after acting as a trustee of two nonprofit training and safety institutes overseen by a local union that resisted efforts by the city controller to obtain an accounting of how $40 million was spent, media reported.
In its 2015 report, the controller said the trusts operated with “lax oversight and inadequate financial controls.” Many expenditures had “questionable relationship to the trusts’ missions and goals,” and the trusts “appear to have a cavalier attitude toward the use of public money.”
The audit also found trust administrators used trust credit cards to gas up personal vehicles and paid DWP employees to conduct training courses, an apparent violation of the trust agreement.
The trusts also “repeatedly entered into non-competitively bid contracts” and when they expired, “simply executed change orders or issued new contracts without soliciting competitive bids.”
Under his leadership of Springs Utilities, in July 2020 Utilities hired a consultant, The Broadband Group, to do a feasibility study for building an oversized fiber backbone network, citing a “not to exceed” figure of $244,940. Nine months later the project’s scope was expanded and the contract value ballooned 300-fold to $73.5 million.
Benyamin’s tenure at Utilities saw efforts to shift the city’s power supply away from coal toward renewables. The Downtown coal-burning Drake Power Plant has been shut down, and the city has moved toward solar and wind power, but also relies heavily on natural gas.
Most recently, Utilities lies at the center of a controversy over how it will determine whether to extend water service to new developments, which we most recently wrote about here.