Public-Private Collaboration: Working Together in Sacramento

Posted on Jul 13, 2013

Public-Private Collaboration: Working Together in Sacramento

As with any industry, the water industry has multiple players, including investor-owned water utilities, municipal water departments, and other public wholesale and retail water agencies and districts. Some of the individuals and faces are more well-known than others, but the defining characteristic is working together on water policy legislation that benefits the customers and utilities of all segments in the water industry’s urban sector. Such is the case with Meg Catzen-Brown, Senior Policy Advisor for Nossaman LLP and Kathy Cole, Executive Legislative Representative with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (Metropolitan).

Both Catzen-Brown and Cole have been working in the water industry for more than 20 years. Catzen-Brown has represented the California Water Association’s (CWA) investor-owned members for 25 years, and Cole began working with MWD in February 1992 when her mentor, long-time legislative representative Ray Corley, asked her to join the Metropolitan ranks as a legislative analyst. It was Corley who introduced Cole to Catzen-Brown, and the two grew together in their respective jobs, developing a collaborative working relationship that has benefitted their clients, the industry and water customers statewide.

Over the years, Catzen-Brown and Cole have worked on numerous legislative and policy issues, including conservation and Bay-Delta initiatives. One notable issue that is still working its way to a final conclusion was the 2009 water bond, which brought together cross-sections of the water industry, including public and private perspectives, as well as environmental perspectives. Multiple issues needed to be resolved, but Cole and Catzen-Brown described it as a time when the two worked in sync to bring about a suitable legislative outcome, which was crafting bond language that was inclusive and available to all water suppliers. According to Cole, “I came from the public side on the 2009 water bond issue, and Meg came from the private side. We identified our sectors’ mutual needs and were able to pull people together to craft a water and funding policy that worked for CWA’s members and for Metropolitan.”

Catzen-Brown described working with Cole this way, “Kathy and I have worked on every big-picture water issue that the state has considered, particularly pertaining to water supply, conservation and reuse.” Catzen-Brown further commented that, “Working with Kathy is great fun because she is incredibly smart and trustworthy. I like to say that working with Kathy does wonders for MY reputation because she is well respected, well connected and well informed.”

When asked why their collaboration has worked, both Catzen-Brown and Cole said the same thing. They start from a similar place, digging for details to understand all sides of an issue and identify potential questions that may need to be answered. “We tend to get more into the weeds,” said Cole. “And, when you’re working side-by-side with someone who appreciates that approach, we double our efforts on behalf of the organizations we represent.”

Catzen-Brown concurred. “We trust one another and communicate exceptionally well. There are no large egos in the room; we speak the same language and are interested in a constructive result where no one person has to have the glory.” Cole believes she and Catzen-Brown see the world similarly in that it is critical to be effective communicators, particularly with legislative term limits and the turnover at the Legislature. “We both believe we have to be well prepared and go back to the basics on water to educate legislators and their staff to help them understand this complex business.”

Depending on the issue, the leadership role is shared by both women. Either Catzen-Brown or Cole readily assumes the responsibility of putting issues or concerns on the table, identifying what information is needed to reach a resolution and communicating consistently with one another to create the best possible outcome — Catzen-Brown from the statewide and private enterprise perspective and Cole from the public and regional perspective.

And, to ensure CWA and MWD continue with the same quality of representation, Catzen-Brown and Cole are mentoring others to take the lead in the future, which begs the question, what will happen to them when that time comes? Cole responded by stating, “We are in the business of developing relationships, and sometimes you are lucky enough to develop a relationship with a colleague that will last a lifetime. Meg and I will always be close, wherever our paths take us.” Catzen-Brown summed it up by saying, “Kathy and I are very close friends, and this duo will live on even after we retire!”