Our Sponsors:

Read more »

Our Members

Many thanks to Donna Totten and Joaquin Hernandez some of our many supporters.

ALL MEMBERS »

Council questions Carrasco on City Light slip-ups, worker morale

City Light boss: No one is perfect.
Seattle City Light CEO, Jorge Carrasco.

Seattle City Light CEO, Jorge Carrasco. Credit: Seattle.gov

Kshama Sawant and other members of the City Council's Energy Committee grilled Seattle City Light general manager and CEO Jorge Carrasco on Tuesday about a string of recent high-profile controversies involving the utility and his leadership.

Much of the committee's review centered on a contract City Light had with Brand.com. As part of a broader City Light marketing effort, Brand.com worked to improve Internet search results tied to the utility and, specifically, Carrasco's name. Sawant, the Energy Committee chair, led the questioning, which also touched on Carrasco's request for a pay raise, employee morale at City Light and a copper theft that occurred after the CEO authorized a pair of con men to access a scrap metal facility.

Sawant billed the review as a way to avoid similar problems in the future.

"How can we, going forward, avoid wasteful use of resources?" she asked as the meeting got started.

As he parried questions from Sawant and other councilmembers, Carrasco tried to highlight the improvements that have taken place on his watch. He pointed out that when he joined City Light about a decade ago, the utility was emerging from an energy crisis, saddled with heavy debt and a battered credit rating. There were also problems with aging infrastructure, risk management and customer service.

Carrasco rattled off facts and figures in an attempt to demonstrate how some of those issues had improved during his tenure. 

"Through the support of mayors and councils over the last 10-and-a-half years we've been able to create a very different utility today," he said.

Councilmember Sally Clark said she was glad to see the Brand.com controversy discussed, but she also pointed out that the $17,500 contract was small in terms of the utility's total budget: It takes about $7 million in spending cuts to keep rates from rising 1 percent.

"It's important and we watch it," she said, of the controversy. "But it doesn't move the needle."

Later in the meeting, Sawant pushed back on Clark's remark about the Brand.com expenses being relatively minor. 

"I would not look at it like that," Sawant said. "I would look at as a sign of how the council and the elected government does its business overall."

When council members shifted the discussion to employee morale, Carrasco said that the utility would work with City Council staff to carry out an employee survey in 2015. City Light last conducted such a survey in 2007. It indicated that employee confidence in the utility's leadership was lacking in some respects.

Councilmember Bruce Harrell said that City Light was not the only city department with employee morale challenges and mentioned the police department as another example. He said that he hoped the city would take advantage of some of the "inspirational tools" that were available to address the problem. Harrell also shared some personal views on morale.

"Morale is a choice," he said. "I choose to have a positive morale, and I tell employees that there are a lot of people that do not have jobs, they do not even have homes."

Sawant offered a slightly different perspective.

"There's also extensive data to suggest that tangible issues at the workplace have a huge impact on employee morale," she said.

During the meeting's public comment period, a high voltage worker, Joe Spallino, raised concerns about City Light's safety program. He said that in recent years field safety coordinators, who act as liaisons between field workers, management and safety staff, have begun to lack high voltage expertise.

Carrasco said the utility would follow up to learn more about those concerns, and also noted that the rate of safety incidents has declined in recent years.

Sawant asked the City Light boss late in the meeting about reports that workers were reluctant to speak up about their suspicions of the copper thieves because they feared being viewed as insubordinate or disrespectful.

Carrasco said: "They should never assume that anyone of us in the chain of command, including myself, are not capable of making an error."

Bill Lucia writes about Seattle City Hall and politics for Crosscut. He can be reached at bill.lucia@crosscut.com and you can follow him on Twitter @bill_lucia.


Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!

Comments:

Posted Wed, Jul 23, 6:06 p.m. Inappropriate

Of course all employees everywhere know that their top management officials are capable of making errors. But I'd bet that very few employees feel secure about pointing out an error by the CEO of any organization, and that's what Carrasco is at City Light. Knowing about and pointing out an error have very different workplace consequences. Carrasco's assumption shows just how distant he is from City Light personnel.

sarah90

Posted Thu, Jul 24, 12:04 a.m. Inappropriate

How many other departments of this or other governments have paid for Brand.com or its competitors to provide internet eyewash? Dare they ask?

simorgh

Posted Thu, Jul 24, 9:18 a.m. Inappropriate

Why is this news? Of course Carrasco is going to say anything that he thinks will make him appear humble and deserving of an enormous raise. That's just the kind of guy he is. Does he mean it? Hardly. The vanity and hubris of spending $17K of our money to burnish his own image is simply breathtaking.

And if Sally Clark can say that $17K is essentially small potatoes, then I think it's time she gets another job. While I appreciate the candor, that very candor reveals to me that she is disconnected from the daily realities of the 99% and needs to find something else to do that doesn't pay her with public money.

mspat

Posted Thu, Jul 24, 9:27 a.m. Inappropriate

$17,500 might not "move the needle," but think of the actual good it could have done.

Posted Thu, Jul 24, 1:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Go back and review the original reporting on the Brand.com contract. It was for MORE than $17,500. That's all they spent because this was caught and they cancelled the contract before it was completed!

Mickymse

Posted Sat, Jul 26, 9:40 a.m. Inappropriate

How long do you think he'll last at City Light?
What's the decent interval before he resigns?

Posted Sat, Jul 26, 8:23 p.m. Inappropriate

This is another topic that could have used some of that there local Journalism back when it might have corrected some things at City Light. 1950s style line management and outsourcing everything to consultants and operating companies like Quanta and Potelco. Morale went through the floor. This story by Aimee Curl appeared in the weekly back in 08.

http://www.seattleweekly.com/2008-02-13/news/short-fuse-jorge-carrasco-s-polarizing-tenure-at-the-top-of-city-light/

Give Aimee an editor's pick.

jmrolls

Posted Sun, Jul 27, 3:46 p.m. Inappropriate

In light of the recent public spin on Mr. Carrasco's value to City Light, I noticed with some disdain that each of the many seattle.gov City Light pages prominently splash the fact that Mr. Carrasco is General Manager and CEO of Seattle City Light. No matter, apparently, that the City Council confirms him as "Superintendent."

The icing on the cake is that there is apparently no functional reason for the splashy headline, other than to proclaim Mr. Carrasco's personal advertisement, i.e. no link to contact or for additional information.

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »