Mayor picks City Light chief; $210,000 in pay tops city salary list

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels yesterday named Jorge Carrasco, a former city manager with public and private water-utility experience, as his choice for superintendent of Seattle City Light.

If confirmed by the City Council, Carrasco would become the permanent replacement for Gary Zarker, whom the council ousted after a rancorous reconfirmation battle earlier this year.

Carrasco, too, has been forced out of two public-sector management jobs because of clashes with elected officials, according to newspaper accounts.

With a salary offer of $210,000, Carrasco would become Seattle's highest-paid employee if the council confirms him. By comparison, Nickels makes about $136,000. Zarker earned $161,000.

Carrasco was among three finalists recommended by a 15-member search committee that considered more than 50 applicants for the City Light job. The names of the other finalists were not released.

Nickels and search-committee members praised Carrasco's leadership qualifications.

"Jorge has outstanding management credentials," Nickels said at an afternoon news conference, citing his nominee's reputation as a skilled financial manager with an environmentalist ethic.

Carrasco never has directly headed a major electric utility, but Randy Revelle, a former city councilman and King County executive who chaired the mayor's search panel, said the group unanimously thought Carrasco is well-qualified to run City Light.

Revelle said Carrasco has "a great combination" of experience that was more important than a pure electric-utility background.

City Council President Peter Steinbrueck said the council likely will wait to conduct confirmation hearings until the new year when three new council members will be sworn in.

Carrasco, 54, most recently was president of American Water Services, a private water-utility-services company based in New Jersey. He said he left that job after the company was bought out by a German firm earlier this year.

Before that, his job experience was as a public-sector manager in municipal governments and public water utilities.

Carrasco's main electrical-utility experience comes from his years in Austin, where he worked his way up through the ranks of city government for a decade before being named city manager in 1984. Before landing that city's top job he had been a superintendent for administration for Austin Energy, the city-run electric utility.

Austin Energy is the nation's 10th-largest publicly owned electric utility, according to rankings by the American Public Power Association. Seattle City Light ranks ninth on that list, with roughly 1,800 employees and a 2004 budget of $830 million.

Carrasco would take the helm of a utility that has weathered a rough stretch when it was criticized for rate increases and mounting debt, partly as a result of the energy crisis of 2000-01.

That criticism culminated in the March vote by the City Council, which refused to reconfirm Zarker despite intense lobbying from the mayor and other Zarker supporters. (The city charter requires the council to reconfirm the superintendent every four years.)

Carrasco said that turmoil did not make him shy away from the Seattle job. He said City Light appears to be in good financial condition and that the utility has a good reputation nationally as a leader on utility issues.

"I am excited about the opportunity to work with Seattle City Light," he said.

Carrasco has seen firsthand the political turmoil that can accompany political appointments.

He left two of his previous jobs after clashes with elected leaders.

In 1987, he was forced to resign as city manager of Austin, Texas, after a majority of City Council members there said they did not support his continuing in the city's top administrative job.

According to accounts in the Austin American-Statesman, council members had grown distrustful of Carrasco, saying he manipulated information to suit his own agenda. They also criticized some city spending increases under his watch.

Carrasco then went to work for three years as city manager of Scottsdale, Ariz., leaving to take a job as general manager of the East Bay Municipal Utility District, a public water utility in Oakland, Calif. He left that job after clashing with members of the utility's governing board.

Newspaper accounts described Carrasco's resignation as the result of a clash with pro-development board members who didn't like his environmental policies, which his critics regarded as anti-growth.

Asked about those departures, Carrasco yesterday described both as mutual decisions to leave positions where his style began to diverge from that of his bosses.

"That happens in a situation where you work with elected officials," Carrasco said.

Revelle said the search panel was comfortable with Carrasco's history and noted that being labeled an environmentalist — as apparently happened in Carrasco's California job — could only be a plus in Seattle.

"If he'd left because he couldn't get along with environmentalists — now that would be a problem," Revelle said.

Seattle Times staff researchers Miyoko Wolf and Gene Balk contributed to this report. Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or

Jorge Carrasco

Age: 54
Education: B.A. magna cum laude from the University of Texas in Austin. MBA from St. Edwards University in Austin.
Family: Lives in Medford, N.J., with his wife, Jer, and their son, Ben.
Work experience: Began work with city of Austin in 1974, served as city manager from 1984 to 1987; city manager, Scottsdale, Ariz., 1988-1991; general manager, East Bay Municipal Utility District (water and waste-water utility serving more than 1 million customers in Oakland, Berkeley and the eastern San Francisco Bay area), 1991-1995; took job in 1996 with American Water Services, a $424 million subsidiary of American Water that provides water service and waste-water service in the United States and Canada to cities, industries and the federal government.
Salaries: City of Seattle 2002

City Light Supe.
(New salary)
Chief of Police$152,969
City Librarian$143,383
Fire Chief$131,446
City Attorney$115,863
Municipal Court Judge$99,431
Council Member$84,815