Mayor on City Light scandal: What is this, Watergate?
Two embarrassing blunders and one bad radio interview later, the embattled head of Seattle City Light has cost himself a lucrative pay raise.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced Wednesday that he would not boost Jorge Carrasco’s salary by as much as $119,000 a year, citing concerns about his judgment.
Still, the mayor suggested during an interview with KIRO Radio Wednesday afternoon that the controversy was overblown.
When pressed to explain why his office would not answer direct inquiries about whether Carrasco had been honest during a recent media interview, Murray took issue with the line of questioning.
“Is this like Watergate?” he said.
At the center of the City Light debacle is an interview with KIRO Radio, during which Carrasco lied about whether he had asked the mayor for a raise in the first place.
“Did you ask for a raise?” host Jason Rantz asked Carrasco in an interview last Friday.
“No. I think the, the — no I didn’t. I did not ask for a raise,” Carrasco said.
In reality, Carrasco had not only asked Mayor Murray for a raise, but had urged two previous administrations to boost his pay as well, citing studies that show he is paid far less than others in his position across the county.
The blunder came at a time when Carrasco was already under a great deal of scrutiny for a $47,500 contract the utility entered into to boost his online image and for letting two men posing as Native Americans scam him out of $120,000 worth of copper wire.
Following the Rantz interview, KIRO Radio set about trying to verify if Carrasco had told the truth.
However, in email exchanges on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the mayor’s communications staff repeatedly dodged direct questions about whether Carrasco had sought a raise.
When asked Wednesday why his staff could not answer a “yes or no” question, Mayor Murray said his office could not get a hold of him.
“I would have told you that he indicated that he would like a raise,” the mayor said.
When asked how it is possible that his office could not reach him for an answer over a period of nearly four days, Murray pushed back.
“It’s not like Watergate,” he said. “Here’s the deal: I was busy. I screwed up. I should have got you answer sooner. I didn’t get you an answer sooner.”
Murray also suggested that Carrasco’s lie could have been much worse.
“Did the head of the agency lie about corruption in his agency? The answer is no. Did the head of a public agency lie about performance? No. Did he lie about changes in rates that the ratepayers pay for electricity in this city? The answer is no. Did he really screw up an answer around what he told this office about his salary? Yes. But that is to a level significantly lower than corruption, or not being straight with the taxpayers about what rates are going to be.”
Murray said he has no intention of firing Carrasco, and said he still believes that the head of City Light should be paid competitively.
“We need to pay public employees what they’re worth, and I don’t believe their salaries should be a political football,” Murray said. “We will develop, in the months ahead, an independent process to determine what is the appropriate salary for the appropriate position.”
Already the second highest paid city employee, behind Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, Carrasco makes $245,000 a year. Last month, the city authorized a hike that would allow the mayor to pay him as much as $364,000.