Seattle City Light CEO Jorge Carrasco responds to media storm
A few weeks ago, many didn’t know the name Jorge Carrasco. But after the Seattle City Council voted to approve a pay raise for the Seattle City Light CEO, who was already the city’s highest paid employee, Carrasco became subject of unflattering back-to-back-to-back reports.
First, The Seattle Times published a report: “City Light hires online results firm to polish its CEO’s image.” Then, it was highlighting a con that befell the utility last year, where two men dressed as Native Americans were able to make off with 40,000 pounds of the utility’s copper.
Little has been heard from the City Light CEO since the reports, but he agreed to sit down with KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz for an extensive discussion.
Of course, people were curious when the council first considered raising Carrasco’s pay. The CEO currently makes $245,000, but could now make up to $364,000 after the council approved a pay band increase. He says he hasn’t even been granted a raise yet, but understands some of the commotion.
“The change in the [pay] band is much larger than normal, and the reason that happened is this pay band hasn’t been adjusted but once, and very modestly, in the last ten and half years that I’ve been here,” says Carrasco. “So in order to catch up with the market, which has continued to move forward over this 10 year period of time, you had a larger change than you would normally expect.”
He says the city council makes the decision on what the pay range will be and the mayor will ultimately decide what he gets paid. When asked if he approached the city for the raise, Carrasco tells Rantz no, he did not. He also says he wasn’t threatening to seek out other employment.
“The thing that has been reported extensively is the fact that I was interviewed for a job in Arizona a few years ago,” says Carrasco. “At the time, I was not looking for another job, and I’m not looking for another job right now. My wife and I are both very happy here in Seattle. They came and asked me to consider the job several times. I ultimately agreed to talk to them, but it was not because I was looking. They were the ones that were looking and they came calling.”
Rantz also asked Carrasco about what happened with Brand.com, the company they hired to clean up the utility’s image, and why they sought such services.
“We have a responsibility to our customers to educate them on work that the utility is doing,” says Carrasco. “Eleven years ago, City Light was in bad shape. We were deep in debt. We had huge rate increases. We had no financial reserves, very poor customer ratings, old infrastructure.”
“These were all issues that were facing us when I arrived at Seattle City Light. I’m pleased to say, because of the work of a lot of great people at the utility, we’ve turned the utility around,” says Carrasco.
The utility has been trying to find ways to better communicate the strides they feel they’ve made with the public they serve, says Carrasco. “The Brand.com contract was something new that we tried.”
But it didn’t bring the results they were looking for, so Carrasco says they ended the contract and have asked for a refund. As for whether the campaign was meant more to scrub up his image over the utility’s, he says the two are definitely linked, but it was not the goal to have it focus on him personally.
“Whatever content is out there regarding Seattle City Light is very likely going to be associated with my name or vice versa,” says Carrasco. “That’s the reason why my name is even involved in any of this conversation. Our effort was strictly driven by the need for us to get information out about the utility, not about me.”
No matter what was scrubbed out, the CEO’s image likely took another hit with the rebirth of a story originally published in December regarding a pair of men dressed as Native Americans who were able to con the utility out of 40,000 pounds of copper.
The Seattle Times brought the story back this week, highlighting Carrasco’s involvement. But as some pointed out, this was not news. Carrasco’s name had been linked to the story in the earlier reports. Carrasco says it was actually the utility that first brought this case to the public’s attention.
“Not only did we think it was important for the public to know, we actually got the word out to all our sister utilities to make sure we were not conned by these people,” says Carrasco.
As CEO, Carrasco says he is ultimately responsible and that the whole thing was very embarrassing.
“In this particular case, what happened was these people were able to get another employee of the city to approach me and make it sound like they were legitimate members of a Native American tribe that represented disabled Native American kids and wanted us to give them a small amount of copper,” says Carrasco.
“I thought, well this is not an unreasonable request and they presented their credentials. It seemed like, for a very small amount of copper, a reasonable request to make.”
In the end, the men were able to make off with much more than a box of copper. They took two truckloads worth $120,000, the same amount as Carrasco’s raise. Fortunately, police were eventually able recover all the copper lost and Carrasco thinks that should be part of the story as well.
“As soon as we learned what had happened, we quickly reacted. We got in touch with the police department,” says Carrasco. “The ratepayers were protected from any loss as a result of the quick action of not only the utility, but more importantly the police department, who were a tremendous help to us in the course of helping these people. We’ve now put in place additional controls to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”
When asked if this is a case that demonstrates poor judgment on his part, the CEO says it shows he’s human.
“The reasons that motivated me to try to help these people were good, legitimate reasons,” says Carrasco.
But he doesn’t shy away from appropriate scrutiny. He tells Rantz he knew what he was signing on for when he took the position at Seattle City Light.
“I’m a public figure and I knew when I took this job on, that as a public official, I’m going to be closely and carefully scrutinized.”
Bottom line, he says he wants to perform well for Seattle City Light customers.
“My job is to make sure that this utility runs well and we’re providing reliable service to our customers, and not get distracted by things that occasionally go awry that might be a setback for us, but we should never overlook the 99 percent of the work that our employees do every day to provide great work to our customers. I think the record shows that.”