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Kshama Sawant wants an environmentalist to run Seattle City Light

Mayor Ed Murray may have found a candidate he likes to lead Seattle City Light, but council member Sawant is looking for something different. (AP)

Seattle City Light is searching for a new CEO, and Mayor Ed Murray believes he has found the right person.

Council member Kshama Sawant doesn’t agree, however.

“What I am looking for in terms of leadership at Seattle City Light is to, one, have a track record on the environment and climate change,” Sawant told KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz. “I would like it, and I think a lot of people in the city, would like it to become a next-generation of a technology utility.”

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That next generation would include municipal broadband, Sawant said.

Murray found Larry Weis, a Washington native who has been managing Austin Energy in Texas.

But Sawant isn’t entirely satisfied with Weis. She told Rantz she hasn’t made a final decision on how she will vote when it comes to confirming Weis as CEO of the city’s utility, and that Weis has all the basic management qualifications. But she does feel that there are other candidates to look at, and other factors to consider.

“One of the issues we specifically examined was his record of advocating for a 500-megawatt natural gas power plant,” Sawant said. “In this day in age, there is such clear information about the danger of fossil fuels in terms of climate change. We need to move away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.”

“I have raised concerns on Mr. Weis’ environmental record,” she said, noting she has talked with environmental activists in Texas while researching Weis. She also went through city transcripts relating to his job there.

Sawant also notes that while former City Light CEO Jorge Carrasco left Seattle City Light with an annual salary of $240,000, the mayor has proposed that the city hires Weis at $340,000.

“This is a public utility and that salary is so out of the realm of the average worker in Seattle,” Sawant said. “The mayor’s office’s response to my questions was, ‘We need our salaries to be competitive.'” But my view is that if this is a public utility, then the primary aspect that we should be looking at in terms of who should be leading it and what salary they should make should be looked at from the perspective of public service.”

“If you look at that work from that lens of public service, there are any number of environmentally motivated engineers who would do the job at much less than $340,000,” she said.

It is unclear how the council will ultimately vote on Weis’ appointment. Despite Sawant claiming to not have made a final decision, it seems he has one council member to convince.

“I do think with (basic qualifications), and the environmental aspect, and an environment record and a vision of what City Light should do, I don’t see a very satisfactory picture emerging,” Sawant said.

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