The shakeup in Seattle City Light's upper management is breathtaking in its sweep. Change is what Seattle City Council members told Superintendent Jorge Carrasco they wanted at...

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The shakeup in Seattle City Light’s upper management is breathtaking in its sweep.

Change is what Seattle City Council members told Superintendent Jorge Carrasco they wanted at his confirmation hearing. They wanted a more stable utility with less debt that is better positioned to handle challenges such as shortage of water for its dams or the next energy crisis.
After 10 months on the job, Carrasco faced his sink-or-swim moment with last week’s bold announcement. Five, long-time executives are retiring, senior positions are being eliminated, saving about $400,000 salary, and the search for new blood for four key spots is under way.

Monday, Carrasco introduced the first new executive to a collection of linemen and other workers at the North Service Center. John Prescott, Idaho Power’s former vice president of power supply, appears to answer critics of the utility’s lack of depth in power marketing.

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A sea of flannel- and sweatshirt-covered shoulders was set over crossed arms during the 90-minute meeting, at which Carrasco promised more communication and more-responsive management.

For this steel-toed-boot crowd, the success of Carrasco’s changes at the top will be measured by how much change is driven down through the organization. Questioning years-old decisions, workers asked if he was going to talk directly to “those who turn the wrenches.”

Carrasco next will convene special teams, including managers and front-line workers, to make recommendations on the utility’s four areas — power supply, customer service, human resources and finance.

The new superintendent has had ample opportunity to learn from City Light’s past mistakes.

The fallout of the energy crisis of 2000-01 boosted Seattle City Light rates by 60 percent as debt mushroomed and led to a previous superintendent’s resignation. A council-hired audit team and a mayor-commissioned study group highlighted management weaknesses. A new energy advisory board made ambitious recommendations, including debt reduction, health reserves and shrewd risk management.

That stabilization likely will delay rate decreases, but already the utility is showing signs of outside confidence. Two bond-rating agencies have boosted the utility’s credit rating.

Now Carrasco is making his own move. He has made the changes. Now he must make them work.