Seattle City Light Superintendent Jorge Carrasco announced a shake-up of the utility yesterday, including the retirement of several top managers and a major reorganization. The moves were Carrasco's...

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Seattle City Light Superintendent Jorge Carrasco announced a shake-up of the utility yesterday, including the retirement of several top managers and a major reorganization.

The moves were Carrasco’s first steps to put his imprint on the utility he was hired to run last year after the City Council ousted former Superintendent Gary Zarker. The council cited a loss of confidence in his management following big rate increases and a runup in debt.

Carrasco’s shake-up will bring new blood to City Light, which had drawn criticism for a lack of utility experience in its upper-management ranks. In all, five top managers from the Zarker era are departing or already have left the utility.

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They include deputy superintendents Jim Ritch, Dana Backiel, Joan Walters and Mike Sinowitz and director Nancy Glaser.

Carrasco said their retirements were voluntary and praised the managers’ long careers in city government. But he acknowledged they would not necessarily have retained the top executive positions at City Light under the new organizational structure he unveiled yesterday.

Carrasco streamlined his executive team, paring the number of managers who report directly to him from nine to four. The entire utility will be realigned into four new divisions dealing with power supply, customer service, human resources and finances.

“This is not cosmetic. This is a substantial change,” Carrasco said.

Carrasco said he will announce his new management team over the next couple months, but said he is looking outside the utility. He said the paring of top management ranks would free up about $400,000 in salary.

Carrasco said the newly reorganized utility will pursue several important initiatives in the coming year, including detailed plans for its power needs over the next 20 years and for improving risk management. Carrasco said he’ll also explore whether to hire an outside firm to handle the complex business of selling excess electricity on the market.

The moves drew praise from City Council members, who had hoped to see more changes at the utility.

“Jorge Carrasco is putting his own stamp on the leadership team at City Light,” said Councilman Jim Compton, one of the chief critics of Zarker’s tenure. “It’s what a good manager does and it’s what we expected to happen.”

Councilwoman Jean Godden, who chairs the council committee overseeing City Light, said the council hired Carrasco in the hopes he would improve City Light’s performance.

City Light was pounded by the energy crisis of 2000-01, paying exorbitant prices for energy on the open market. As a result, the utility’s debt rose to $1.7 billion and rates went up about 60 percent. A council-sponsored audit blamed Zarker for management deficiencies, leading eventually to his ouster despite the vehement objections of Mayor Greg Nickels.

While rates are not likely to come down anytime soon, City Light did get some good financial news this week when its credit rating was upgraded by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investor Services.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com