Seattle’s highest-paid public employee will get a hefty raise this summer.
The City Council voted 6-2 Monday to increase the pay scale for Seattle City Light Chief Executive Officer Jorge Carrasco, who currently makes about $245,000 annually.
The action, which elicited boos from protesters, doesn’t give Carrasco a raise on its own, but hikes the pay range to max out at $364,000. Mayor Ed Murray will set the exact figure.
A spokesman for the mayor said Carrasco will be bumped up to about $305,000 annually — a $60,000 salary increase. The City Light executive’s salary is paid by utility customers, not from the city’s general fund.
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The pay-scale increase has generated plenty of debate since a council committee approved it last week. Dozens of dissenters flooded the council chambers Monday to protest, two holding a cardboard sign reading, “It’s City Light Not Wall Street.” Eight addressed the council to criticize the measure. Among them was Nick Dreyer, who said he spent 23 years working for City Light.
“How can you even consider the idea if you are truly serious about addressing the awful economic and social injustices of our times?” Dreyer implored the council. “It once was a matter of pride to work at — much less run — City Light, and there are plenty of people for whom that is reward enough.”
Kshama Sawant, the council’s sole socialist member, took a strong position against the pay increase, questioning whether the council was acting in the best interest of the public. In addition to his six-figure salary, Carrasco has received four bonuses in his decadelong tenure, one totaling $40,500, said Sawant, more than a year’s salary for the average worker in Seattle.
“Elected officials need to represent working people and should be fighting against this Wall Street executive excess,” she said, “not condoning or promoting it.”
The mayor’s office and proponents on the council argued the raise is vital to incentivize high-quality leadership to run the complicated department, which employs about 1,800 workers. City Council President Tim Burgess said an internal analysis compared salaries of public-utility executives across the region and country in order to arrive at the new pay range. The median CEO salary for a public-utility position in Washington is $304,000, said Burgess.
“I think we are in a spot where the most responsible thing to do is to attract talent and keep talent,” Councilmember Sally Clark said.
The City Council also passed an amendment to enact the pay-scale increase effective July 1, instead of retroactively to the beginning of the year, which had previously been proposed.
Sawant and Nick Licata were the only two to vote against the raise. Councilmember Bruce Harrell was absent.
A spokesman for City Light emphasized that the council’s action doesn’t give Carrasco a raise by itself, as he said many were incorrectly reporting on social media.
“Jorge’s pay did not change today,” said Scott Thomsen. “The mayor may indeed provide a raise for him, but that’s going to be a decision for the mayor to make.”
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