The Seattle City Council voted 7-2 on Monday to hire a Seattle-born utility official from Texas, Larry Weis, who was Mayor Ed Murray’s nominee for general manager and CEO of Seattle City Light.
Seattle City Light has a new general manager and CEO. The Seattle City Council voted 7 to 2 on Monday to confirm Mayor Ed Murray’s nominee for the position, Larry Weis, a Washington state native who recently ran Austin, Texas’ public electric utility.
“I’m truly honored,” Weis said, thanking the council for its support. “I was born in Seattle. Coming back here to this job — I never thought this would ever happen.”
The vote came after weeks of council members questioning Weis’ record on clean-energy and racial and social-justice issues and his proposed $340,000 annual salary.
The longtime public-utility executive’s confirmation process had a rocky start when several council members said they were troubled by his remarks to an Austin newspaper on his way out. He said Austin Energy should be run primarily by an independent board and described some members of the Austin City Council as naive.
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Seattle’s Councilmember Kshama Sawant grilled Weis at a meeting of the energy committee she chairs, calling his proposed salary exorbitant and pressing him on whether he would push for City Light to launch a public broadband-Internet network.
Then some environmental groups mounted opposition to his confirmation, saying he wouldn’t be the clean-energy visionary Seattle needs to combat climate change.
They cited his recommendation that Austin build a new natural-gas power plant while adding solar-power capacity as part of an effort to reduce its reliance on coal power.
Weis replied he had been trying to protect against rate increases and said Austin Energy greatly increased its clean-energy generation since he took over in 2010.
He said he sought the Seattle job because Washington is more environmentally conscious than Texas. City Light became the first electric utility to achieve carbon neutrality in 2005, thanks in part to the area’s plentiful hydroelectric power.
Weis squeaked by the energy committee earlier this month with a 3 to 2 vote of confidence, with Sawant and Councilmember Mike O’Brien opposing his confirmation.
But Monday’s vote was smooth sailing for the nominee, who grew up in East Wenatchee and began his career at Snohomish County PUD.
Only Sawant and O’Brien voted against him, and both pledged to work with him despite their concerns, conceding Weis has the experience needed to head City Light.
“I was a little nervous. This was the first time in my career I’ve gone through a confirmation process. It’s been challenging,” Weis remarked afterward, saying he struggled to explain to Seattle officials how different energy politics are in Texas.
Sawant said Weis lacks the record “of somebody who’s fought for the environment,” public broadband and making “big businesses pay their fair share,” while O’Brien said Weis has no clear vision on how he would champion racial- and social-justice issues.
In backing Weis, Councilmember M. Lorena González mentioned the nominee’s support from labor unions, while Councilmember Rob Johnson noted Weis’ recent commitment to appoint a new City Light deputy to work on environmental issues.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold proposed the council consider revoking the mayor’s unilateral ability to pay Weis a bonus on top of his $340,000-per-year base salary.