Larry Weis, who currently leads Austin Energy, is Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s nominee to become Seattle City Light CEO.
Larry Weis, a Washington native who heads the electric-power utility in Austin, Texas, is Mayor Ed Murray’s nominee to become the next CEO and general manager of Seattle City Light, the mayor said Wednesday.
Weis was born in Seattle, grew up in East Wenatchee and graduated from Western Washington University. He previously served as general manager of California’s Turlock Irrigation District and before that worked for Snohomish County PUD and Pend Oreille PUD in Washington. Weis has helmed Austin Energy since 2010.
“Larry stood out from among our many applicants from across the country,” Murray said in a statement.
City Light’s top post opened up in May, when Jorge Carrasco stepped down. Carrasco had led the Seattle’s electric-power utility since 2004 and had helped turn around City Light’s finances.
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But 2014, Murray’s first year in office, brought challenges.
The mayor scrapped a pay increase for Carrasco in July 2014 after The Seattle Times revealed he authorized $47,500 in City Light contracts with an image-management firm to improve Google search results for the utility and his own name.
Weis’ starting salary will be $340,000 a year if he’s confirmed by the Seattle City Council. His annual pay in Austin is more than $315,000.
Carrasco made nearly $245,000 a year at City Light. The raise he was in line for last year, which the council approved, would have added nearly $120,000.
The average salary for general managers of U.S. local public utilities with more than 100,000 customers was $403,262 in 2014, according to a survey by the American Public Power Association (APPA).
“I don’t want to say it’s not about the compensation, but I probably could be off at a private utility working hard to get stock options and everything else,” Weis said in an interview Wednesday, citing his Washington ties and Seattle’s conservationist ethos as important motivations for taking the job.
“Seattle City Light is an excellent utility,” he said. “The entire Northwest has a culture of environmentalism and protecting clean resources … that does not exist in Texas.” Weis added: “Then on the personal side — family, friends, mountains. The list goes on and on … And like I explained to the mayor, I don’t know that I’m a Texan. It’s just different down there.”
When asked whether he’s used image-management services, like Carrasco did, Weis replied, “Not until I applied for this job did I ever put my name in a search engine.”
Jim Baggs, City Light’s chief compliance officer, has served as the utility’s interim CEO and general manager since Carrasco’s departure. Murray expects Weis to take over Feb. 1.
Austin Energy was the nation’s eighth-largest publicly owned electric utility as of 2013, with more than 448,000 customer accounts. City Light was 10th largest, with more than 408,000 accounts, according to the APPA.
Under Carrasco, City Light made strides in energy efficiency. In 2005, it became the country’s first major public utility to achieve zero net greenhouse-gas emissions.
Seattle’s rates are among the lowest of the nation’s largest cities, according to City Light. The rates increased this year by an average of 4.2 percent and will increase next year by 4.9 percent.
Under Weis in 2012, Austin Energy increased its base rates for the first time in 18 years, raising them by 7 percent. The hike was controversial, but Weis and other officials said it was needed to get the utility out of the red.
Austin Energy’s finances have since rebounded, Weis said. The utility actually reduced its rates this year, he said.
When questioned about City Light’s rates, Weis replied: “I have no idea.”
The utility runs a complex operation and “I need some time to get my hands around that,” he said.
Weis said City Light’s dependence on snowmelt for its hydroelectric dams “is the challenge here.” Under Weis, Austin Energy has increased its reliance on solar- and wind-generated energy. It doesn’t use water power.
City Light has more than 1,800 employees, and Murray has said the utility needs to recruit more women into higher-paying jobs.
Though a recent study of pay, hiring and promotion for Seattle employees found no indications of systemic discrimination, the study found more men employed in higher-wage positions at City Light.
Weis wasn’t prepared with specifics Wednesday about gender equity across all Austin Energy jobs. He pointed to his executive leadership team of five women and five men. None of City Light’s 10 best-compensated employees in 2014 were women.