Less than two years after securing the city’s highest-paying job, Larry Weis has resigned as Seattle City Light’s CEO and general manager, Mayor Jenny Durkan said.
Larry Weis is out as Seattle City Light’s CEO and general manager less than two years after he secured the city’s highest-paying job.
New Mayor Jenny Durkan, who was sworn in Nov. 28, said Monday she has accepted Weis’ resignation. She said she came to the conclusion during her campaign that a change was necessary at Seattle’s electric-power utility.
The mayor, who mentioned problems with City Light’s billing and workplace environment, said she and Weis talked about her expectations and reached a “mutual decision” that he would leave.
“There are a number of agencies which I think are critical to the day-to-day operation of a city,” Durkan said during a City Hall news conference that also covered the news that Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole will step down at the end of the year.
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“Looking at things, it was clear to me that City Light — one of the most important — was somewhere where we needed to make a change,” she added.
Asked about the announcement, a City Light spokesman referred all questions to the mayor’s office.
In a news release, Durkan’s office said Jim Baggs would serve as City Light’s interim leader during a national search for a new permanent chief. Baggs is currently the utility’s chief compliance officer.
The mayor has asked Mami Hara, the CEO and general manager of Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), to continue serving in that role, the release said.
Nominated by then-Mayor Ed Murray in December 2015, Weis had been running Austin, Texas’ public electric utility. He became Seattle’s best-paid employee when the City Council voted to approve his hire and his $340,000-per-year salary in March 2016.
The 7-2 vote followed weeks of questions from council members about the salary and about the utility executive’s record on clean energy and racial and social justice.
Several council members also said they were troubled by his comments to an Austin newspaper on his way out of Texas. Weis had argued for Austin Energy to be run by an independent board and described some members of the Austin City Council as naive.
The Murray administration paid a recruiting firm nearly $50,000 to vet candidates for the City Light job. But they didn’t learn until after Weis’ confirmation that he had been the subject of a workplace investigation in Texas concerning an allegation that he had presided over a culture of harassment, retaliation and discrimination against women.
Weis didn’t tell Seattle about the investigation, which ended two days before his nomination by Murray and which exonerated him.
During Weis’ tenure, City Light and SPU implemented a new billing and back-office computer system nearly a year late and about $34 million over its initial budget.
As the new system launched, a data flaw allowed thousands of customers to view other customers’ bills.
Last winter saw an increase in customer complaints over shockingly high City Light bills. And this winter, the utility is dealing with a backlog of more than 12,000 requests from customers to transfer billing information and open new accounts, Crosscut reported last week.
There was confusion last summer over whether Weis would receive bonus pay after Crosscut reported he had given himself perfect marks in a performance review.
And employees in City Light’s Customer Energy Solutions division have recently spoken out about sexual harassment, The Stranger reported last month.
“We’ve had challenges at City Light that we will be looking to overcome,” Durkan said Monday. “Everything from billing to the workplace environment.”
Beth Rocha, an energy-management analyst, raised concerns earlier this year about sexual harassment at City Light with the utility, the council and the Seattle Women’s Commission. She hailed Weis’ resignation Monday.
Though Weis was told about the issue months ago, he didn’t take bold action to address it, Rocha said in an interview.
Rocha said she shared information with Durkan’s transition office last month, including a petition signed by dozens of workers in her division.
“I think the mayor did look into it,” she said, recalling that she received a note from the transition office thanking her for the information.
“Institutional change and reversing what’s existed for decades at City Light is going to take a long time,” but Monday’s action is step in the right direction, Rocha said.
Asked whether the utility’s next CEO and general manager will be paid more than $340,000, Durkan declined to answer.
“I think we have to look and do a national search to make sure we get the best person,” she said. “I’m not going to comment on what the range of compensation is. But I can tell you that if we pay in a certain range, we expect certain performance.”
A native Washingtonian who worked early in his career for Snohomish County PUD, Weis succeeded Jorge Carrasco as City Light’s CEO and general manager.
Carrasco had led the utility since 2004 and helped turn around City Light’s finances but encountered challenges in 2014. He saw a proposed pay increase nixed after The Seattle Times revealed he had authorized contracts with an image-management firm to improve Google search results for City Light and his own name.
Baggs served as interim boss between Carrasco’s resigning and Weis’ taking over.