The warp-speed confirmation, expected to wrap up next Monday, February 2, is a disappointing second act to the lengthy, engaged process that preceded the forced resignation of former superintendent Gary Zarker last March. At the lone opportunity for public input--a two-hour evening "town hall" meeting held in council chambers last Tuesday, January 20--only about half the seats were filled, a marked contrast to the boisterous, overflowing hearings on Zarker's aborted reconfirmation.
Many of the few City Light workers who did bother to show up at Tuesday's meeting decried the closed-door process that led to Carrasco's nomination. "There were more than six hours of testimony in firing Gary Zarker. We need at least that much in hiring Jorge Carrasco," City Light employee Denise Krownbell told the council. "Saying this was a public process is a farce."
At a council committee hearing on Carrasco's confirmation two days later, council members leafed through a binder of press reports from Oakland, Austin, and Scottsdale, where Carrasco served as head of a water utility and two stints as city manager, respectively. Many acted as if they were perusing the press reports for the first time.
The clippings--available at the city clerk's office, on the third floor of City Hall, to anyone who wants to look--are instructive. Among the red flags in Carrasco's history:
- Despite his years in the water industry (including a stint as president of American Water Works, a firm that specializes in utility privatization), Carrasco has no experience managing an electric utility, a qualification that a City Light audit called "invaluable" for City Light upper management. Carrasco told council members Thursday that he believed his experience in the water industry was "transferable" to the electric-power industry.
- Carrasco's management style, criticized by members of the Austin and Scottsdale city councils, has been characterized in news reports as "unyielding," "unnerving," and "aloof." As Austin city manager, Carrasco laid off hundreds of workers without informing the mayor or most members of the city council. In another controversial move, Carrasco refused to let the mayor meet with department heads or look at preliminary budget information, prompting the local paper to describe him as "suspicious of anyone who developed a personal rapport with council members."
As one City Light employee pointed out at Tuesday's hearing, you don't even have to read the clippings to have concerns about Carrasco's history. "The reasons [not to confirm Carrasco] were clear to me after spending a short time with a Google search," said Doreen McGrath, a union member and 18-year City Light worker. She and other City Light employees expressed concern that Carrasco's experience leading a utility that specialized in buying up public utilities might weaken his commitment to public power. At the confirmation hearing Thursday, Carrasco professed his "emphatic support" for keeping City Light public, and said the fact that he was "involved in privatization... should not lead you to conclude that somehow my purpose for being here is to privatize Seattle City Light." Carrasco was not so emphatic, however, on the subject of outsourcing city services, which he characterized as a way of being "operationally more efficient." The issue of outsourcing landed Carrasco in political hot water on at least two occasions in Austin, when he replaced neighborhood-center staff and building inspectors with private contract workers.
Carrasco's history justifies a discussion, on whether he is truly "the perfect candidate" for the $210,000 superintendent job, as Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis has described him. But given its track record so far, it seems that the new city council will rubber-stamp Carrasco without taking a hard look at the red flags that surround the mayor's nominee.