Mayor Greg Nickels' office has clamped down tighter than a vise on its process for replacing ousted Seattle City Light superintendent Gary Zarker, nominating just one candidate--Jorge Carrasco--after an extensive months-long search .

That's too bad, because judging from news reports about Nickels' nominee in Austin, where he served as city manager, Carrasco has a few things in his past that ought to see the light of day before the Seattle City Council makes him the highest-paid employee in city history. (If approved, Carrasco will earn $210,000, or $74,000 more than Mayor Nickels.) Between 1984 and 1987, Carrasco was involved in an escalating series of gaffes and scandals that led to the end of his reign as the city's most powerful nonelected employee. One Austin City Council member even made Carrasco's ouster a centerpiece of his 1984 campaign.

Although Carrasco's follies--as documented by the weekly Austin Chronicle, which covered his sharp political arc--are too numerous to list, here are a few particularly egregious bumbles: According to the Chronicle, Carrasco fired 100 public hospital employees over one weekend, without bothering to inform the mayor; he failed to account for $51 million in excess charges to utility customers, subsequently spent by city staff; and he announced a major budget shortfall five months after the city's budget was adopted, "despite having the information to recognize the shortfall before the budget," according to the Chronicle . In 1987, under pressure from the mayor and City Council to step down, he resigned as city manager. His nickname, according to one Austin reporter? "Fiasco Carrasco."

Carrasco wasn't the only potential nominee before Nickels' 12-member superintendent selection committee; two other candidates, according to committee members, were also up for consideration. Unfortunately, because the mayor only presented the city council with a single nominee, the public will never know what other candidates were considered.

The mayor's close-mouthed policy might make some open-government advocates long for the looser-lipped regime of former mayor Paul Schell, whose police and fire chief nominees were all vetted in public before the city council chose its candidate. But mayor's spokeswoman Marianne Bichsel claims Schell's do-ask, do-tell policy on those controversial public-safety positions was the "exception," not the rule.

barnett@thestranger.com

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