On Monday, the Seattle City Council voted to authorize a dramatic pay raise for the city's highest-paid employee, City Light CEO Jorge Carrasco. The mayor's office and much of the city council agreed that Carrasco's pay was too low to be commensurate with similar public-utility CEOs, and it should be raised to retain him and to attract a good candidate should he ever leave.
But he already made around $250,000 a year, and the raise bumps him up to a pay band that goes as high as $364,000. In the face of what seemed an excessive raise in pay for a city official, two council members voted against the raise, Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata. Late yesterday, Licata explained his no vote even further on his council blog.
He says he and Sawant had two main objections:
First, and most obvious, is that in comparison to other City Light employees’ salaries, the General Manager and CEO’s new salary is out of line and sends the wrong message to our employees and the public.
But even more important:
Our city government has kept a tight lid on wages for average city employees. How can we fairly bargain with our employees after giving such an ostentatious salary increase to one individual? The Council and Mayor’s pay hike for the City Light General Manager and CEO justifiably creates hard feelings among our employees and sets up a very poor example for evaluating and rewarding performance.
And what about Carrasco's performance, which the mayoral and council staffers assured everyone was stellar and deserving of the huge raise? Licata has something important to offer there, too:
Carraso was confirmed in February 2004, and, that spring, a survey was conducted of City Light employees. It had been scheduled before Carrasco became the head of City Light. A report was issued on the findings, and four significant problems were identified:
• A troubling lack of confidence in the executive management
• Poor communication among the various levels within the utility
• Lack of adequate staffing to provide high-quality service
• A sense that quality and process improvements were not a priority
Another survey was taken in 2007 to see if these problems had been addressed during the first three years of Carrasco’s leadership.
To assure that the survey was measuring the same concerns, 29 of the 50 questions asked were pulled from the 2004 survey, either exactly or using very similar language. More than three-quarters of City Light’s workforce responded to the survey, roughly the same rate as in 2004. The Council’s Central Staff reviewed the survey and concluded that the 2007 survey averages were statistically indistinguishable from those of the 2004 survey.
A staff report to the Council concluded, ”...the most striking conclusion to be drawn from the new survey is how little things have improved in the three-plus years since the first survey was done. In key areas – leadership, communication, and staffing – in which City Light did poorly in 2004, there has been no improvement.” Though some improvements were noted, the report said scores for key areas remained “at a level the survey developer would describe as a failing grade.”
The Council acts as the board of City Light, and I believe that we (and I include myself) should have required—at a minimum—that another survey be taken. We did not. There has not been another survey conducted since 2007. I asked the Superintendent at a June 9, 2014 meeting when another employee survey would be done. He said one will be done this year. However, our Central Staff know of no such effort.
(What's that sound, you say? Hmmm, maybe it's the sound of the thousands of dollars City Light paid an online reputation management company to polish their and Carrasco's image flushing right down the drain.)