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Originally published Friday, April 1, 2011 at 9:43 AM

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Seattle City Light superintendent a candidate for top power-utility job in Phoenix

The superintendent of Seattle City Light is a candidate for the top job at the Phoenix power utility.

Seattle Times staff reporters

Jorge Carrasco, who has trimmed electric rates and tamed debt during his seven years as Seattle City Light superintendent, is a candidate for a higher-paying job running a public power and irrigation utility in Phoenix.

"He's been extremely effective," said Bruce Harrell, chairman of Seattle City Council's energy committee. After achieving an "outstanding" credit rating and keeping Seattle's electric rates among the nation's lowest, Harrell said, "it doesn't surprise me that other utilities would want to tap into a resource like him."

Suzanne Hartman, spokeswoman for City Light, said Carrasco didn't seek out the Phoenix job but was recruited. "It's an honor to be considered," she said. "It's a large well-respected public utility."

Scott Harelson, spokesman for Salt River Project, which provides power to about 940,000 electric customers, said Carrasco is one of two outside candidates for the job, which will pay between $500,000 and $700,000. Carrasco earns $225,000 at City Light, for the highest base salary at the city, though he hasn't had a raise in four years.

The other outside candidate is Stephen Wright, CEO of Bonneville Power Administration, whose base salary is $179,000. The three other candidates work for Salt River Project.

Carrasco, 61, is on vacation and was unavailable for comment.

Former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels appointed Carrasco to run City Light after the City Council sacked the previous chief, Gary Zarker, whose electricity purchases on the open market during a rapid run-up of energy prices led to large increases in rates and debt.

When the council confirmed Carrasco in 2008 for a second four-year term, Harrell praised him for controlling debt, encouraging conservation and lowering rates — but asked him to improve his strained relations with employees.

City Light lineman Joe Spallino, who is interim business representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 77, said labor relations have improved since a "tumultuous and rocky" period following Carrasco's arrival in Seattle.

"He had hired on some people who had an adversarial style of management. They're no longer here," Spallino said.

"He has done a good job. He has turned the ship around," said City Councilmember Jean Godden, who as chairwoman of the energy committee, oversaw the 2004 confirmation process.

Carrasco drew criticism in 2009 for accepting a $40,000 bonus, which he later donated to Project Share, a fund that helps low-income City Light customers pay their bills. At the time he earned less than utility managers in Snohomish, Chelan and Grant counties, according to a Nickels spokesman.

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Carrasco is chairman of Large Public Power Council, a national association of publicly owned utilities.

Salt River Project's next general manager will replace Richard Silverman, who is retiring after 45 years with Salt River, 17 years as its general manager. Harelson said all the candidates will be interviewed this month by a 14-member publicly elected board of directors. He said Silverman plans to retire in August, and the board wants someone in place before he leaves.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

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