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Originally published Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Storm havoc blamed on Seattle City Light utility managers

At a public hearing Tuesday, Seattle City Light employees blasted the utility's managers for poor preparation, lousy leadership and a communication...

Seattle Times staff reporter

At a public hearing Tuesday, Seattle City Light employees blasted the utility's managers for poor preparation, lousy leadership and a communication vacuum after the Dec. 14 windstorm that left more than 100,000 customers without power.

Dozens of veteran employees expressed frustration at not having enough tools because of budget cuts, managers pulling people back as the windstorm approached and of a disconnect between executives and employees. The Seattle City Council hearing exposed a deep rift between managers and employees.

"I'm totally embarrassed how the utility ran," said Art Locken, an employee who has worked at Seattle City Light for 28 years. He said he called the day after the windstorm to volunteer to work and his supervisor told him they had it handled. "I didn't get a call until Sunday to bring a crew in," he said. Even then, there were not enough bucket trucks to make repairs. "It was totally mismanaged," he said.

Next public hearing on storm response


King County public hearing County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, R-Redmond, is holding a hearing on the county's storm response at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Woodinville Community Center gymnasium, Carol Edwards Center, 17401 133rd Ave. N.E., Woodinville.

Superintendent for Seattle City Light Jorge Carrasco said he encouraged employees to share their opinions and he would use what he heard Tuesday to improve the utility: "One of the most important things any organization can do is listen to customers and employees."

Still, some employees said managers had discouraged them from airing their concerns to council members and the media. Many worried they would face retaliation for testifying.

Larry Works, a customer-service representative, said he hardly received any information to give customers asking when their power would be restored after the storm.

"Operating in an information blackout, I did what I could," Works said. "As the week wore on, I found it difficult to sleep."

Others said they didn't have enough tools, ranging from chain saws and trucks to flashlights and batteries, to make necessary repairs. They criticized the city for treating the public utility as a revenue source.

"There was a real failure of communication on the part of the city. We will take care of that," said Councilman Richard Conlin, chair of the emergency-preparedness committee. "I also heard a lot of issues with management at City Light and we need to get to the bottom of that."

Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or schan@seattletimes.com

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