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Originally published July 8, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 8, 2009 at 1:11 PM

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Nickels gives City Light chief $40,000 bonus

Seattle City Light superintendent Jorge Carrasco, the city's highest paid executive, got a $40,000 bonus this year, even as the utility considers rate increases and other measures to fill a $90 million budget gap in 2010.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The city of Seattle's highest-paid executive got a $40,000 bonus this year, even as his department, Seattle City Light, considers rate increases and other measures to fill a $90 million budget gap in 2010.

Mayor Greg Nickels gave Superintendent Jorge Carrasco the maximum bonus allowed in his contract to encourage him to stay in Seattle, said Alex Fryer, a spokesman for Nickels. The head of Seattle Public Utilities left earlier this year for a job that officials said paid more than the city could offer him.

"It's pretty competitive for those folks," Fryer said, pointing out that at $224,000 this year, Carrasco's salary is less than heads of utilities in Snohomish, Chelan and Grant counties.

Carrasco started at City Light in 2004. Each year, he was eligible for a bonus of up to 8 percent of his salary if he met certain job-performance objectives, such as getting the utility out of debt and negotiating union contracts.

In 2005 and 2006, Carrasco got $5,000. He got no bonus in 2007 or 2008.

This year, he was eligible for an additional 10 percent bonus for staying at the city for four years. The mayor decided to give him the entire 18 percent, or $40,000. The contract does not require the city to pay any bonus.

The bonus is nothing compared to bonuses at publicly traded utilities. Stephen Reynolds, CEO of Puget Energy, got $788,906 in 2008 as part of his $3.3 million pay package, which also included stock awards valued at $1.3 million at the time they were given, according to Equilar, an executive-compensation research firm. (Puget Energy was publicly traded then, but no longer is.)

Scott Morris, the CEO of Avista, received $2.1 million in 2008 compensation, including a $404,597 bonus and $1.1 million worth of stock awards.

Carrasco was not available for comment.

His spokeswoman, Suzanne Hartman, said she couldn't comment on his decision to accept the bonus. She pointed out his accomplishments since taking over the then-troubled utility after the energy crisis. Rates have decreased 12.1 percent during his tenure, Hartman said, and debt has been paid down.

The City Council unanimously reconfirmed Carrasco last year.

"Certainly, any kind of bonus should be scrutinized during tough times and flush times," said Councilmember Bruce Harrell, chairman of the Energy and Technology Committee. "But in the next two years, that utility's going to need the best leadership possible, and Jorge has demonstrated the best leadership possible."

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The city is now considering a rate increase to help close a gap left by lower-than-expected wholesale revenues. James Donaldson, one of seven candidates challenging the mayor in the Aug. 18 primary, blasted the bonus in a Tuesday news release, saying the mayor "has his priorities all screwed up." Had he been mayor, Donaldson said, he would have asked Carrasco to defer the bonus. At the very least, Donaldson said, he would have publicized his decision to give Carrasco the bonus.

The city didn't announce the bonus. It was first reported Monday night by Seattle PostGlobe, a news Web site started by former Seattle Post-Intelligencer staffers.

"It just adds insult to injury," Donaldson said. "We need a lot more sensitivity to the lives of every taxpayer here in Seattle."

Later in the day, City Councilmember Jan Drago's mayoral campaign issued its own news release. "I understand there is a need to pay competitive salaries for highly valued executives, but the city must show restraint during tough economic times like these," Drago said in the statement.

Staff reporter Amy Martinez contributed to this report. Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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