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Seattle City Light Could Have A New Leader By The Fall

Matt M. McKnight
Mayor Jenny Durkan has nominated Debra Smith to lead Seattle City Light

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has nominated Debra Smith as her pick to manage Seattle City Light. The CEO position is the highest paid in the city and, if confirmed, Smith will lead one of Seattle’s largest departments.

The utility has been plagued by numerous issues, including complaints about customer service and cost overruns for projects. Crosscut city reporter David Kroman tells KNKX producer Ariel Van Cleave it’ll be no simple task for the person who takes over as the new CEO.

Interview highlights

Why Durkan selected Smith: "If you look at her resume, it's based in customer service for one. She's not a line worker. She's not an engineer out in the field. She comes from a background from actually dealing with customers. That stands out immediately, and I'm sure stood out to the mayor. I talked to a board member in the utility district she came from and he was saying she has a really, really great ability to put pressure on staff when it's needed, but then kind of back off when she feels like she's maybe she's going too far."

Confirmation hearing process: "I'm sure the council will bring up the customer service and billing issues. But I would say almost more than that, I think we're going to hear a lot about workplace culture in Seattle City Light. There have been a few different reports in our publication, Crosscut, and also in The Stranger and The Seattle Times, about sort of a widespread sense of sexism in Seattle City Light."

Ariel first entered a public radio newsroom in 2004 while in school at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. It was love at first sight. After graduating from Bradley, she went on to earn a Master's degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. Ariel has lived in Indiana, Ohio and Alaska reporting on everything from salmon spawning to policy issues concerning education. She's been a host, a manager and now rides shotgun with Kirsten Kendrick as the Morning Edition producer at KNKX.