After "numerous" complaints from customers and a request from Seattle council member Teresa Mosqueda, city auditor David Jones will investigate Seattle City Light's billing practices, according to a news release Tuesday.
The audit, which Mosqueda requested last month, will review the public utility's process for preventing errors, determining catch-up bills, resolving complaints, and reimbursing customers, according to the Seattle City Council. Mosqueda also asked that there be recommendations included on how to improve City Light. (Mosqueda chairs the Housing, Health, Energy and Workers' Rights Committee, which oversees Seattle City Light.)
"I remain concerned that there has been an abdication of responsibility by management to ensure that there are clearly defined and written practices and procedures," Mosqueda wrote on August 16. "This extends beyond the issue at bar, and is something we have seen with respect to workplace culture and harassment as well."
The news follows several controversies at City Light, ranging from lags in closing out bills; to "smart meters" that overestimated electricity usage and sent customers shockingly high bills; to workplace complaints about sexism and sexual harassment.
Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan recently picked Debra Smith as the next Seattle City Light CEO after Larry Weis's resignation in December. Durkan had said she chose Smith in part because of her record with customer service; under Smith's leadership as general manager and CEO, a public utility in Newport, Oregon, received the highest customer satisfaction ratings, the mayor said.
Durkan in a statement said that while City Light faced many challenges, it's made "significant positive progress" that includes a backlog of more than 74,000 account billing issues.
"Debra is deeply committed to customer satisfaction and delivering essential services to residents and businesses," Durkan said. "She is what the utility needs at exactly this time—an experienced leader who I trust will make any necessary corrections to ensure the utility is accountable to its customers.”
Updated 2:26pm on September 12, 2018, to include a statement from the mayor.