Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan announced Tuesday that Debra Smith, head of a small Oregonian public utility, is her pick to be the next CEO and general manager of City Light.
If confirmed by Seattle City Council, Smith would take over at a critical time for the city's public utility. In the past year it's been plagued with workplace discrimination complaints, customer service problems, and unfavorable perceptions of the former leader and once the highest-paid city employee, Larry Weis. Smith would be the second woman to ever head the agency.
"I believe that the tone starts at the top," Smith said at a press conference Tuesday. "I’m committed to creating a place where employees, and customers, and community members feel heard."
Smith worked in public utilities for 22 years, most recently as the CEO and general manager of Central Lincoln Public Utility District in Newport, Oregon. She also worked as an assistant general manager at Eugene Water & Electric Board.
Durkan touted Smith's reputation of bringing the PUD at its highest customer satisfaction ratings as a big draw for her nomination. Under Smith's leadership, the utility district also transformed into a paperless utility, Durkan said.
Smith said the industry is at a time of "transformative change," and that her top priority would be to keep costs low. City Light, which has a $1.4 billion budget, has also faced criticism for smart meter cost overruns while increasing customer rates.
Smith also spoke highly of Seattle City Light's reputation in the region for clean energy and said she wants to make further progress.
"It’s been status quo for a very long time, and it is status quo no more," Smith said. "Customers know what they want, and it’s our responsibility to deliver the things they want and to do so in a cost-effective and affordable way."
After Weis resigned in December, Durkan and a committee began a nationwide search for the new head of Seattle City Light. Durkan on Tuesday said all the finalists forwarded to her had been outside candidates.
Durkan on Monday also announced other new leaders in her administration.
Linea Laird is the new interim director of the Seattle Department of Transportation starting in September. Laird previously worked for the Washington State Department of Transportation and administrator for the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program, and will focus on the SR 99 tunnel realignment this fall.
Durkan is also choosing three interim directors as permanent appointments: Calvin Goings for the Department of Finance and Administrative Services, Sue McNab for the Seattle Department of Human Resources, and Andres Mantilla for the interim director of the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods.