The big news out of city hall today was the surprise announcement, dropped in the middle of a press conference to announce the less-surprising news that Seattle police chief Kathleen O’Toole was stepping down, that Seattle City Light director Larry Weis had resigned over the weekend. “It was clear to me that City Light … was somewhere we needed to make a change,” Durkan said this morning. “I talked to the director in terms of what my expectations were, we made a mutual decision that he would resign and so we will be having a nationwide search to make sure that we get the right person in place.”
The news of Weis’ departure came after allegations of widespread sexual harassment and sexism in the department, and after the department’s new consolidated utility billing system launched months late and at least $34 million over budget. “We’ve had challenges at City Light… everything from billing to the workplace environment,” Durkan acknowledged.
Weis is the highest-paid city employee, with a base salary of $340,000, and the only department head eligible for a performance bonus; earlier this year, while seeking a $30,000 bonus, he gave himself perfect marks on a self-evaluation of his performance. I asked Durkan whether she planned to compensate the next director as generously as Weis, whose high salary former mayor Ed Murray justified by saying a lower salary would not be competitive with similar positions in the private utility market. “I’m not going to comment on what the range of compensation is, but I can tell you that if we pay at a certain range, we expect a certain performance,” Durkan responded. The city will do a national search for Weis’ replacement; during the last national search, which resulted in Weis’ hiring, the city paid $50,000 to an executive recruiting firm.
SPD chief O’Toole will be replaced, on an interim basis, by deputy SPD Chief Carmen Best, who will the the first African-American woman, and only the second woman, to head the department. The search committee will be headed up by ACLU deputy legal director Jeff Robinson, former mayor Tim Burgess, Chief Seattle Club director (and Community Police Commission member) Colleen Echohawk, and ex-King County sheriff Sue Rahr. Durkan said she would announce the other members of the search committee in the next two weeks, and that they will begin a national search at the beginning of 2018. O’Toole’s last day will be December 31. Best said she plans to apply for the permanent position. Best’s status as a department veteran—she’s could give her the inside track on the job.
Durkan announced she had asked several other department heads, including fire chief Harold Scoggins, Office of Emergency Management director Barb Graff, and Seattle Public Utilities director Mami Hara, to stay. Last year, Hara was given a significant pay increase, to around $300,000, after the city’s human resources department argued that her pay was not competitive with similar department heads in other cities.
Durkan said to expect more big HR announcements in the coming weeks. Don’t take this as gospel, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s taking a close look at who’s running the Office of Housing and the Human Services Department, two departments whose profiles are only going to get higher as the city—and Durkan—tackle the growing homelessness crisis in the coming year. And I would be shocked if she isn’t planning to announce a new director for the Seattle Department of Transportation (whose current director, Scott Kubly, is already applying for jobs out of town) very soon. Although many urbanists may long to see Durkan appoint Jessyn Farrell, the former mayoral candidate, state legislator, and director of the Transportation Choices Coalition, the better money’s on SDOT chief of staff Genesee Adkins, the former chief lobbyist for King County and, as it happens, a former Transportation Choices policy director herself.
If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.