Debra Smith confirmed as new CEO of Seattle City Light

This afternoon, the City Council unanimously voted to confirm Debra Smith as the new General Manager and CEO of Seattle City Light.

Smith’s nomination was mostly uncontroversial, though some local environmental advocacy groups expressed some reservations based upon stances she had taken on certain pieces of legislation during her tenure as a utility executive in Oregon. During her confirmation hearings, various Council members asked her to meet with representatives of those organizations, as well as local tribal leaders, to discuss Seattle City Light’s role in moving forward salmon recovery efforts and green power initiatives, as well as respecting native tribes’ treaty rights to local rivers and fisheries. Smith did as instructed, and sent a written report back to the Council with notes on her meetings with environmentalists and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

It seemed to do the trick: in public comment today, several representatives of environmental groups expressed their support for Smith. Council member O’Brien similarly expressed his initial reservations about Smith, but said that he had reversed course and now also supported her.

Council member Sawant, who railed against the $340,000 salary of Smith’s predecessor, Larry Weis, raised no concerns about Smith receiving the same starting salary — which makes her the highest-paid city employee.

In the end, the Council voted unanimously to confirm her nomination. As is their recent custom, the Council attached to the confirmation a letter to Smith detailing their expectation for her performance in her new role. In addition to boilerplate expectations they include for all senior staff, they note some specific expectations for Smith, including:

  • advancing the city’s race and social justice initiative;
  • addressing the workplace culture issues at the utility that have recent significant attention of late, while “keeping Council informed of issues known to management before they arise in the press.”
  • addressing customer service issues at Seattle City Light, including recent billing issues;
  • ongoing consultation with native tribes and engagement with salmon restoration advocates;
  • increasing equity in city contracting and purchasing;
  • meeting the goals and expectations in the Public Records Act for managing public disclosure requests.


Here’s the Mayor’s press release following the Council’s confirmation vote.