Seattle Public Utility Demands $17,500 for Failed P.R. Makeover, Reminds Everyone Why Its Reputation Sucks


You've probably never heard of Seattle City Light, the city's public electric provider, or its CEO, Jorge Carrasco. If you have, it was probably something bad, and it probably only crossed your path in the form City Light's own fail train that keeps chugging along, trying to make Carrasco's reputation better in all the wrong ways.  

The latest stop in this saga is City Light's demand for a refund on a $17,500 bill. That's a hefty sum, so it doesn't seem like such a petty squabble – except that it was paid to a site called Brand.com, which was tasked with improving the online reputation of Carrasco. Until the utility provider decided it wasn't pleased with the results, it had been willing to fork over nearly $50,000 total for the service. That was public money.

City Lights represenatives assure that it was actually trying to boost its organization reputation, but Ars Technica reported this weekend that it got its hands on some documents that indicate exactly what Carrasco was trying to scrub from the web: a 2008 Seattle Weekly article that portrayed the electricity chief in a bad light. Ars points out that "Brand.com's work doesn't appear to have borne much fruit; the article still remains the number four hit on Google when searching for Carrasco's name." The site was also supposed to churn out positive stories about Carrasco, but most of those failed to launch because Google has a policy of weeding those kinds of things out.

But, hey, what's that Seattle Weekly article about?

It's not all bad, praising him as "charming [and] engaging," but it also details Carrasco's inability to hold onto jobs in other cities and describes him as a "short, slight Texan" with a "short fuse," and says that he flipped out on his staff after receiving an email accusing City Lights of mismanaging public money under his rule.

But his reputation issues don't end there. When the publicity-improvement deal was made public in May, it inevitably raised questions about why the City Light chief needed it, and got people talking about the fact that in April he somehow allowed con artists to walk off with $120,000 worth of copper owned by City Lights.

He only added fuel to this fire by later asking for a $60,000 raise, despite the fact that he already earns the city's second highest salary at $245,000. Then Carrasco denied asking for the raise. Then he issued a dodgy apology for the denial, saying that when he was questioned about it his "answer was wrong."

The thing is, few people outside of Seattle would be talking about this epic ineptitude hadn't Carrasco thrown a fit and tried to have it covered up. For the folks at home, this is called the Streisand Effect: the harder someone (usually a public figure with a big ego) tries to hide something, the more the Internet is titillated by it.