Alachua County legislative delegation votes to on GRU governance
Published on March 17, 2023
Today in Tallahassee, the Alachua County legislative delegation voted 4-1 to advance a proposed bill in the Florida House that would remove Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) from local control. The move comes as Gainesville City Commissioners and city leaders identify measures to reduce municipal utility debt.
In recent weeks, the actions taken by city commissioners in response to guidance from legislators at a Feb. 23 Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) meeting have drawn words of support from JLAC members. In addition, Gainesville City Manager Cynthia W. Curry and GRU General Manager Tony Cunningham executed strategic hiring freezes beginning March 1, and each directed departments to implement a zero-based budgeting approach as they work on a fiscal plan to present to the JLAC by Oct. 1.
Now, a proposed bill from Rep. Chuck Clemons (R-Newberry) aims to create a new governing authority with five members appointed solely by Florida’s governor. The bill’s language mirrors a referendum rejected by Gainesville voters in November 2018 by more than 59 percent of the vote.
“Political appointees would deny Gainesville voters the right to elect members of GRU’s governing body. This move would disenfranchise Gainesville voters,” said Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward. “Right now, our neighbors can serve on the Utility Advisory Board, or can come to city commission meetings or can talk to commissioners in the aisles of the grocery store or the hardware store. They have direct access to their decision-makers. This move would silence the voices of an engaged citizenry,” he said.
In addition to decisions on utility budgets, rates and operations, local control of GRU enables municipal leaders to reinvest utility revenues to support infrastructure, maintenance, grid resilience and storm hardening measures.
“I urge Florida residents to call or email the office of Rep. Clemons and other legislators, and let them know the governance of GRU must remain local and free from partisan politics,” said Ward.
The proposed bill names only Gainesville Regional Utilities. There are 33 municipal electric utilities throughout the state, including those in Jacksonville, Lakeland, Orlando and Tallahassee. GRU is the fifth largest municipal utility in Florida, serving approximately 93,000 retail and wholesale customers.