by Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson, Gainesville Residents United, Inc.
Now that the State has officially taken over Gainesville Regional Utilities from the City Commission, there are a lot of things to do.
Some folks are recruiting prospective Utility Authority board members for the volunteer position of running the combined utility systems for the City. This includes setting rates and service levels, hiring and firing employees, running the power and water plants, establishing the half-billion dollar annual budget, and managing over a billion dollars in debt.
The governor’s office will be advertising how to apply, and the governor will likely appoint all five members by October.
There’s some published criteria, but being a friend of Republican Sen. Keith Perry and Republican Rep. Chuck Clemons, and a donor to Gov. Ron DeSantis are probably the main ones.
The city manager will be finalizing her budget, which will include a large property tax increase to offset an even larger reduction in utility revenue being transferred to general government operations.
With public safety departments getting a pass on major cuts, the brunt of the city’s service reductions are being meted out to social services, recreation, and cultural affairs programs. The total number of city employees to be terminated or positions not filled is unknown right now, but will be large.
The city attorney will be trying to figure out how to provide legal advice to a new utility authority who is not bound by state ethics laws. They have permission from the state to write their own rules, but why bother, because they are the only ones who can enforce them, unless the governor feels like slapping their wrist. With the help of outside counsel, the city attorney will be managing the city’s likely lawsuit in state court to overturn the law that he is otherwise duty-bound to follow. He’ll also be defending the city from . . .
Gainesville Residents United, Inc., a group of locals, is suing the state officials in Federal court, but the city gets dragged into it as well. Because the utility authority is a “unit” of the city, the only way to litigate with the unit is to litigate with the city. Gainesville Residents United is raising twelve different counts in its legal complaint, ranging from four free speech violations of the First Amendment, to some due process claims for our legislative delegation’s unconscionable process in passing the bill, to arguments about constitutional and statutory laws that are being violated.
One thing that nobody is litigating is whether this is a “taking.” We’re not suing because it is so obviously an exercise of eminent domain by the state that we would likely win. But a win would result in a price being negotiated for the sale of our community’s assets to an investor owned utility, which would be the biggest loss of all.
Gainesville Regional Utilities is our baby. And it may not be the best looking baby, or the most well behaved, but we cannot allow it to exploited and abused. We will have no recourse if the governor’s appointees decide to ignore climate change, or sell off assets, or reduce reliability or customer service, or accommodate the whims of land speculators, or butcher trees on the rights-of-way, or mess with the city pension system, or . . .
The time to fight is now. Find out more at GRUnited.org and NoGRUTakeover.com.