Home Rule for Gainesville Regional Utilities

by Janice Garry and Nancy Daren, with support from Bobby Mermer, Roberta Gastmyer and Jason Fultz

Since House Bill 1645 (Energy Resources) was introduced during the 2023 legislative session, the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Alachua County has stood in vocal opposition. 

Without local notification or meaningful input, the bill went straight to the state legislature. It passed the legislature and was signed by Governor Ron DeSantis and became law 2023-348, creating a new section, Article VII, in the city charter.  

Article VII created the governor-appointed GRU Authority as the governing body of our city-owned utility and changed GRU’s general manager from a city charter officer to an employee of the authority. In short, law 2023-348 bypassed local voters and democratic processes. It took away locally determined governance of Gainesville Regional Utilities. The law blatantly violated democratic processes and it trounced on home rule. 

Since the Authority took over in the fall, chaos has reigned at GRU, creating tremendous stress on staff and negatively affecting general governance of the city. The authority insisted on severing all ties between the entities, even though GRU remains a department of the city. At a recent joint meeting between the authority and the city commission, it was estimated that it would take not months, but years to untangle all the shared contracts and agreements. In many cases, it is not financially beneficial to GRU or its customers (sometimes quite the opposite) to sever these ties. 

Further chaos was demonstrated recently when a judge verified that the Authority members did not meet the basic residency requirement of law 2023-348. All four authority members resigned. The governor has restarted the process of seeking applications and selecting a new board even while the unqualified Authority members remain at the dais. This makes no sense. 

Gainesville community leaders are pushing back. On March 21, a coalition of organizations and individuals, led by the LWV of Alachua County and including the Alachua County Labor Coalition, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Sierra Club, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and Gainesville Residents United attended a city commission meeting. Speakers asked the commission to put a referendum on the upcoming election ballot to give Gainesville residents the choice of who will govern our municipal utility.  The commission listened, agreed, and voted unanimously (Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker was absent) to give voters a choice.  The city attorney was instructed to draft an ordinance that would amend the city charter and repeal Article VII that created the authority 

The draft ordinance will have two city commission readings, followed by a vote, with a minimum of six out of seven commissioner votes required each time. If it passes, work will begin on preparing language for a ballot referendum for the 2024 election. The referendum would allow Gainesville city residents to vote on whether they want the governance of GRU to stay with the governor-appointed authority or return local control of our public utility.  Gainesville residents have an opportunity to have democracy and home rule restored to our community, and reclaim our sovereignty over the essential needs of water, energy and city business.  This is no small matter. 

As said by George P. Schultz, “Democracy is not a spectator sport.” This is where you come in. No doubt, there are those who will oppose the repeal of Article VII and the ballot referendum. Our coalition needs a strong public voice in its favor. We need you to contact the city commission. First, thank them for listening to community leaders who insist on restoring democracy and home rule to Gainesville.  Second, let them know that you support being able to vote on the choice between GRU governance with a governor-appointed board or with local decision making and control in a referendum on the ballot. A single email address, citycomm@gainesvillefl.gov will reach the mayor and all city commissioners. 

The basic needs of energy and water quality for our city should not be left to the chaotic state takeover. The League of Women Voters of Alachua County urges you to take five minutes to send a message to the city commission. Help us defend democracy and empower voters.

Comments are closed.