Update on GRU takeover

by Jason Fults

Over the past several months, Iguana readers have been kept apprised of the slow-motion trainwreck that is the new “GRU Authority.” This Authority has been forced on us after a decade of public resistance by legislation, HB 1645, brought to us by Representative Chuck Clemons and Senator Keith Perry, and followed by Governor DeSantis’s initial appointments to the Board. This bill has split our city government into two parts: General Government, run by our elected officials; and GRU, a city department/utility in charge of our energy and water supply, now controlled by a state-appointed Board, with no checks and balances or accountability. Now that their first few months of meetings are behind us, and some concrete themes are beginning to emerge, here are some of their most notable decisions, actions, and attitudes to date:

  • Paused all audits performed by the City Auditor, a blow to accountability and transparency.  
  • Informed the City Attorney that his services and insights were no longer needed and welcome at their meetings, and voted to hire outside legal counsel for an initial no-bid contract of $50,000 increments, going with someone who, unsurprisingly, has a relationship with the politicians who put them in power. 
  • Reneged on their initial commitment to keep the popular General Manager Tony Cunningham in his position for a year while requiring him to meet “expected metrics,” and instead initiated an expensive (likely nearly five hundred thousand dollars) search for a new GM.
  • Eliminated many of our City’s hard-fought and long-standing procurement policies such as paying living wages, supporting minority and women-owned businesses, and veteran’s preference; instead, “updating” GRU’s Procurement Policies to a “focus on the minimum state requirements.”
  • Reduced their payments for City services by nearly $181,000 per month mid budget year, despite assertions by the City Manager that these payments were covering the cost of services already provided.

Perhaps most consequentially, Board members Robert Karow and James Coats have repeatedly attempted to dramatically reduce, or eliminate entirely, GRU’s General Services Contribution to the City. 

This action would not only cause significant fiscal damage to our community, but also equates to a local business owned by the City that makes zero contribution to the local tax base. Such an action would be unheard of nationally in the realm of municipally-owned utilities (aka “munis”) and is a far cry from the “utility best practices” promised by HB 1645’s sponsors. 

Authority Chair and former City Commissioner Craig Carter said it best: “I think it’s a bad business move. I think it’s going to be punitive to the residents of the city of Gainesville only, and if nobody can see that, I’m shocked.”

Throughout their deliberations, a few themes have emerged, primary among them a lack of knowledge about our utility (or the utility industry in general), a distrust and fundamental misunderstanding of renewable energy, and open hostility toward the City of Gainesville, particularly by members Karow and Coats (neither of whom are city residents—in violation of HB1645 requirements). As Karow stated at a recent Authority meeting: “This is a divorce.”

So, what is to be done in the face of such open animosity to our community and our public utility that we have owned for more than 100 years? 

The good folks at Gainesville Residents United (https://www.grunited.org/) have made a valiant effort in the courts, but unfortunately, the cards have been stacked against them in our state’s right-wing judiciary. And make no mistake, this entire campaign is part of a larger assault on munis statewide, with GRU as only the largest and most recent casualty. 

Efforts are underway in our legislature to limit transfers from munis to the communities that own them under the moniker of “taxation without representation.” Yet somehow this standard doesn’t apply to the investor-owned utilities and the profits that they drain from our communities; it is these private utilities that are undoubtedly behind the hobbling of our munis and the ongoing assault on our rights as citizens and as proponents of a clean energy future.

Fresh off a recent trip to the Florida Legislature, I am more convinced than ever that our fundamental rights as citizens in this “free state of Florida” will continue to be eroded until we make changes in the composition of who occupies the Capitol and the Governor’s mansion. No one is coming to our rescue; not the courts and not the feds. 

The leadup to this November presents our best opportunity in many years to shake things up in Tallahassee and save our communities from endless authoritarian preemption. I hope that you’ll take up the fight.

Jason Fults is a former Vice-Chair of the City of Gainesville’s Utility Advisory Board, Recording Secretary of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1205, and a Board member of the Alachua County Labor Coalition.


  • Authority meetings backup materials, minutes, and recordings.  tinyurl.com/Iguana1901
  • “Florida’s municipal utilities could be limited in the funds they can transfer to general revenue” | WFSU | tinyurl.com/Iguana1902
  • “GRU to search for a new manager” |  Gainesville Sun | tinyurl.com/Iguana1904

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