While a bill aiming to change Gainesville Regional Utilities authority advances through the Florida House, the Gainesville City Commission is working to resolve the governance issue locally.
Commissioners Lauren Poe and Randy Wells met Thursday to outline a blueprint for an advisory board — an initiative to counteract Rep. Keith Perry’s Florida House Bill 1325. The board would provide recommendations to the Commission on everything GRU-related.
“We’re doing this despite what’s going on in Tallahassee,” Poe said.
GRU is owned by the city and operated by the Commission. The GRU governance bill transfers authority from the Commission to an independent, five-member board that would focus solely on running the utility. This would require a change in the city charter via a voter referendum.
Others giving input on the matter included Commissioner Helen Warren, City Attorney Nicolle Shalley and former Commissioner Susan Bottcher.
The main points tackled included the number of board members, how each would be appointed, their qualifications and the scope of their responsibilities.
Poe and Wells agreed on a seven- to nine-member board, in which one-third would be appointed by Alachua County to represent GRU customers outside the city.
“Every single utility-related issue would now come to this board,” Poe said, meaning the Regional Utility Committee would be dissolved, as would the Budget and Rate Oversight Board, which was in the works.
The Gainesville Energy Advisory Committee’s duties would wrap into the new advisory board.
The board would be able to pursue its own agenda items independent from the Commission’s. It would also make overall recommendations for a proposed budget and rate.
Members would also have the power to make referrals to an auditor.
All agreed that meetings would be held once a month, as well as on an as-needed basis. Board meetings should be timed near commission meetings so recommendations could be reviewed as soon as possible, Poe said.
Wells suggested the advisory board meet separately from the Commission.
“I would really like this board to develop its independence and to develop a lot of credibility in the community,” Wells said.
Qualifications for board members should remain broad to have a large pool of community members to choose from, Poe said.
The ideas from Thursday will be presented to the full Commission on Monday. If a general agreement is reached, it will be put on the Commission’s regular agenda for Thursday.
Jim Konish, a Gainesville resident at the meeting, disapproved of the idea of an advisory board and backed Perry’s bill.
“This bill is going to pass, Sir,” Konish said. “Because everybody knows how mismanaged the utility is. Not because we have bad people, but because we have people that don’t have the time or the expertise to preside over the utility.”
[A version of this story ran on page 5 on 3/27/2015 under the headline “City commissioners discuss counteracting GRU governance bill”]