The City Commission took a step forward Thursday in the Gainesville Regional Utilities governance issue.
Commissioner Yvonne Hinson-Rawls urged the commission to “just do something,” and Commissioner Lauren Poe responded with a two-part motion.
Mayor Ed Braddy was the only one to oppose the first part, which involves the creation of a GRU advisory board to oversee all utility-related issues. However, the commission would still ultimately run the utility. The second part, which passed unanimously, involved a voter referendum on the November 2016 ballot asking voters whether they want to keep the new advisory board or create a new, independent governing utility body.
“We don’t know at what point our efforts here will derail the Tallahassee train,” Commissioner Helen Warren said, referring to Rep. Keith Perry’s GRU governance bill now making its way through the Florida House of Representatives.
It was agreed that the commission will ask Perry to amend Florida House Bill 1325 to include only the voter referendum. If Perry rejects the recommendation, Poe said the commission will take action to put it on the ballot itself.
Commissioner Craig Carter, while opposing the state’s involvement in the local affair, advised the commission to involve Perry in the process to avoid a split community.
Poe described the advisory board as a seven- to nine-member board with one-third of its members appointed by Alachua County to represent GRU users outside of the city. The commission would appoint the rest of the members.
The board would pursue its own agenda items independent from the commission’s, as well as make overall recommendations for a proposed GRU budget and rate. Members would also have the power to make audit requests for the internal city auditor, Poe said.
Braddy said he could not support a motion that would ultimately strain the GRU staff at such a critical time.
“I hope that no one is under any delusion that we are going to make things easier on our already strained GRU staff,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the commission narrowed the GRU general manager selection to three candidates: Ed Bielarski, Charles Dickerson and Rob McGarrah.
The discussion will continue April 16.
[A version of this story ran on page 8 on 4/3/2015 under the headline “GRU advisory board approved 6-1 by GNV City Commission”]