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Sunday, April 11, 2021
<p>A gas worker for Gainesville Regional Utilities, digs around a broken gas line.</p>

A gas worker for Gainesville Regional Utilities, digs around a broken gas line.

A former city commissioner is suing to get a controversial Gainesville Regional Utilities referendum off November’s ballot.

Thomas Hawkins, who served as a city commissioner for six years, filed a lawsuit against the referendum, which would let an independent five-member board with candidates appointed by the City Commission, oversee GRU instead of the City Commission directly. Hawkins said he feels the language of the bill is misleading. The lawsuit was filed Aug. 14.

“The ballot language doesn’t tell the truth,” he said. “It doesn’t explain the outcome.”

If passed, the board’s initial terms would begin Oct. 1, 2019 and last one to four years, depending on the member, Hawkins said.

City commissioner David Arreola opposes the bill and said the change would make it harder for constituents to voice their opinions.

“Currently, people get to talk to me about GRU concerns,” he said. “As their representative, I can listen to them directly, and they can hold me accountable.”

While Arreola believes lawsuits can be a distraction from the issue, he does feel the referendum is poorly worded and confusing for voters.

David Warm, a GRU spokesperson, said GRU is not taking a stance on the referendum and will only provide information about the bill on its website.

Hawkins said the recent lawsuit wasn’t his first attempt to take the referendum off the November ballot. In July, he and two other former city commissioners, Susan Bottcher and Yvonne Hayes Hinson, filed another lawsuit, but it was dismissed in court.

The judge said the lawsuit was weak because the plaintiffs needed more proof it must be solved in court.

Hawkins said the lawsuit was revised to show that the topic affected them, as well as the rest of Gainesville voters. This time, he filed the suit alone.

“Bottom line: I think government should be accountable,” he said.

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Contact Jessica at jcurbelo@alligator.org and follow her on Twitter at @jesscurbelo

A gas worker for Gainesville Regional Utilities, digs around a broken gas line.

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