With 20 days until Election Day, voters are still seeking clarity about the Gainesville Regional Utilities Referendum.
The referendum would let voters decide if an independent five-member board with candidates appointed by the City Commission would oversee GRU instead of the commission directly.
A moderated panel of the bill’s key players answered the public’s questions at Infinite Energy, a natural gas and electricity company, Wednesday night.
The four panelists — Mary Alford, the chair of the GRU Utility Advisory Board; Darin Cook, the CEO of Infinite Energy; Sen. Keith Perry; and Harvey Ward, a Gainesville city commissioner — spoke on the bill’s pros and cons to an audience of about 75 people. All panelists said there would be no guarantee that the bill would lower rates.
“So many had this issue on so many people’s lists, but we had the opportunity to list out both pros and cons,” said Julie Waldman, the president of the Leadership Gainesville Alumni Association, who hosted the forum about the bill.
Ward said the bill would not work because an independent board would take power away from the city to make decisions about how it uses its utilities, he said.
“Oversight is at its best by the city of Gainesville,” Ward said. “The idea of rolling the dice and filling in the blanks later is irresponsible.”
An independent authority board would not be held accountable, Alford said.
“Because they’re not elected, because the City Commission can’t actually remove them from power, then there would be no repercussion for that,” she said.
Proponents of the bill defended its practicality. Cook volunteered to be on the independent board.
“I think the independent utilities board, full of experts, would do a better job in the long term,” Cook said.
Cook, who strongly opposed the biomass decision, said voters would be stuck with decisions made by past city commissions.
Melvin Flournoy, a retired educator, said he attended the forum because he had unanswered questions about the bill. After the event, he said he still opposed it, but he had more information to back up his stance.
“I came to really understand the bill, so we can persuade other people,” Flournoy said.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Mary Alford is not a proponent of the GRU Referendum. The Alligator regrets this error.
Julie Waldman, president of the Leadership of Gainesville Association, makes her close remarks at the GRU Bill Forum where a panel: Mary Alford, the chair of the GRU Utility Advisory Board; Darin Cook, the CEO of Infinite Energy; State Sen. Keith Perry; and Harvey Ward, a Gainesville city commissioner discussed the implications of the Gainesville Regional Utilities Referendum.