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Sunday, May 26, 2024

All four current members of the GRU Authority Board submitted resignation letters over a lawsuit filed by Gainesville Residents United, a nonprofit organization aiming to bring awareness to the board’s takeover.

The resignations will take in 60 days and were submitted to act as a settlement for the lawsuits, according to the Gainesville Sun.  

“That was part of the settlement that we, the Gainesville Residents United and the governor's attorneys, agreed upon. It's what needed to be done,” said Susan Bottcher, 66-year-old Gainesville Residents United vice president.

The law, put forth by Florida House of Representative Charles “Chuck” Clemons, R-Newberry, and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, establishing the GRU Authority Board required board members to live within Gainesville’s city limits. 

The current four members have operated the board and controlled municipality utility decisions since Oct. 1. When the board was elected, though, four lived outside the Gainesville city limits while one lived within, Bottcher said. 

“Quite honestly, we were taken aback when the governor did it the other way around,” she said.

DeSantis appointed James Coats IV, Robert Karow and Christopher Lawson in September and the final two — Craig Carter and Tara Ezzell — in early October. Ezzell resigned shortly after her appointment because she did not meet the residency requirements of the law.

The current members will stay on until DeSantis appoints new members, but it’s unclear if any of the current members will reapply for the position. 

Residents were critical of the governor-appointed utility board, raising concerns over residency issues and the selection process, which local officials nor residents had a say over. 

David Hammer, a 70-year-old Gainesville resident, wasn’t surprised when DeSantis appointed the GRU Authority Board, he said. As a resident of Gainesville, he believes the law was flawed from the beginning.  

“We believe the law is seriously flawed from both a technical implementation perspective as well as the perspective of constitutionality,” Hammer said. “Nevertheless, it is the law and as long as it remains the law, we are duty-bound to follow it while continuing our principled opposition to it.”

Hammer, along with other Gainesville residents, felt compelled to contest the board through lawsuits. With the most recent lawsuit resulting in the resignation of all four board members, Hammer considers this a win. 

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“[DeSantis] did not comply with the law in nominating these members who any eighth grader who read the law could tell you — with reference to their addresses — that they weren't following the law in accepting the nomination.” 

Hammer found it “gratifying” when legal entities ruled in favor of Gainesville residents and the current authority board submitted resignation letters. Earlier lawsuits filed by residents had been dismissed because a judge ruled the plaintiffs had no standing, Hammer said. 

If the law can’t be overturned, Hammer hopes to see a better version of it, including owner representation. He believes DeSantis will appoint five more people technically qualified to sit on the board, but thinks those appointed will be more oriented towards DeSantis’ political views rather than the vested interests of Gainesville residents, he said.

“The citizens of Gainesville own GRU,” Hammer said. “It belongs to us.” 

Megan Howard contributed to this report.

Contact Ella Thompson at Follow her on X @elladeethompson.

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Ella Thompson

Ella Thompson is a third-year journalism major and the Spring 2024 Metro Editor. In her free time, she likes to go to the beach or read a good book. 

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