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Sunday, June 16, 2024

During the first Gainesville Regional Utilities meeting of the session Thursday, directors of the new authority were elected and took the oath of office. 

All five directors were appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis in accordance with 2023 House Bill 1645, which transferred GRU authority from the city commission to a governor-appointed board.

Edward Bielarski, former GRU general manager and 2022 mayoral candidate, was elected chair of the new authority at the meeting Thursday, and HCA North Florida Regional Hospital Chief Executive Officer Eric Lawson will serve as vice chair. 

Gainesville Regional Airport Authority Vice Chair and former Gainesville City Commissioner Craig Carter, Campus Scooters of Gainesville Owner and U.S. Air Force veteran David Haslam along with Gainesville Area Lacrosse, Inc., President Robert “Chip” Skinner were elected to fill the remaining director positions and took the oath of office.   

The election of new directors to the governor-appointed board follows the city commission’s approval earlier Thursday of a GRU oversight charter amendment to appear on the November general election ballot, allowing constituents to decide where the authority will fall. 

Bielarski presented a slideshow titled “How the City Lost Control,” which detailed how the GRU authority became independent from the city commission. He said HB 1645 was not a rash decision, contrary to the belief of two public commenters, but rather a product of historical failures under the city commission’s oversight. 

Unattainable climate change action plans are the cause of rising debt, Bielarski said. Before HB 1645 was enacted, GRU customers were paying 24% more than the average municipal customer at the highest rate of difference under city commission control.

“You got to focus on the priorities of the average customer: low cost, reliable power. That’s what they want,” he said. “You can do surveys and they’ll say they want renewable power, and then you ask will they pay for it? They go, ‘no, we don’t want to pay for that.’” 

Bielarski said GRU customer voices were not equally heard under the city commission’s control, especially those residing beyond city limits. 

Kali Blount, a GRU customer, voiced his opposition to the establishment of the new GRU authority during public comment. A privately elected board can’t aptly serve constituents, he said. 

“I have to have some doubts about management into the future by a body that is even less accountable to the citizens,” Blount said.

The next GRU meeting will take place May 29. 

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Morgan Vanderlaan

Morgan Vanderlaan is a first-year Political Science and English major and the City and County Commission Reporter for The Alligator. When she’s not on the clock, she can be found watching, writing and reciting theatre!

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