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Sunday, June 16, 2024

City Commission passes first reading of GRU authority oversight referendum again

Due to an error in the original ordinance, it was replaced with an updated version

In its Thursday meeting, the Gainesville City Commission unanimously approved an updated ordinance that will place a referendum on the November 5 general election ballot to determine the source of GRU oversight. 

The referendum places a question on the ballot letting voters decide whether GRU control should be vested in the governor-appointed GRU authority. 

Thursday wasn’t the first time a vote was hosted on the referendum. The commission previously passed the original version proposing the same charter amendment, May 16 and May 24.  

Following an examination by Gainesville City Attorney Daniel Nee, a new ordinance was brought to the commission with a business impact estimate, which the first ordinance did not include.

Nee said including the estimate is a new requirement in ordinance passage, according to Florida statutes.

The addition was made with an “abundance of caution,” which Nee said made passing the ordinance a second time the “safest way to go.” 

Mayor Harvey Ward agreed with Nee’s caution. 

“On this side of the street, we want to make sure that we button things up and wear a belt and suspenders if needed,” Ward said. 

Despite a history of community debate over the proposed referendum, all five public commenters spoke in favor of its passage. 

James Ingle, a Gainesville resident for over 20 years, said he was one of the concerned citizens who traveled to Tallahassee when the Gainesville charter was changed after the enactment of House Bill 1645, which transferred GRU oversight from the city commission to a governor-appointed authority. 

The group didn’t approve of utility oversight through a governor-appointed authority. 

“There was very little opportunity for public input and very little opportunity for them to catch any mistakes that they would have made in that legislation,” Ingle said. “I think you can see the results of that in just the embarrassment that we’ve had with this authority.” 

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Ingle expressed support for placing GRU authority control back in the hands of the city commission and said revising the ordinance was a necessary precaution. 

Alachua County resident Tyler Foerst said the GRU authority doesn’t care about ratepayers like him living outside city limits.

“Right now we have an unelected board unaccountable to anyone in this county,” he said. “You can give the citizens the power to restore democracy in their local public utility.” 

The new ordinance was passed unanimously, and a second reading will be held June 18. 

Additionally, seven people were appointed to the newly established Downtown Gainesville Advisory Board, and an ordinance amending restrictions on the development and design of single-room occupancy residencies passed through its first reading. 

The next Gainesville City Commission general meeting will take place June 20. 

Contact Morgan Vanderlaan at mvanderlaan@alligator.org. Follow her on X @morgvande.

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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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