DeSantis appoints first three Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority members 

Gov. Ron DeSantis at a recent event in Chiefland.
Gov. Ron DeSantis at a recent event in Chiefland.
Photo by Seth Johnson

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Tuesday three of the Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) Authority members that will assume operational control of the utility on Oct. 1.  

The Authority will feature five members once seated and manage all aspects of the city of Gainesville’s utilities, according to House Bill 1645, which DeSantis signed into law June 28.  

The appointees were James Coats IV, Robert Karow, and Eric Lawson.  

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Coats currently serves as the CEO of Phalanx Defense Systems and was awarded the “Spirit of Gainesville” Award by the Alachua County Chamber of Commerce, according to a press release from the governor’s office. He earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in business administration from American Military University.   

Karow, a retired marine, previously served as manager, legal counsel and contracts manager for Oleoductos de Crudos Pesados, an oil pipeline in Ecuador. He earned his juris doctor from UF.  

Lawson is the CEO of HCA Florida North Florida Hospital and has held various leadership positions in healthcare over the past 30 years. He earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting from Tennessee Technological University.  

According to the legislation, DeSantis can select as little as one or as many as five of the initial authority appointments from outside the city of Gainesville and within Alachua County. Once the initial five have served out their terms, representation on the authority board will be required to reflect the ratio of GRU customers who live inside Gainesville city limits vs. those who live outside the city limits. 

HB 1645 cuts the Gainesville City Commission out of the decision-making process, placing GRU General Manager Tony Cunningham under the Authority’s purview. The Authority will also set rates, issue bonds and chart future energy plans for more than 93,000 GRU customers. 

State Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-District 22, first announced the bill in early March. He said an audit by the state’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee showed mismanagement of GRU by the City Commission.  

GRU has $1.7 billion in debt with 14% equity remaining. Electricity rates for residential customers topped the state on average in 2022, and the city voted to raise them again last week when it finalized its budget with a 3% electric rate increase. 

Lawmakers called the annual money transfer from GRU to the general government budget excessive. It reached a high of $38 million in 2019, but the commission slashed it to $34 million in fiscal year 2023 and it will be $15.3 million in 2024.   

Clemons said the City Commission has used GRU to transfer profits and support city programs while leaving the utility in poor shape and without a way to cut back debt. Those decisions, Clemons said, resulted in high utility rates that impact Alachua County citizens who have no voting control over the City Commission. Between 30% and 40% of GRU customers live outside city limits depending on the utility service.  

The City Commission approved the use of an initial quarter of a million dollars in June and hired the national law firm Akerman LLP to represent Gainesville. Since then, those funds have been used to file a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, motion for temporary relief and a motion for full and final summary judgment, spending an estimated $300,000 through the end of August. 

On Sept. 14, the City Commission voted to continue funding its legal action against the state of Florida by allocating another $250,000 to the effort. 

Gainesville residents also formed the nonprofit Gainesville Residents United and sued the state of Florida in federal court over the Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority. The state has filed a dismissal in that case on procedural grounds.   

Editor’s note: This story was updated with background information regarding HB 1645.

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Jim H.

I’ve seen this movie: “Horrible Bosses.”

Real Gainesville Citizen and Voter

And so it begins. The first step in having ownership of our utility company confiscated by Tallahassee. Shades of the USSR, Comarades! All control to Tallahasseegrad!
And, that is despite Gainesville residents having voted to keep GRU under control of the City Commission. What if the legislature voted to have Publix controlled by a governor-appointed board? Wouldn’t happen, would it? But of course cities and counties are creatures of the state, so the state can do anything it wants with Gainesville, including turn its electric company, which the city established 111 years ago, to a “citizen board.” Let’s hope these appointees aren’t as bad as that bunch of micro managers appointed to the UF board.


Why do we want the poor to pay more to live here than anywhere else?
To replace them with landlords who conrol city hall.

Real Gainesville Citizen and Voter

No, that’s not the question. The real question is: why did the legislature and the governor make it so that you and I have absolutely no control over our municipally owned utility? When this “Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority” does something we don’t like–and that WILL happen–there’s literally nothing we can do about it. We can’t vote them out office because the governor appointed them. Oh, maybe if we make a $10,000 contribution to his election campaign the governor will pay heed to our complaints and send us a letter explaining why he can’t de-appoint them. So what that means, Donna, is that, so far as the city utility is concerned, you and I have been disenfranchised. Absolutely and even more now than ever before.


You lost the right to local control when citizens kept electing people who destroyed the financial well being of the GRU for years. We demonstrated time and again the we can’t act as adults so someone else has to regulate our sandbox


The USSR Regime is what Czar Pegeen, Czar Craig Lowe ( Chief of Censorship puppet) and the rest of the Biomass 8 started and cultivated GRU Bankruptcy mission. How can you still be in denial that GRU needs real, business minded Governance. You killed the Golden Goose , Now enjoy your 29% tax increase and let GRU’s healing begin . Because of Gainesville Voters the once great Utility is on Life Support!