Gainesville asks court to stop GRU changes 

GRU truck
The city of Gainesville is asking a Florida court to stop the implementation of HB 1645 that turns over GRU governance to a five-person independent board.
Photo by Megan V. Winslow

The city of Gainesville is asking a Florida court to issue an injunction to stop the implementation of HB 1645, which moved control of the city’s Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) from the city to a governor-appointed independent board. 

City Attorney Daniel Nee along with outside law firm Akerman LLP electronically filed a lawsuit in Florida’s Second Judicial Circuit in Leon County. The suit asks the courts to declare invalid HB 1645, which the governor signed into law on June 28, and requests a judge to grant the city both a temporary and a permanent injunction against the law. 

The legislation, introduced by state Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry, is set to take effect on Oct. 1. He and other supporters argued it was necessary to address high rates, GRU’s debt load, and representation for GRU customers outside of Gainesville. 

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The lawsuit names the state of Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Secretary of State Cord Byrd as defendants in the case. 

The city argues in its complaint that the state has overstepped its constitutional and statutory roles in removing GRU – a city department – from the city’s control and putting it under a state-controlled five-person board. In 2018, area voters rejected a similar proposal to put GRU under a governing board. 

“I do believe, as the lawsuit makes clear, that the legislation, as passed along party lines this past legislative session, contains inconsistencies with the Florida Constitution and general law,” Mayor Harvey Ward said in a statement. “For that reason, I believe the only responsible next step in any sort of smooth transition had to be asking the courts to weigh in on these issues.” 

The lawsuit refers to Florida Statute (Chapter 189), which says that electric services cannot be transferred into special districts and that any municipal special districts must be controlled by elected city officials. 

“HB 1645 stands alone — there is no other statute in Florida which reaches inside a municipality, removes what are indisputably municipal functions, and assigns them to [the] state to operate and manage,” according to a motion, filed electronically Friday afternoon along with the main complaint.  

Bill sponsor Clemons said in a text Tuesday that Florida’s cities and counties are sub-divisions of the state government and that he had “faith in the judicial process.”  

The city allocated $250,000 for the lawsuit on June 22. 

Courtesy of State of Florida Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-21

“The Gainesville City Commission is in denial,” Clemons said. “This lawsuit will only cost the taxpayers more money. Perhaps this action will be the last straw before a recall effort begins to remove bad decision-makers from office.” 

The mayor in turn has blamed the need for a lawsuit on Clemons’ unwillingness to work with the city on GRU-related issues. 

“As with any ongoing litigation I’m reticent to have a lot to say, but I will say that I’m disappointed we ended up in this position,” Ward said in his statement. “I asked the original sponsor of the legislation to work with us before the legislation was passed, but he was unwilling to do so, ultimately leading our community to this regrettable position.” 

The Florida Legislature’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) ordered the city in February to get GRU’s $1.8 billion in debt under control.  

“It is clear from HB 1645 that the new ‘Authority’ is simply choosing to run a city department because the legislature and governor would prefer that it be run differently,” according to the main lawsuit. 

The lawsuit also challenges HB 1645 for giving the five-person authority the right to take property under eminent domain and to borrow funds and issue bonds in the city’s name – all functions that lawsuit says belong exclusively to Gainesville elected officials under Florida law. 

The city is in the middle of selling the trunked radio system to Alachua County and will need to refinance some of its issued bonds, both of which the city says in the lawsuit it cannot do under HB 1645. The existing GRU bond and debt agreements require that the city keep its power to set rates and maintain the utility services.  

The city says those existing bonds and debt agreements will be negatively affected if HB 1645 is implemented. 

Harvey Ward
Courtesy of City of Gainesville Harvey Ward

The city also argues that the new law creates city employees who are not governed by the city, including a Chief Operating Officer/General Manager who is hired and fired by the authority. HB 1645 removed the city-appointed GRU general manager, a charter officer position under the city’s bylaws, as of July 1 with the intent to replace the position with the CEO/GM.  

However, HB 1645 also requires current general manager Tony Cunningham to stay in place until the new authority appoints a CEO/GM. The new authority will not be officially sworn in until its first meeting on Oct. 4. 

The city argues that with the state abolishing the charter officer position on July 1 there’s no budgeted position with GRU for Cunningham to fill so no way to pay Cunningham to continue in his position until a new CEO/GM is appointed. 

“A municipality cannot just make up positions and pay people without an authorized budgetary position,” according to the lawsuit. 

The city’s suit is not the only legal challenge to HB 1645. Earlier this month, a new nonprofit group called Gainesville Residents United filed suit over the bill, arguing it violates the Florida Constitution and impinges on the free speech of local residents.  

— With reporting from J.C. Derrick 

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Shannon Boal

Yes, the new board will have some things to do on their first agenda. It sounds challenging.


The most recent actions of the City of Gainesville and a Republican, Chuck Clemons is another attempt to keep the money that is generated by the utility flowing to the City of Gainesville. It does not address the inefficient governing of the utility. As a Alachua County resident please stop bleeding GRU to fund the City. Sell the utility to a qualified owner and restore better rates for all of GRU’s customers. The City Commission is not qualified to run the utility.


GRU , in it’s current financial condition is as worthless as it’s Biomass Plant. That is a 2 Billion Dollar problem that Harvey Ward, Chestnut, and the rest of the City Commissioners OWN. To file suit against trying to save GRU and want to regain control is inconceivable. They can’t run a parking garage with no attendants. They should all resign in shame.

M. Ryan

What a waste of taxpayer money this law suit is. If the city managed it’s money better they wouldn’t need GRU under their wing. They just want another way to get money from taxpayers. Give us yearly residents a break on taxes stop the games and manage your budget better.

Cynthia Binder

Someone wants freedoms📜
Someone wants to take away …🤓
Image the truth 🗝⚖⚛


Who is footing the bill for the $250,000? I thought the City as supposed to be cutting back?


WE are, as usual.


The Nonprofit say it is the residents voice. It is not! It is a group of x commissioners and City employees that over charged citizens and stole from it citizens. They set up meters to constancy reset; so they can put the usage they want to charge you for; not what you actually used. Someone needs to look at the records in detail and pay the customers back! They keep your deposit and try to tell you they paid it back; no proof they did so.
GRU is not a city department; it’s a company own by the people.
It’s show how uneducated the city officials are; that they think they can groven them self. Every dog has it’s day and their is coming soon.
I suggest that the citizens either show up in court or write the Judge a letter stating the Nonprofit does not speck for us.


Another gigantic waste of money. Even if they are successful that won’t help our GRU rates since they are spending $250,000 of GRU money.
Also the State has deeper pockets than the City and will appeal this all the way to the Florida Supreme Court, the majority of whom were appointed by DeSantis and rest by Rick Scott.
Any bets how this will turn out?
If the City loses do the Commissioners pay us back the $250,000?