18-month timeline of the struggle for Gainesville Regional Utilities

Top left: Former GRU General manager Tony Cunningham. Top right, Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward. Bottom left, State Rep. Chuck Clemons with other Alachua County legislators. Bottom right, current GRU General manager Ed Bielarski.
Top left: Former GRU General manager Tony Cunningham. Top right, Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward. Bottom left, State Rep. Chuck Clemons with other Alachua County legislators. Bottom right, current GRU General manager Ed Bielarski.
Cunningham photo courtesy GRU. All other photos by Seth Johnson

When a new mayor and three new Gainesville city commissioners joined the dais in January 2023, the main issues centered on single-family zoning. A new coalition of commissioners, within hours of inauguration, voted 4-3 to repeal a series of ordinances that prompted citizens pushback.

Less than two months later, Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) would take center stage. After 18 months, the spotlight has not faded, with appointments, resignations, debates and political back-and-forth continuing through June.

The discussions have had key themes, like the general services contribution to the city and the residency of GRU Authority members, along with smaller votes along the way.

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Mainstreet compiled its dozens of stories to serve as a resource for both citizens who’ve followed the issues from the start and those just now becoming informed on the issues. Arranged chronologically, we hope this page will help inform citizens of past talking points, decisions and rationales.

This list is extensive but not exhaustive. For background on other key events, follow hyperlinks placed within stories.

Feb. 24, 2023—Panel warns Gainesville to make GRU changes 

“We’re not in a dangerous situation, according to the rating agencies. I’m not saying that we don’t have high debt. We’re going to address that. I am dedicated to making sure that happens,” Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward.

Feb. 27, 2023—Gainesville: All options on table to deal with debt

“It’s like we’re on the operating table and we’re in critical condition, and the surgeon is having to make some critical decisions,” Gainesville Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said.

March 2, 2023—Gainesville passes first motions to address debt woes 

March 15, 2023—Proposed bill could change GRU governance 

“I think the city of Gainesville can, and they will, get their house in order. But I don’t think it calls for government overreach by a bill from one of our delegation members to tell us what to do and to appoint an authority of people by the governor,” Rodney Long, former Gainesville commissioner and mayor, said.

“The fact is that you don’t have commissions, you don’t have elected bodies, that take those types of actions. It requires somebody in private industry to take those actions, or it takes an appointed board like [state Rep. Chuck] Clemons was talking about in this bill,” Ed Bielarski, former general manager of GRU, said.

March 16, 2023—Gainesville groups speak against proposed local bill 

March 17, 2023—Local legislators back bill to alter GRU control  

“We don’t want to make moves that place harm on the utility, on the utilities’ customers, on the people who own the utility. We want to do this carefully, and that’s why we talked with JLAC about having an Oct. 1 deadline,” Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward said.

March 23, 2023—City readies lobbyists, counsel against GRU bill 

April 6, 2023—GNV votes on salaries, updated on budget freezes 

April 12, 2023—Ward, new commission draws close to 100th day 

April 12, 2023—GNV concept plan aims to reduce $315M of debt

April 13, 2023—GNV faces $16M loss to general budget to lower debt

“It’s still the city of Gainesville; it’s just going to be operated in a different silo. So, the city still owns 100% of all the assets of GRU. This utility is owned by the people that it serves, and now, because of this bill, it will be representative of all the people that it serves and not just the city residents of Gainesville,” state Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry, said.    

April 19, 2023—Tallahassee committee signs off on GRU bill

“I was a Gainesville city commissioner in 2012 to 2015, and I have witnessed an aggressive pursuit of GRU by legislators since that time. Its genesis did not begin today,” state Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, D-Gainesville, said. 

“This bill will help to right the ship and provide stable leadership and separate the city commissioners from the apparent conflict of interest that they’re currently undergoing,” state Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry, said.

Photo by Seth Johnson State Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson said Gainesville needs a plan to go on the offensive against the Tallahassee bill.

April 21, 2023—Opponents sound off on GRU bill at city meeting

April 27, 2023—Florida House passes GRU bill with debate

May 4, 2023—Gainesville establishes formula for GRU money transfer

May 9, 2023—Citizens prepare lawsuit over state’s GRU bill

“There’s just no way we can take something like this sitting down. I mean, somebody has to push back. The city of Gainesville, undoubtedly, will do something, but we as citizens may have different ways that we can gain standing to challenge this bill than the city has,” Robert Hutchinson, former Alachua County commissioner, said.

May 15, 2023—GRU to cut unfilled positions, reduce maintenance

June 14, 2023—Gainesville trims more from its budget 

June 22, 2023—City Commission allocates $250K to fight GRU bill

“I do think it’s a shame that we have to expend these funds. I don’t feel like we have much of a choice,” Gainesville Commissioner Bryan Eastman said.   

June 28, 2023—Alachua County to weigh GNV budget cuts, impacts

June 28, 2023—DeSantis signs bill changing GRU control

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the much-debated bill that will take operational control of Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) away from the City Commission and give it to a soon-to-be-created authority appointed by the governor.   

DeSantis will now begin the appointment process for the five members of the independent authority who will start their terms on Oct. 1.   

Note: The New York Times later recognized this story in its list of top local journalism worth reading for 2023.  

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks as Attorney General Ashley Moody looks on at a rally in Newberry.
Photo by Suzette Cook Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

July 3, 2023—Gainesville nonprofit sues DeSantis over GRU bill

“If this is the way the state’s going, I’m glad it started here in Gainesville because at least we have the political wherewithal to know what’s happening to us, and we have enough people willing to fight back and be part of the loyal resistance,” Robert Hutchinson, former county commissioner and president of Gainesville Residents United, said.

July 7, 2023—GRU credit remains stable, unlikely to improve 

“We do not expect to raise the rating over the next two years, as we believe that GRU’s substantial debt burden and high rates constrain improvement in credit quality,” the Standard & Poor’s report stated.

July 12, 2023—Bielarski releases book on GRU, state takeover 

July 20, 2023—Gainesville set to raise taxes 29% over rollback rate

July 25, 2023—Gainesville asks court to stop GRU changes 

July 27, 2023—Gainesville sets up process for GRU control switch

Sept. 15, 2023—Gainesville funds another $250K for lawsuit

Sept. 21, 2023—Gainesville property taxes to leap 29% over rollback rate

Sept. 26, 2023—DeSantis appoints first three Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority members

Sept. 29, 2023—Judge throws out Gainesville’s GRU lawsuit

Oct. 2, 2023—Gainesville group sues DeSantis over GRU Authority appointments

“What’s frustrating about this is, our legislative delegation wrote the law, the governor signed the law not even that long ago, and already they’re not following it,” Robert Hutchinson, president of Gainesville Residents United, said.

Note: This lawsuit ended with the resignation of four GRU Authority members and a new call for applicants by the governor’s office. See below on March 15, 2024.

Oct. 4, 2023—DeSantis appoints 2 more GRU Authority members

Oct. 4, 2023—New Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority seated, takes first actions

Oct. 6, 2023—Member withdraws from GRU Authority

Oct. 18, 2023—Lawmakers vote to open probe into Gainesville bond delay

Oct. 23, 2023—JLAC rule nullifies state investigation into Gainesville bond delay 

Oct. 23, 2023—Another lawsuit targets new Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority

Oct. 26, 2023—Clemons calls for Gainesville mayor to resign, Ward says ‘no’

“I think there’s a coverup going on, quite frankly,” Clemons said. 

Nov. 1, 2023—GRU Authority continues trunked radio sale, starts bond verification

Dec. 7, 2023—GRU Authority supports general manager, denies motion to fire

“The issue that I have with you is that I don’t trust anything you’re saying based on the fact that it’s in data—it’s in writing,” GRU Authority Board member James Coats said to General Manager Tony Cunningham.

Dec. 14, 2023—GRU Authority to search for permanent general manager

Dec. 15, 2023—Gainesville city manager warns of more budget cuts

Dec. 20, 2023—Gainesville sets special meeting over GRU request delayed last week 

Dec. 22, 2023—Judge dismisses Gainesville residents’ lawsuit against DeSantis

Dec. 22, 2023—Gainesville City Commission confirms GRU Authority’s control over bonds 

Jan. 3, 2024—GRU Authority moves forward with general manager search

Jan. 9, 2024—Gainesville nonprofit continues GRU lawsuit, responds to judge’s deadline

Jan. 18, 2024—GRU Authority votes for joint meeting with Gainesville City Commission 

Feb. 6, 2024—Curry recommends first actions to cover $1.4 million shortfall

Feb. 8, 2024—GRU Authority votes to increase charges to Gainesville

Feb. 21, 2024—GRU Authority asks Florida attorney general for legal opinion

Alachua County Board of Commissioners Chair Robert Hutchinson
Courtesy of Alachua County Robert Hutchinson

Feb. 28, 2024—Gainesville commission, GRU Authority hold first joint meeting

March 15, 2024—DeSantis to reappoint GRU Authority after lawsuit, 4 resignations

“It’s very, very bittersweet. Why did a citizens group have to sue the top official in the state just to follow the law,” Robert Hutchinson, president of Gainesville Residents United, said.

March 21, 2024—Gainesville commission plans to put GRU Authority on upcoming ballot 

March 27, 2024—GRU Authority votes on attorney, procurement policy

May 7, 2024—Gainesville enters budget season dependent on DeSantis’ appointments 

“If that [GSC] number remains stable, very little changes,” Mayor Harvey Ward said at the meeting. “It’s important for the community to understand that this is dependent on decisions made by folks who do not sit at this dais.” 

May 16, 2024—DeSantis appoints 5 new GRU Authority members following resignations

May 17, 2024—Gainesville votes on ballot initiative despite concerns by GRU attorney

“You’re passing an ordinance now that is contra to the spirit, intent and plain reading of the language which. . .says you will not pass any ordinance that contravenes this special act of the Legislature,” Scott Walker, attorney for the GRU Authority, said.  

May 21, 2024—New GRU Authority sets first meeting Thursday

May 23, 2024—New GRU Authority sworn in, discusses past, future

May 29, 2024—GRU Authority challenges city’s ballot initiative, discusses money transfer

“When you compare where [the GSC] is today compared to other organizations, it is lower and it is appropriately lower because of the debt load that we cover,” GRU Authority Board member Eric Lawson said.

June 4, 2024—Gainesville to redo votes on GRU Authority ballot initiative

June 6, 2024—Gainesville OKs ballot initiative for second time, building code changes

June 10, 2024—GRU Authority votes to keep Cunningham, reduce expenses in tense meeting

“I almost want to fire you to put you out of your misery,” GRU Authority Board Member Craig Carter said to Cunningham.

Craig Carter sits behind the dais at a Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority meeting.
Photo by Seth Johnson Craig Carter speaks at the Jan. 17, 2024, meeting.

June 12, 2024—GRU Authority fires Cunningham, installs Bielarski

“Thanks for giving me that opportunity to share and to serve, and to be honest, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to come to work tomorrow or not,” Cunningham said after giving closing remarks for the meeting and his time at GRU. 

June 19, 2024—GRU Authority asks Barton to keep referendum off ballot

June 20, 2024—Bielarski fires 2 top GRU officials, reassigns third

“Operating under the Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority affords us a generational opportunity to run the business differently than we have in the past,” Ed Bielarski said in a memo. “I will continue to review our practices and procedures and make changes where necessary.” 

June 26, 2024—GRU Authority votes to keep rates flat, make Bielarski permanent general manager

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Seth Johnson – Well researched and very useful. I follow this saga closely and you hit some areas I’d overlooked. Keep it up👏👍

Raymond Mellott

This is what a local paper should be doing. Congratulations to Main st. Daily News. RIP Gainesville Sun.


Are they still around Ray???


Why do the Fools of the Gainesville City Commision , and thier minions strive to prevent GRU from succeeding? They have failed to respect Law and Order and understand fully thier firing for destroying and once great utilily . Is it they are as scared as Lets Go Brandon about the skeletons in the closet? GRU has somewhat stabilized. My electric bill is lower than its been in 2 years. What is the problem with these loser power freaks? The Governor needs to kick up thier punishment a notch . The $68 million theft should have consequences with real accountability. They are still in LaLa Land.

Janice Garry

Thank you, Seth and Main Street for compiling all the twists and turns. This is excellent work.

Of note, GRU rates have been stable (stayed the same) for at least three years. After all the bruhaha that the Authority would lower rates, guess what? They stayed the same this year too.