GRU Authority asks Barton to keep referendum off ballot

GRU Authority board members sit at the dais.
GRU Authority board members David Haslam, left, Ed Bielarski, center, and Craig Carter, right, discuss issues during a June meeting.
Photo by Seth Johnson

The attorney for the Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) Authority sent a letter Wednesday to Kim Barton, Alachua County’s supervisor of elections, asking her to keep a referendum off the November ballot. 

In the letter, attorney Scott Walker called the ballot referendum illegal, a stance held by members of the GRU Authority.  

“Please be advised that GRUA unanimously objects to City of Gainesville Ordinance 2024-352 regarding the proposed charter amendment related to the governance of GRU being placed on the ballot for the upcoming election as the Ordinance is unlawful and impermissible under relevant charter provisions,” the letter reads.  

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Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton
Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton

The ballot referendum, which the City Commission officially passed on Tuesday, asks Gainesville voters whether they want to eliminate Article 7 from the City Charter. The Florida Legislature added that article during the 2023 session to create the GRU Authority.  

After the 2024 session ended, community groups and city officials brought forward the idea of placing the issue on the ballot. If successful, it could nullify the Florida Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ bill that changed governance of GRU.  

State Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, and state Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry, spearheaded the local bill that created Article 7. Both members have also reached their term limit in Tallahassee.  

In a March interview with Mainstreet, state Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, D-Gainesville, spoke about the timing of the ballot referendum.  

“I believe there was some kind of strategy involved to wait until [Perry and Clemons] termed out,” Hinson said. “It must have been.”   

Walker presented the City Commission with the GRU Authority’s objection to the ballot referendum in May. The commissioners continued with the vote, passing unanimously. 

In the letter to Barton, Walker reiterated the three objections.  

First, he says the referendum violates the part of the charter that says “the City and the Authority shall perform all acts necessary and proper to effectuate an orderly transition of the governance, operation, management, and control” of GRU’s assets to the new authority.  

Walker said the transition is not finished and the referendum hinders it from continuing.  

Second, he said the referendum violates the part of the charter that says the new GRU Authority will be free from control or direction of the City Commission.  

“It is clear from the above that Article 7 provides GRUA power over the governance and operation of the utility as well as autonomy from the City Commission in that power,” the letter reads. “It is plain from the reading of the Ordinance that, through its adoption, the City Commission aims to exercise control over the manner of governance and operation of the utility—an action in direct conflict with Article 7 and the Florida Legislature.”   

Lastly, the letter calls the referendum’s language “vague and misleading.” 

Walker said the language doesn’t make it clear that the general manager position will be eliminated and the management of GRU will fall under the direction of the city manager.  

The letter quotes Gainesville Commission Bryan Eastman and references questions by Commissioner Ed Book to support the claim.  

The ordinance language also notes that passing the referendum would eliminate the limitations on the general services contribution—funds sent from GRU to the general government side.  

The referendum language passed on Tuesday reads as follows:  

“Shall the City of Gainesville Charter be amended to delete Article VII, eliminating the governor-appointed Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority and its appointed administrator that manage, operate and control the City of Gainesville’s local public utilities, and placing that responsibility with the elected City Commission and charter officer; and eliminating limitations on the government services contribution and utility directives, as proposed by Ordinance No. 2024-448?” 

Last week, Mayor Harvey Ward said he has always supported the Gainesville electorate deciding who should manage GRU. In 2018, a ballot referendum that would have created an authority board, elected by the City Commission, failed.  

Proponents of the GRU Authority point out that many utility customers live outside city limits.  

“It should be noted, GRU serves individuals who are not citizens of Gainesville—the existence of this non-city-resident class of rate-payers was contemplated and provided for in Article 7 of the City Charter by providing a non-city-resident rate-payer as a member of the GRU Authority Board,” the letter reads.  

Walker told the GRU Authority last week that the risk of a lawsuit is high as the referendum moves forward.  

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Apparently there is nothing at all anywhere that says the City can’t take action to take Article VII OUT of the City Charter. Seems to me that since our city is governed by elected officials, who are there because voters elected them, those officials have every right to ask the voters’ opinion on the question. And, why would anybody object to that? Right. The ones who might think that putting it to the voters would have an outcome other than that they want. This was all brought about because a vocal minority objected to the rates GRU is forced to be charging because of bone headed decisions over a decade ago that we are going to be paying for for a long time; because the most vocal of those being people living outside the city yet getting their energy from GRU; and frankly, hostility to a liberal leaning City government sitting in a conservative area. The City’s efforts to address this issue were ‘too little, too late’ for that community.

In spite of this section of Article VII that says in part… “…the City and the Authority shall perform all acts necessary and proper to effectuate an orderly transition of the governance, operation, management, and control..”, its been much less than orderly.

The new board is musical chairs. The new board’s loyalty has been demonstrated, not to be to any of the people living here, but to the Governor. Who, logically, would be hostile to Gainesville. They are sending invoices to the City without it seems, rational basis. GRU’s proposed contribution to the City has been all over the map, impacting the City’s ability to plan for the future. And lately, since City IT requirements are provided by GRU, an invoice without a seeming basis, causing the City to contemplate going in house…. seemingly that any number greater than one of City and GRU IT computer systems are also shared. Bifurcating them will be both costly and fraught. This whole kerfuffle didn’t need to happen. Moreover, it certainly wasn’t thought through by those who wanted it to occur.


Clueless Raymond, Wow, you need to get out more. The City of Gainesville Failed Commissioners were fired because they mismanaged and stole from GRU customers. If anyone could still support that , OMG ,they are in a demented state of denial. When Gainesville not GRU goes Bankrupt you just might get it. That’s a big maybe based on your mindless thoughts.

Real Gainesville Citizen and Voter

I never understood why the Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority was created with a governor-appointed board. If the aim was to get the utility away from control of the Gainesville City Commission, why wasn’t an elective board created, local people chosen and voted for by us, the owners and users of GRU?
This current CRU Authority is just a mess. Thank you Mr. Perry, Mr. Clemons and Governor DeSantis; just what we needed, a mess.

Eyes Wide Open

When you figure out a way to include GRU customers who live outside of the City to vote on this issue then putting the question to a vote could be an option. However, no one has yet figured out how to sort out the ratepayers from everyone else in the County.


Just structure it like Clay Electric – make GRU a nonprofit owned by those who connect to it for service. Those members can then vote in a board of directors.

No need to bother with voting at the city or county level at all.