A Leon County judge on Friday threw out Gainesville’s lawsuit attempting to stop a new authority from taking control of Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) on Oct. 1, finding that the defendants in the claim were entitled to a judgment in their favor on each and every count set forth by the city in its lawsuit.
Judge Angela C. Dempsey, a Gov. Jeb Bush appointee, rejected the city’s constitutional arguments and ruled that the defendants—Attorney General Ashley Moody, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Secretary of State Cord Byrd—were not the proper people to sue.
“Plaintiff does not cite a single authority for its claim that the Governor “manages” or supervises the Authority,” Dempsey wrote in her 29-page opinion. “Rather, the Act says just the opposite.”
Gainesville’s lawsuit challenged the state process and constitutionality of House Bill 1645, which DeSantis signed into law on June 28. The bill takes away operational control of GRU from the City Commission and gives it to an Authority appointed by the governor.
State Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry, who sponsored the bill, called Friday a great day for GRU ratepayers and employees.
“It is my sincere hope that this clear and concise order issued by Judge Dempsey once and for all lays to rest the campaign of false narratives launched by detractors of this critical legislation,” Clemons said in a statement. “Throughout, it has been my unwavering commitment to return GRU back to its founding principles of providing the best and most affordable power to its customers. It was the pleas of those very customers who were the catalyst for this change in governance and this court order is a strong message for all stakeholders to put aside any differences and work towards building a strong utility.”
Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward pledged to do just that.
“Obviously I would have preferred a different outcome, but I respect our judicial and legislative processes, and the result of those processes,” Ward said in a statement. “I’m reaching out to the appointed authority members and stand ready to assist them in their new capacities. I’ll be there to swear them in at their first meeting.”
DeSantis announced on Tuesday three of the five GRU Authority members that will assume operational control of the utility on Oct. 1. Once seated, the Authority, comprised of five Alachua County residents, will manage all aspects of the city of Gainesville’s utilities.
HB 1645 places 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.
The City Commission approved the use of an initial quarter of a million dollars in June to hire the national law firm Akerman LLP to represent Gainesville to defeat the bill’s implementation.
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 has been updated.