Member withdraws from GRU Authority

GRU Deerhaven Plant
The Gainesville Regional Utilities' Deerhaven Plant.
Courtesy city of Gainesville

A day after her appointment, Dr. Tara Ezzell resigned from the Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority (GRUA) following qualification uncertainty.  

Ezzell lives in unincorporated Alachua County, along with three other GRUA members, and doesn’t receive electricity from Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU)—though she does pay for other services from the utility.  

According to House Bill 1645, which created the new authority, members must always live within GRU’s electric service territory and receive electricity from GRU throughout their term.  

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Ezzell didn’t attend the GRUA’s first meeting on Wednesday and was not sworn in with the other four members.  

The authority’s next meeting is Nov. 1, and Gov. Ron DeSantis could select another member to fill the final spot before then. DeSantis has received 47 applications for the authority positions, according to his office.  

Questions have arisen over the residency of three other members of the authority. Only Craig Carter, elected chair on Wednesday, lives within Gainesville city limits. The other three pay for GRU electricity but live in the unincorporated area.  

Chuck Clemons
Chuck Clemons

On Monday, two Gainesville residents filed a lawsuit challenging the appointments. Robert Hutchinson and Jeffrey Shapiro are seeking to nullify the governor’s first three appointments based on “non-compliance with public notice and advertising requirements and because the appointees fail to meet the statutory residency requirements.” 

“The Governor does not have plenary authority to appoint whomever he wishes to the GRU Authority,” the complaint says.  

Michael Murtha, legislative aide to state Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry, who filed HB 1645, said the appointments remain in accordance with the legislation. 

“We’ve got an authority, and it’s not going away,” Murtha said in a Friday phone interview.  

Murtha said DeSantis took advantage of the latitude provided in the bill to appoint, for now, three authority members from the unincorporated area. He said the governor’s office is prepared to defend those choices and points to the bill’s section concerning authority members as backing.  

The section says all members of the authority shall:  

  • Maintain a primary residence within GRU’s electric service area 
  • Receive GRU elective service during the duration of their appointment 
  • Not have been convicted of a felony 
  • Be a qualified voter of the city of Gainesville, except that a minimum of one must live outside city limits 

The opening of the next section says: “The composition of the Authority shall be adjusted upon expiration of any member’s term, or upon any Authority vacancy, to reflect the ratio of total electric meters serving GRU electric customers outside the City’s jurisdictional boundaries to total electric meters serving all GRU electric customers.” 

Murtha said this provision only applies once an inaugural member’s term ends, allowing for a different ratio for the first authority. He said the first new appointment after the inaugural members will have to be a Gainesville voter in order to move toward the ratio.  

The distinction between the inaugural members and subsequent members wasn’t highlighted as the bill ran through the Legislature.  

In April, Clemons stated that the authority would contain more Gainesville residents than unincorporated residents.  

“All five members have to be users of Gainesville Regional Utilities’ system,” Clemons said in an April 12 interview with Mainstreet. “The four have to be registered voters in the city of Gainesville. So, this is not what the detractors would say is a Tallahassee takeover. The people that will be governing this board will be citizens of our community.” 

While the members will eventually reach the four Gainesville residents and one unincorporated resident, it could take until 2025 or 2026 depending on who DeSantis appoints to replace Ezzell.  

Murtha called the questions concerning residency “last minute tamperings” that will be thrown out by courts. He said the governor’s office nominated the appointees independently, but the goal was always to assure unincorporated GRU customers that they would get at least one representative.  

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‘Legalese’ should be established as a foreign language! /wink