DeSantis signs bill changing GRU control 

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a press conference in Newberry.
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a press conference in Newberry.
File photo by Suzette Cook

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday 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.  

The bill cuts the City Commission out of the decision-making process, placing 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 customers. 

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

“This is the first step in stabilizing our local utility in order for it to be viable for the next 100 years,” state Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry, the bill’s author, said in a text message to Mainstreet Daily News. “This is the first time in history that 100% of GRU customers will be represented by the decision makers of GRU, and it is satisfying.”   

Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward called Wednesday, “a controversial milestone,” but pointed to what will not change with HB 1645.

“The first thing to know is that the new law does not change who owns GRU,” Ward said in a text statement to Mainstreet Daily News. “The utility is still owned by the residents of the City of Gainesville. The second thing is that we are proud of GRU’s record of providing excellent service. It is my hope this will continue for all gas, electric, water and wastewater, and GRUcom customers throughout this transition.” 

The governor’s signature comes after months of local debate for and against HB 1645. Clemons argued the authority can guide GRU more objectively than city commissioners, who, as the heads of the utility, have an inherent conflict of interest between managing Gainesville for residents and managing the utility for city residents and customers living outside city limits. 

Gainesville commissioners, GRU’s Utility Advisory Board and state Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, D-Gainesville, have opposed the bill at every turn. Arguments ranged from how the bill entered the 2023 legislative session to confusion over how to separate a city department from its overlap with other parts of Gainesville government.  

GRU General Manager Tony Cunningham
Courtesy of city of Gainesville Tony Cunningham

On Wednesday, Ward pledged to make the transition a smooth one for the people of Gainesville.

“I am — and I trust my City Commission colleagues are — working to develop a better understanding of the way this new board will operate, the decisions it is likely to make and the actions our commission will need to take to ensure a proper and dependable transition. More information will help us move through these uncharted waters,” he said.

In March, the commission said it would be prepared to go to the courts if necessary, and last week it allocated $250,000 for a potential legal fight.  

Local citizens also formed Gainesville Residents United in May, raising more than $60,000 and hiring a Jacksonville law firm to sue the state and stop the bill.  

Potential lawsuits by the city could also leave a question mark over who will manage GRU in the interim. Hinson advised the City Commission in April to ready its opposition.   

The bill allows DeSantis to select five members for the authority, all from Alachua County. One must be a residential customer living outside the city, one must be a commercial customer, and three must be city customers with expertise in a related field, such as law, finance or energy. 

“Now that this new inclusive governing board is going to be a reality, we should focus on coming together as a community to get the best qualified applicants for the governor to consider,” Clemons said. “If you know of someone who meets the requirements and is willing to be considered, please nominate them. Self-nominations will also be accepted.”  

Clemons first announced the bill in early March. He said a recent audit by the state’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee showed mismanagement of GRU by the City Commission and a utility on the financial brink. State Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, supported Clemons and also pointed to financial woes.  

GRU has $1.7 billion in debt with only 14% equity left. Electricity rates for residential customers topped the state on average in 2022, and lawmakers called the annual money transfer from GRU to the general government budget excessive—reaching a high of $38 million in 2019

Harvey Ward
Courtesy of City of Gainesville Harvey Ward

A majority of that debt came from the City Commission moving forward on the Deerhaven Renewable Generating Station, or biomass plant. The city bought out the facility in 2017, aiming to saving money in the long run, even though it came with a $750 million price tag. 

Clemons said the City Commission has used GRU to transfer profits and support city programs while leaving the utility in poor shape and without a way to cut back debt. Those decisions, Clemons said, resulted in high utility rates that impact Alachua County citizens who have no voting control over the City Commission. Between 30% and 40% of GRU customers live outside city limits depending on the utility service. 

City leaders have pushed back hard. Mayor Harvey Ward said GRU remained an investment-grade utility, according to bond rating agencies, despite the high debt. He said the city would make plans to follow the audit committee’s instructions to take bold action to reduce debt and said the city already cut $200 million in debt since 2017. 

Commissioners argued that the local bill had never been discussed in Alachua County for citizens to comment. Clemons said the audit committee’s February meeting spurred the late bill so that he couldn’t present an early draft at the legislative delegation’s January meeting, when local bills typically come forward.  

Commissioners also say city residents already decided the issue in a ballot referendum in 2018, when over 60% of voters disapproved of a change that would direct the City Commission to appoint an independent board to run GRU.  

“At this point Rep. Clemons is on his own,” Commissioner Bryan Eastman wrote on Facebook in April. “This is his biomass plant, and the ramifications of his decision will be his forever. I just hope we can do something to alleviate the pain it will cause on our residents.” 

FL Senate District 9 Keith Perry
Keith Perry

The 2018 referendum also came after a local bill sponsored by Clemons and Perry. A 2016 bill passed the Legislature and would have given Gainesville residents the ability to vote in a self-governing GRU board that would be independent of the City Commission, but then-Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the legislation. The 2016 bill would have created a salaried GRU utility advisory board, but Scott said he didn’t see a need for a salaried board when other Florida regulatory groups didn’t pay their board members.  

After the February audit meeting, the City Commission said it would comply and take bold action to reduce GRU debt. Legislators from both parties said the city was in a serious position, with four times the debt load of comparable utilities according to the state audit.  

On April 13, the city revealed its plan to tackle debt, aiming for a $315 million reduction in net debt over the next 10 years. GRU selected that number because it will reduce the utility’s capitalization rate to 70%, a number approved by bond rating agencies.  

That goal will involve a 55%, or $16.9 million, cut to the money transfer between GRU and the general government budget. The transfer has supported around 20% of the general government budget in past years, and city staff is still working through how to fill the gap in next year’s budget.  

The city came to the 55% reduction by following another concern from the state audit. The commission never set a formula to determine how much money to transfer each year from GRU. The state auditor said transfers from municipal and investor-owned utilities are common, but a formula typically dictates the amount, allowing the utility and city to predict incomes.  

Using a formula based on a 5% electricity franchise fee and taxable assets, the city approved the formula. GRU will save $120 million in the next 10 years by not transferring the money to the city.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include comments from Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward.

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Janice Garry

Representative Clemons, Senator Perry, and Gov. De Santis are wrong. With the governor-appointed autonomous authority governing GRU, exactly 0% of Alachua County residents will have a say as to who runs the city owned utility. They will not be accountable to the residents, will have no ethical or administrative oversight and the bill does not detail their relationship with the city. Gainesville finances have already been effected by this poorly conceived, poorly written bill. Our community has been poorly served, indeed harmed, by our elected officials.


Not an argument for or against, but the article states:

“The bill allows DeSantis to select five members for the authority, all from Alachua County. One must be a residential customer living outside the city, one must be a commercial customer, and three must be city customers with expertise in a related field, such as law, finance or energy.”


You think DeSantis will select non-republications that are in his camp? A clear cross section of our community??

Bob Ican count

Janice Garry, you are misinformed. All five members of the authority will be residents of Alachua County and users of GRU. I guess you are approving of the city commission transferring $68 million dollars more from the utility than it earned in the past four years?

James Gardner

“They will not be accountable to the residents, will have no ethical or administrative oversight and the bill does not detail their relationship with the city”
That sounds like a perfect description of how the current city commission runs (into the ground) GRU. The piggy bank is gone and that money was squandered on pet projects and ideological nonsense. The city and county residents are better off by far with this necessary change.
Bravo Mr. Clemons!


At the least your last sentence is universally true.

Susan Brown

You are so right—it’s amazing how someone can say we will be represented when nothing could be further from the truth. We might “own” it but now we have zero say over it—-how is that even legal? Gainesville is just another one of those places that irritates DeSantis and he needs to take revenge upon.

Enough is Enough

How can you say we had any say in it in the first place? City Commission did as.they please; with no concern for the citizens

Sick of Regressives

At least you got one thing right- our community has been harmed by all the regressive elected officials who have been in charge for decades. They ran up the GRU debt as a result of the biomess (remember when regressives were telling us that it would be paying GRU customers back by around 2019? Wow, you all couldn’t have been more wrong) so much that UF wouldn’t even consider doing business with them. That’s right, the university in our own backyard would not partner with the local utility because it has been so poorly run. Who owns that? The regressives.

And what did the regressive commission do after that? They decided to approximately triple the existing debt with their “net zero” scheme. Meanwhile, GRU’s infrastructure continues to age and deteriorate with no good plan (and no money) to replace it. In spite of the fact that our utility rates are among the highest in the state! Thank God that our elected reps stepped in to ameliorate this utter and complete ideological incompetency! I can only pray that they will take the next step and get rid of the Gainesville city governemnt altogether.

Enough is Enough

With you 100%


GRU has been the worst run utility company in the state. The City Commission has used it as a slush fund for years; pulling the citizens’ utilities money to pay for pet projects. Harvey Ward, was part and still is part of this problem. The previous director of GRU brought this all to light during his mayoral run. Thank God Chuck Clemons and Ron DeSantis has developed a plan to help save the citizens of Gainesville from the worst and most expensive utilities in the state!


So if we get back the $68,000,000.00 from the tranfers of recent past from profits that we not there.Then revise the annual transfer to zero, The 10 year look ahead would be 68 Million plus 240 million , GRU might climb out of the insolvency the City of Gaineville created? You mean there’s a chance?


DeSantis-turning Florida into Nazi Germany circa 1940 one board at a time…..there is no freedom in Florida.

Richard Nelson

I can breathe at last, thank god almighty I can breathe at last!

Finally a breath of fresh air has disrupted the long term stench, known locally as the Gainesville City Commission. I hope that this is just the beginning of a more sweeping tax payer revolt against the failed governance of both the city and county commissions.


Hallelujah. High electric bills are the main reason we don’t get a new private industry here to compete with UF and other low wage employers for hired workers. A major private employer would pay taxes too, unlike UF and gov’t employers.
If you look at where energy-dependent industries set up shop around the country, it was where the utility bills are lowest and still reliable.
The city commission has been elected by only 3% of the city’s population, thanks to previous springtime local elections. That resulted in the elitist agendas that made GRU and other city policies out of touch, so off track. Until now.

Enough is Enough

Not voting but corruption of Election Office!

Rogers Corner

The City Utility Board is against it. That’s because they are appointed by the same incompetent politicians who have stolen millions from GRU and its “owners”. BTW, about 40% of GRU customers have no say in the matter until October, when the change happens. The only other comment written as this is posted says, “Our community has been poorly served, indeed harmed, by our elected officials.” I have to agree with that.

Wait. I don’t understand. I thought we City taxpayers were paying $1,000 an hour to the Akerman law firm, to go to Court and stop this action by the State. But I am so glad Mayor Harvey Ward is making this a smooth transition. I thought the assumption until now was that this outcome would be the end of the world for Gainesville. I am thankful to learn that this is just a minor glitch. I hope nothing major happens. In fact, let us pray so that nothing bad comes out of this political decision.

Jeff Gehmann

The Failed leadership and excessive spending of the administrations of P. Harrahan, Lauren Poe (and unsuccessful failed cronies on city commission) are directly to blame for this fiasco that had GRU providing among the CHEAPEST utilities in FL to the second highest in the state (behind only key west!) in a 10 year period. At the same time, property taxes, fire fees and other gov monies have gone through the roof! Thx to Sen Perry and Rep Clemons for rescuing us!


Agree!! Hooray for Clemens and Perry for rescuing the citizens!! I am one person and last summer GRU had my electric bills up over $700!! I had FPL in South Florida and never did we hear of County Commissioners running the electric company. For years up here I have read horror stories about GRU and people having bills over $1000. People said they had to decide on AC or food for their families! How can our leaders have a clear conscience when they are over charging people/families like this for their OWN WRONG doings? Let’s give this new authority a chance. Perhaps we’ll be pleasantly surprised that people, who like us, that have to pay a GRU monthly bill will have all of our best interests in mind!