On Thursday, Gainesville organizers spoke against state Rep. Chuck Clemons’ proposed bill for the Florida Legislature to create a board to control Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU).
Leaders of Alachua County Labor Coalition, Communication Workers of America Local 3170, North Central Florida Central Labor Council, League of Women Voters of Alachua County, American Federation of Employees Local 2779 and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) condemned the bill.
Robert Arnold, president of CWA 3170, called the proposal an anti-worker bill.
“This unelected and unaccountable board would have unlimited power to lower wages, decrease benefits, and slack pensions,” Arnold said. “We are proud to work for GRU because it means we are working for our community, for our neighbors.”
Clemons announced that he would bring the bill to the Alachua County legislative delegation that includes state Sen. Keith Perry, R-District 9; state Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-District 6; state Rep. Yvonne Hinson, D-District 20; and state Rep. Chuck Brannan, R-District 10.
The delegation will meet in Tallahassee on Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to discuss the bill. If the majority support the local bill, Clemons can file it to the House.
On the steps of City Hall, the organizers said Clemons has failed to give the community a chance to give input since the first and only meeting on the bill will be in Tallahassee during the workday.
The groups called for the Joint Legislative Audit Committee process to finish, have a local public hearing on the bill in Gainesville and require a local referendum to approve the bill.
Bobby Mermer, executive director of the Alachua County Labor Coalition, said City Manager Cynthia Curry has handled the situation professionally as the city re-evaluates its budgets. Leaders also said the current commission has the capability to begin making corrective changes if the state doesn’t preempt it.
According to Clemons’ press release, the start of the legislative session prevents the delegation from meeting in Gainesville with sufficient time to file the bill.
But, Janice Garry, president of the League of Women Voters of Alachua County, said the bill and its path seeks to circumvent the city and citizens.
Garry noted that the bill almost mirrors a referendum that voters defeated in 2018. That bill would have directed the Gainesville City Commission to create an independent board to govern GRU. The current bill gives that power to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“So, this time, instead of giving the voters an opportunity to have a say about it, it has been surreptitiously brought forward without notice, without public comment,” Garry said. “And it is being taken directly to the state.”
Alachua County Commissioner Mary Alford joined the groups and spoke against the bill. She said seeing the sign that GRU was owned by the people it served impacted her as a kid, and later, she ended up working for GRU.
“I’m going to say that that had an influence over my life,” Alford said. “It’s one of the reasons that I thought working for utility would be awesome.”
She called the bill insulting and said the way the bill has come about is unlawful and scary.