GNV groups speak against proposed local bill 

Bobby Mermer, executive director of the Alachua County Labor Coalition, called the bill an attempt to hand more power to Florida Power & Light.
Bobby Mermer, executive director of the Alachua County Labor Coalition, called the bill an attempt to hand more power to Florida Power & Light.
Photo by Seth Johnson

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.  

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“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.” 

Robert Arnold, president of CWA 3170, speaks against the proposed bill on the steps of City Hall.
Photo by Seth Johnson Robert Arnold, president of CWA 3170, speaks against the proposed bill on the steps of City Hall.

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.  

Janice Garry, president of the Alachua County League of Women Voters, condemned the path the proposed bill is taking.
Photo by Seth Johnson Janice Garry, president of the Alachua County League of Women Voters, condemned the path the proposed bill is taking.

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.  

County Commissioner Mary Alford spoke against state Rep. Chuck Clemons' proposed bill on Thursday.
Photo by Seth Johnson County Commissioner Mary Alford spoke against state Rep. Chuck Clemons’ proposed bill on Thursday.

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Susan Bottcher

This opinion piece by the former GRU general manger is interesting and worth reading (note: published in the Gville Sun Nov. 2019):

“Ed Bielarski: Audit is based on meritless claims”
On Nov. 14, the Florida Joint Legislative Auditing Committee directed the state Auditor General to “conduct a comprehensive and in-depth audit of the operational practices and managerial oversight of the City of Gainesville,” including various items related to Gainesville Regional Utilities.

The audit was requested by Sen. Keith Perry and Rep. Chuck Clemens, the two local lawmakers who backed last year’s referendum to change GRU’s governance. About 60 percent of the city’s voters rejected that measure.

The lawmakers’ latest low blow marks a turning point in their decade-long rift with the city of Gainesville, including GRU. In the past, their arguments have focused largely on policies implemented by the elected officials overseeing GRU. The arguments were never about whether the employees of GRU were doing inadequate or even fraudulent work. But this time it’s different.The operational audit evaluates whether management has established and maintained internal controls “designed to prevent and detect fraud, waste, abuse and noncompliance.”

This is a personal attack on the managers, supervisors and employees of GRU and, in particular, my chief financial officer, finance and accounting director, community and government relations officer and the many folks who inform their excellent decisions.

For all the past rhetoric about how Sen. Perry and Rep. Clemons have no issue with GRU employees, they have even less issue with making these same employees the subject of an unnecessary audit and effectively attacking their professional judgment and endangering their careers. The majority of this is based on letters from seven “concerned citizens” whose stories were not corroborated or authenticated.
In fact, neither Sen. Perry nor Rep. Clemons have ever attempted to talk to my staff or me about any of these issues, the unfortunate result of which is an audit based on meritless claims.

Among the auditing committee’s concerns is the mistaken premise that GRU’s long-term debt rose by 75% as a result of the buyout of the biomass power purchase agreement in 2017. The reality — corroborated by GRU’s annual audit and rating agency reviews — is the utility’s overall debt has fallen from $1.948 billion in fiscal year 2015 to $1.665 billion in fiscal year 2019, or more than 14%.

Another concern is GRU’s alleged lack of transparency in its budgeting and financing. In the past two years, GRU held 32 public meetings to discuss, disclose and vet its budget and financings. I authored two white papers that laid out GRU’s tactical and strategic plans. Had Sen. Perry, Rep. Clemons or the auditing committee members attempted to validate the evidence they received for this audit, they would have found the truth behind the allegations within those white papers.

These are just a couple of the concerns raised in Sen. Perry and Rep. Clemons request for an audit. The others vary from questioning the vagaries of the practice of municipal bond refundings to our Brighter Tomorrow Scholarship Banquet, a long-standing program that has never been questioned until the keynote speaker was Andrew Gillum, a Gainesville High School graduate who had a powerful message for these under-represented engineering students on their way to Santa Fe College. Because Gillum refused the appearance fee, we were able to provide eight scholarships this year.
The reality is that GRU has a long history of independent, outside financial audits resulting in clean, unmodified opinions, and I am not concerned with yet another outside audit. However, I am concerned that Gainesville’s state representatives have listened to uncorroborated, politically motivated and unsubstantiated allegations from citizens who have already had those allegations rebuked in public, in court and by previously audited financials.
I am further concerned that this new round of posturing by Sen. Perry and Rep. Clemens will only perpetuate the mythology of GRU as a bad actor, and this time, even drag our employees into the viper pit of Gainesville politics.

Please visit for GRU’s responses to the upcoming audit.
Ed Bielarski is general manager of Gainesville Regional Utilities.

Edward Bielarski

I stand by everything I said in that opinion piece. Both Perry and Clemons were unfairly tarring GRU with the same City brush. I turned out to be right. You need to look at my claims specifically Susan. Especially the main point in which I state that the Biomass Buyout indeed lowered debt. You and your beasties are trying to saying the same thing Perry and Clemons said then. It wasn’t true then, it’s not true now.


GRU is still insolvent so what dose it matter? No entity can shoulder the massive political driven and owned DEBT. It’s going to be a wild ride for those that have abused GRU Ratepayers. County Ratepayer Repriation’s need to be accounted for in the Bankruptcy Proceedings . Gaineville’s Golden Goose in now a Sinking Ship . Well earned and deserved by the Woke Regime.


When Bottcher insists that GRU remain in local control, I believer by ‘local’ she really means her and her former and current colleagues on the City Commission. She certainly doesn’t mean the rest of us. That’s why Gainesville Citizens Care had to go to court in order to get to see the unredacted GREC PPA AFTER it was signed back in 2011. That’s when we found how bad, what we already knew was a bad deal, really was. That’s why GCC tried to do everything they could to stop the plant from even being built. But Susan’s friends who voted for the PPA made sure the back clause was omitted from the contract. Yet, Susan wants us to allow her friends to continue digging the hole they’ve put this City in even deeper. Too bad you convinced people to vote against the Independent Board. At least the City Commission would have still been able to pack it with your cronies.


While I don’t know enough about this bill to make a firm decision on it, there certainly appears to be a surplus of rhetoric from both sides.

I’d like to know just how many of GRU customers are outside the city limits and whether they have any ability to vote or influence decisions that GRU / GNV make about things that affect them.

Also, just how does the customer breakdown work with GRU? Are there any ‘customers’ of GRU that have undue influence on decisions that conflict with the ordinary people? For instance some large companies or organizations that are already represented by individuals or committees.


To the failed City Commissioners, past and present. Even the past GRU employee that doesn’t know where she lives but still got paid( stealing). You lost today 4 -1. Only the Biomass Bunny Hinson Rawls voted wrong. The Slain by you Goose that laid the Golden Egg is gone ,gone gone. You loose , everyone that is law abiding wins. Your rhetoric does not bode well for reality and relief for GRU Taxslaves.


This is NOT about workers rights. This is about a select few that have great benefits while the majority of US struggle with daily lives with no or low benefits. And no leverage but are own determination. No special groups or (unions) to fight for US. This is just more of the same. What makes THEM so special??


The commission couldn’t run a hot dog stand yet a utility. Company.