GRU, city look to consolidate some efforts

Gainesville is moving forward with an effort to consolidate some shared services between Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) and general city government and to rebrand the utility to make it clear it is municipally owned.

The city commission in a 5-0 vote approved a set of proposals to set in motion the consolidation of some departments and a rebranding of the utility, including a potential name change, to make it clear GRU is city-owned and not a separate company.

“I think moving towards a one city approach is the way to go,” said Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos. “Over the decades, we have kind of split things and it’s become an incredible amount of duplication and [is] creating massive bureaucracies.”

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The discussion immediately followed the firing of GRU’s General Manager Ed Bielarski at the beginning of the commission’s General Policy Committee on Thursday.

Interim City Manager Cynthia Curry was left to present alone the changes and recommendations that she and Bielarski had developed.

One of the duo’s recommendations was that the city hire an outside consultant to analyze potential areas of consolidation. Among the initial target areas: human resources, communications, information technology services, procurement, budget, finance and accounting, but Hayes-Santos said he hoped that everything would be looked at for potential restructuring.

Cynthia Curry, Gainesville interim city manager

“I think services that are shared across the city should be under the purview of the city manager, and the things that are specialized and directly related to the utility should be under the utility,” Hayes-Santos said.

Curry will bring back to the commission a draft request for an outside consultant.

“When we’re talking about significant structural changes like finance or IT or even how we conduct [human resources], I think it is really important to have an objective analysis of whether or not it makes sense,” Mayor Lauren Poe said. “I think we’re assuming that it does, so we need to make sure we ask the question.”

Curry and Bielarski already started some restructuring, moving GRU’s inclusion and diversity efforts to the general government’s Office of Equity and Inclusion and moving the director of government and community relations into the city’s manager’s office, Curry said.

GRU also will begin to add the city’s seal to all its communication.

“We made good progress,” Curry said.

The motion that passed Thursday authorized the staff to continue looking at consolidation options and directed the staff to take some changes further, including combining GRU and general government policies and standardizing them so they apply to all employees.

The motion also directs staff to develop rebranding options and possibly renaming options in an effort to make it clearer the city owns and operates the utility.

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