Lawmakers vote to open probe into Gainesville bond delay  

Rep. Mike Caruso at Monday's JLAC meeting. Courtesy The Florida Channel
Rep. Mike Caruso at Monday's JLAC meeting.
Courtesy The Florida Channel

The city of Gainesville earned another audit check and a new investigation following a Monday meeting with the state’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) in Tallahassee.  

The motion directs the Office of the State Auditor to conduct a follow-up review of the 18 findings found in an audit released in January 2022. The state auditor presented the 18-month review at Monday’s meeting.  

The motion also directs the state auditor to investigate the actions and communications of city officials surrounding a decision to delay the issuance of new bonds worth $150 million. Rep. Peggy Gossett-Seidman, R-Highland Beach, made the motion. 

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“In doing this we’d be asking the auditor general to confirm all the actions and interactions of the mayor, the city commissioners, city manager, and the manager of the GRU, and any other members of the GRU,” Gossett-Seidman said. 

The motion passed 6-4 along party lines, and JLAC members didn’t have long to deliberate. However, Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Hollywood, and Sen. Tracie Davis, D-Jacksonville, voiced their dissent before the vote.  

Pizzo questioned Gossett-Seidman on the motion, noting that she had read a prepared, typed statement for the record. Without printers at the dais, Pizzo said Gossett-Seidman had entered the meeting with the motion before concerns were brought up about the bond delay or the city presented their case.  

He said the representative hadn’t given an opportunity to listen and decide based on the Monday presentation.  

Gossett-Seidman replied that the motion had been prepared by her and Rep. Mike Caruso, R-Delray Beach, who chairs the committee.  

She said she had strong feelings that Florida’s Sunshine Law or the Gainesville charter had been violated with respect to the bond issuance delay. The bond issuance delay was not included in the audit, but Caruso brought it up over the course of the two-hour meeting.  

In January 2023, Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) issued a request for bonds needed to run the utility and its finances. Barclays responded with the lowest bid and GRU prepped to finalize the deal in April.  

During those months, Gainesville officials were admonished by JLAC at a February meeting and state Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry, put forward a bill that would take control of GRU away from the City Commission.  

As the city prepared a debt reduction plan in April, GRU held off on finalizing the agreement with Barclays. When the agreement went through in June, it cost an additional $2.9 million.  

Caruso cited a memo from GRU’s top financial officer Claudia Rasnick. The memo, dated May 11, says that Mayor Harvey Ward directed GRU to hold off on the bond issuance until after the Legislature finished its session.  

Asked at the JLAC meeting on Monday, Ward said he did not make such a direction and that he can’t make a unilateral direction as mayor. He said the memo is incorrect as he must vote with the other six commissioners in order to direct a charter officer.  

“I’m at a loss as to why the CFO would say direct,” Ward said. “I have no capacity to direct.” 

Ward could not be reached for additional comment on Wednesday.  

Caruso also asked GRU General Manager Tony Cunningham why the bond deal was delayed. Cunningham said the feeling at the time was that the utility needed to solidify its debt reduction plan before issuing the bonds. He said all commissioners seemed to agree to wait until a debt reduction plan was in place.  

Caruso said that the decision lacked sense. The debt reduction plan would still require the $150 million in bonds, Caruso said, so the plan existing or not didn’t impact whether to move forward with the bonds. And, delaying the bonds could only increase the risk on rates going up, Caruso added.  

Clemons hinted at state action over the bond delay a week before the JLAC meeting. In a message to Mainstreet concerning the 18-month review of the state audit, Clemons said he expected an investigation.  

“I fully expect the State to investigate who was responsible for the GRU bond issuance delay that cost the ratepayers a couple million dollars,” Clemons said. “Trust me, if there were improprieties in making this costly decision, the person or persons will be held accountable.”

Clemons could not be reached for additional comment on Wednesday. 

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T J Miedzianowski

Good to know information that the City Commission would not tell us. Thank you.

Real Gainesville Citizen and Voter

Another attempt from Moscow . . . uh, I mean Tallahassee . . . to harass and smear local elected officials. They’re really trying hard to make us look bad, to convince us that we voted the wrong way. Why don’t they find another locality to pick on, say The Villages?

Israel Davian

Nope. The crooked and ridiculously crooked decisions of the City Comm over the last 2 years don’t pass the smell test. They pushed through a huge solar contract, didn’t cut a dime but increased salaries and other spending in retribution as well as raised property taxes the max amount. Ward and others, Rep Hinson included with DEC radicals, have schemed and lobbied together to thwart the citizen victims of our city. Of course JLAC knew of all this it’s so outrageous it has been in the news and talked about for the last two years. The citizecitizens

Gainesville Dad

Hopefully this audit end with the mayor and the entire commission being thrown in jail. They purposefully delayed the bond issue and wasted $3 million dollars of OUR tax dollars. They also knowingly wasted another $500k fighting the State after they decided to take away control of the nearly-bankrupt GRU away from our local petty tyrants. It’s part of a regular pattern of financial incompetence, corruption, and malfeasance.