Gainesville sets up process for GRU control switch 

Bryan Eastman speaks at a City Commission meeting as Cynthia Curry looks on
Commissioner Bryan Eastman put forward a series of recommendations to guide the city's transition of Gainesville Regional Utilities to a new governing authority.
Photo by Seth Johnson

Although the city of Gainesville is suing the state to stop control of Gainesville Regional Utilities switching to a governor-appointed board, the City Commission on Thursday approved a series of directions to staff aimed at creating an orderly transition. 

Commissioner Bryan Eastman offered a series of recommendations regarding the GRU transition at the commission’s general policy committee meeting, which the commissioners unanimously approved. 

“While we are opposed to this, and will continue to hold the GRU Authority accountable, and will continue to press forward in litigation, … [it is] my intention… to make sure that we are transitioning as seamlessly as possible because that is what is now in our charter until a court comes out and says something differently,” Eastman said. 

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The commission directed staff to “do everything necessary and proper to effectuate an orderly transition” and to draft any new ordinances “to create arms distance relationship” between the city’s general government side and the new GRU Authority.  

As part of the process, the city will need to review more than 40 ordinances that grant authority to GRU’s general manager and establish service-level agreements between the city and the utility on all shared services. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the GRU Authority legislation on June 28, and the law went into effect on July 1. However, the law requires an application process for the five new authority members, which are chosen by DeSantis, and the new authority won’t be sworn in until October. 

The law directs the city and the incoming authority board to perform “all acts necessary and proper to effectuate an orderly transition” but doesn’t specify what that transition process should look like. General Manager Tony Cunningham said he and City Manager Cynthia Curry and city staff members have already been meeting about the transition and the continued stability of the utility. 

“What staff has been doing is really focusing on what do we need to do to be able to transition and continue to operate and function well as a utility,” Cunningham said.  

As a city department GRU is intertwined with other departments such as human resources, fleet services and payroll and in turn supplies services such as utilities for city buildings and information technology to the general government side. Cunningham said he and Curry had identified more than 30 primary ways the municipal utility and the general government are interwoven. 

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

“What we’re doing right now is identifying what all those things are and making sure we just clearly document and articulate what that relationship looks like,” Cunningham said. “We want to define those relationships, understand what each of our roles are, [and outline] the exchanging of funds.” 

Curry said the agreements currently between staff are between the staff of the utility and the general government side and are not reviewed or approved by the commission. Those agreements will need to be more formalized once GRU Authority is sworn in on Oct. 4. 

Cunningham and Curry said the staff is looking to formalize the relationships that are already in place so that the daily operation is not changed drastically with the appointment of the new board. Once the new authority members are in place, they can begin making decisions about what they want the relationship with the other city departments to be moving forward. 

Also approved in the Eastman proposal was an education campaign about the transition. He said while many citizens have been following the legislation and have been engaged with the process, other people “are still kind of confused as to what exactly this changeover means.” 

“For over 100 years, Gainesville regional utilities customers have had the ability to speak directly to the people that make changes within their utility,” Eastman said. “They can still do that but there’s no direct accountability [with the commission]. That all goes through the governor at this point.” 

Part of the recommendation approved by the commission also directs staff to continue to pursue the lawsuit, which was filed Friday. 

City Attorney Daniel Nee said the city has asked for a hearing on its motion for temporary injunction to stop the transition. Based on previous challenges to legislation, Nee estimated it would take a minimum of six to eight weeks before that hearing is set. 

“The fact of the matter is we’ve done our best to identify the truly problematic areas that we will be facing as this transition as we tried to facilitate this transition as best as possible,” Nee said. 

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Once again Gainesville’s elected officials are suffering from cognitive dissonance. They want to do two contradictory things at the same time–comply with the law and sue claiming the law is erroneous,. The purpose of civil disobedience is to challenge a law by defying it. Once you comply, there is no case or controversy. I sued to separate myself from the Florida Bar when I wanted to practice in the state’s federal court system but not in the state courts, based on my license in New York. The 11th Circuit panel rightly dismissed the claim, because I still was a member of the Florida Bar t the time. The Akerman firm is getting paid up to $250,000 to justify the City’s claim that the new law imposing state oversight of GRU is unlawful and unconstitutional. If so, the City shouldn’t be complying.

Gainesville Dad

The city commissioners know full well that it is, in fact, completely lawful and that they are ultimately going to lose.

The petulant children on the Gainesville City Commission struggled to cut ~$375k from the annual budget after the state legislature put an end to their GRU slush fund, but these same commissioners seem have no problem basically burning $250k of taxpayer money on a completely frivolous lawsuit. Wasteful frauds, all of them.

Les Smith

The origin of Gainesville Regional Utilities stems from 1912 when a private gas company shut off the city’s power. Outraged, the citizens of Gainesville demanded that the city create and run its own electric utility. The city complied and built a generating station. Now Gainesville will no longer control the utility entity that it created. If Gainesville were a private firm, this might be labeled a “taking.” But it isn’t a private firm; it is a creature of the state, so the state government can do whatever mischief it wants to. We are increasingly seeing local control of local matters being being usurped by Florida’s version of what Ronald Reagan called “big gubment.” If this keeps up, will we have to append to the name of our state the phrase, “Union of Soviet Socialist Cities and Counties”?