Mayor asks GRU director to resign

Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe has asked Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) general manager Ed Bielarski to resign.

The request comes amid a spate of departures from the city’s senior leadership. Gainesville City Clerk Omichele Gainey and City Attorney Nicolle Shalley submitted emails of resignation Wednesday. On Aug. 23, in a Gainesville City Commission special meeting, commissioner and mayor pro-tem Gail Johnson announced her resignation. And earlier this year, the city’s director of equity Teneeshia Marshall quit.

GRU general manager Ed Bielarski

In an email reply to Poe posted on WCJB’s website, Bielarski said he would not leave GRU and would fight for his job, if necessary.

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I have thought about yesterday’s conversation a great deal, and I wholeheartedly stand by my decision to stay on as general manager of GRU and to fight for my job, if necessary.

I am not concerned with the perceived loss of dignity that may come with the Commission calling for my resignation, if it comes to that. My sole concern is and always has been managing the utility to the best of my ability. And, frankly, my management is as important now as it was when I was hired to find a solution to the biomass PPA.

In the coming months, GRU will embark on the pursuit of a concession arrangement with the University of Florida to potentially acquire the rights and responsibilities to build and operate the university’s new Central Energy Plant. This is a potential game-changer for the city. As this project gets off the ground, GRU will need a leader with a proven track record who can navigate the complexities of such a deal to produce the best possible outcome. I have successfully completed a similar transaction. When I was the COO/CFO of the Lehigh County Authority, I shepherded the first of its kind public-to-public concession lease of a city water system under a public bid process. The utility is on the cusp of entering into an historic process, the exact type I have successfully closed in the past, and I look forward to accepting this challenge once again.

The past year has been monumental for GRU, as well. Under my leadership, GRU has essentially moved away from coal generation, instead retrofitting the DH2 plant into a dual-fuel burning power plant. At the same time, the Kelly plant has undergone a makeover which has added efficiency and reliability to our system. As you know, we also executed GRU’s first commercial solar PPA with Origis, which, if completed, will give GRU the highest percentage of solar generation in Florida. As the rating agency presentation and our current GRU Budget Book asserts, this past year was a State of Renewal for the utility.

I would also suggest that the city would suffer greatly from the additional departure of a charter officer. The turmoil – not to mention the loss of institutional, spiritual and creative knowledge – created by the resignations of Ms. Marshall, Ms. Gainey, and Ms. Shalley cannot be overstated.

The remaining charters, Mr. Feldman, Ms. Bigbie, and I will need to step up our game to compensate for the losses. We are experienced managers who can and will continue to provide the commission with stability through healthy debate.

I must admit that your suggestion I resign and offer up two months’ notice caught me off guard, since just one month ago you offered your support. During our recent conversation, you implied that my bold style may no longer be a good fit for the city. I understand that some people construe my direct approach as confrontational, but the confrontations I’ve had with various boards have occurred because I was offering facts and explanations in defense of GRU employees. In those moments, GRU employees were told they had lied, were obstructionists, and were complicit in slow-rolling decisions. As the general manager, it is my duty to defend my staff.

At times, I have confronted these allegations directly and timely, in a public manner. To me, this is transparency, not conflict, and authentic disagreement is more respectful than inauthentic acceptance.

Finally, I can’t speculate on what grounds you might have to dismiss me for cause, but I am confident I have lived up to my obligations as a charter officer and look forward to continuing to serve the city in my current capacity.

Ed Bielarski

On July 19, the City Commission voted to raise GRU’s electricity rates 7 percent and wastewater rates 5 percent for the fiscal year 2022 and to continue raising rates each year through 2027. GRU is trying to pay down its current $1.6 billion debt and that amount is expected to grow to $3 billion by 2030.

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