By Ben Bornstein — WUFT-FM
The Gainesville City Commission made it clear at its Thursday meeting that it doesn’t want the local utility to fall under state legislative control.
City commissioners voted in favor of keeping GRU under the current management, rather than have it controlled by an independent board of representatives.
They also voted, at the request of Mayor Craig Lowe, to put the GRU issue on the legislative agenda, partly based on criticism from residents of the new biomass plant at an October meeting.
Many residents have called for the new biomass plant to be placed under the authority of a board of representatives from the city and unincorporated county.
City Commissioner Todd Chase agrees and thinks that a city commission has other responsibilities that are more pressing.
“I think we have to be willing to take a step back and realize that running a utility the size of GRU is an incredibly complex task,” Chase said. ”It’s very difficult to understand all the nuiances of the utility business, not to mention the high level financing that goes on.”
Chase also said he believes that Lowe added the issue to the legislative agenda last minute because of “chatter” he had been hearing.
“I think that the mayor stuck that in at the last minute without really any kind of knowledge of the issue. I don’t even think he knows specifically what he’s talking about,” he said.
Chase was the only city commissioner who thought GRU should be placed under a separate board of representatives.
Susan Bottcher, city commissioner for District 3, said she thought the city commission is running GRU well by leaving it in the hands of professionals.
“GRU has a highly professional and very competent staff, management staff that is structured very much like a private utility would be structured, where there’s a general manager and there’s a CFO and there’s an attorney and so on and so forth,” she said.
The city commission just helps to direct GRU and not completely run it, Bottcher explained.
“And these are the people who come from the utilities industry,” she said. ”They know best how to run the utility. They just take direction from the elected official, i.e. the city commission, who sets policy.”
A decision has not been reached, but there are more meetings planned to help the city commission come to an agreement and decide how the new biomass plant should be run when it is completed next year.
Hana Engroff wrote this story online.