Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority approves bond validations and trunked radio sale
Members of the Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority (GRUA) said they were happy to get the approval for bond validations at the board’s meeting Wednesday, accomplishing what they described as the main goal for the evening.
"I think we accomplished getting the approval for the bond validations which is number one the most important," said GRUA board chair Craig Carter.
Mayor Harvey Ward and Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) General Manager Tony Cunningham have been criticized for a bond delay and an extra $2.9 million in debt obtained by GRU.
Ernesto Martinez, 75, a Gainesville resident who has been watching GRU for a long time, said he thinks the extra debt from the bond delay recently discovered is a disaster.
GRU proposed a bond validation process on the agenda to validate the legal rights of the GRUA. This process is meant to manage a $1.8 billion debt portfolio while overseeing its expenses and compliance with legal and regulatory obligations within the court system.
However, if the bond validation fails, it could cost the company millions, increasing costs to GRU.
GRUA passed the agenda as presented. But Vice Chair James Coats IV proposed to add to the agenda to discuss the attorney, rate increase, the general fund transfer and Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) General Manager Tony Cunningham’s employment. Coats' proposal was turned down by the rest of the board.
“What was most interesting is that the things that I brought up that we should do were turned down, he said. “Then the members who turned them down said we should do that. It makes no sense.”
He said he felt isolated as he stated the adoptions he wanted to add to the agenda with no support from other board members.
After his motion to add items to the agenda four times did not receive a second, Coats asked the board to vote on his resignation. The rest of the board members said they didn’t want him to resign and agreed he was an asset to the board.
This was the second meeting of the newly sworn-in GRUA board at the GRU building. On Oct. 4, the new members of the GRUA appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis — James Coats IV, Robert Karow, Eric Lawson and Craig Carter — were sworn in.
The fifth member still has not been appointed to the board since Dr. Tara Ezzell resigned because she lives outside of Gainesville city limits and does not pay for GRU’s electrical services.
Jo Beaty, a Gainesville resident who attends almost every meeting, said she thought the meeting went a lot better than expected, agreeing with a board member she doesn’t typically see eye to eye with.
“I was glad to see Mr. Coats was trying to do the right thing and get them engaged,” she said. “I felt that though I was disappointed, they didn't honor his request and second his motion.”
The board decided to hold a workshop in two weeks to discuss items that were not listed on the agenda on topics they felt needed conversation.
The workshop will be open to the public as informational only. No public comment will be allowed.
Chair Craig Carter apologized to Coats during the meeting saying that he had not added some items to the agenda because he didn’t know what to expect. However, he said he thinks the workshop is important and that it was evident by the outcome of tonight’s meeting.
“To make sure we respect each other on the board and understand what each board member brings because every one of them brings something important,” he said.
Also discussed during the meeting was the trunked radio station and the decision to move forward with negotiating the purchase and sale agreement. The board motioned to start negotiating to sell the public safety radio system.
GRU initiated the construction of the Public Safety Radio System in 1999 and has been responsible for its operation, serving all public safety agencies in Alachua County for over two decades.
In 2022 agreements were made to have discussions about selling the public safety road system. In late June 2023, the City of Gainesville sanctioned the “Interlocal Agreement between Alachua County and the City of Gainesville for the Acquisition of the Trunked Radio System.” In September 2023, the Alachua County Commission and the City of Gainesville decided to extend the agreement until December 2023 to provide staff additional time to finalize the sale agreement and present to the GRUA and the Alachua County Commission for approval.
Another concern raised throughout the meeting was the budget plans for the upcoming year.
Edward Bielarksi, previous General Manager of GRU, said the board keeps talking about next year’s budget but is forgetting about this year’s budget.
“I have a sense of urgency that they don't have that drives me nuts, quite frankly,” he said.
The budget calendar states the first meeting that will discuss debt is in January 2024.
The board will meet again for the workshop in two weeks, and Carter said during the meeting that the topics that they discuss will probably end up being on their agenda for the next meeting. The next meeting that will allow public comment will be the first Wednesday of December.
“It seems to me that they are dancing around the issues here,” Bielarksi said.