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Gainesville city commissioners discuss possible ballot question about GRU Authority

The Gainesville City Commission discusses how soon the decision from the ballot would go into effect if voters were to approve it. City Attorney Daniel Nee said it could be effective almost immediately after the election. (Layne Know/WUFT News)
The Gainesville City Commission discusses how soon the decision from the ballot would go into effect if voters were to approve it. City Attorney Daniel Nee said it could be effective almost immediately after the election. (Layne Know/WUFT News)

Gainesville city commissioners on Thursday discussed an ordinance that would affect how Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority board members are appointed.

Discussion centered around asking voters in November to approve a change to a part of the city charter that deals with the control structure of the city’s utility system.

The ordinance would allow for an option on the ballot on who will have governance over the city's utilities. Discussion for the ballot referendum included a choice of allowing citizens to have a say in who will be on the GRU authority board. Currently the governor appoints the board members.

City Commissioner Bryan Eastman believes that a simple vote of yes or no would be preferred on the ballot.

“There is a will of reform at GRU for commission to talk about governance in a much broader way, I would prefer this ballot language is simple and they can continue the discussion of what GRU looks like in the future,” he said.

Control over the city’s utility has been a source of controversy for years, and in 2023, the Florida Legislature passed a bill that took it out of the city commission’s hands. Instead, the new law gave the governor the power to appoint a five-member authority that makes decisions about the utility. That shift has had immediate impacts on the relationship between the city and utility.

City Commissioner Ed Book expressed the support he has received via emails of the ballot addendum.

“The Alachua County Labor Coalition supports putting this on the ballot as the direction was given,” said Dr. Bobby Mermer, the coalition’s coordinator.

He echoed Eastman’s request of keeping the wording of the ballot question clean. This would allow voters to fully understand exactly what they are voting on.

City Attorney Daniel Nee expressed that a timeline needs to be in place to make deadlines for the ordinance. This timeline would need to include a meeting with the supervisor of elections' office to know there will be a ballot referendum, a deadline of the actual ballot language and drafting the referendum language itself.

Nee wants to get an understanding from county election officials about the charter amendment process and plans to let the city commissioners know dates for when actions can be taken place as soon as he hears back.

“This will be a long process,” said Mayor Harvey Ward. “I don’t expect anything to happen quickly.”

City commissioners are aware of the timetable needed if they want the ordinance to be on the ballot for the fall election. They hope to see a draft as soon as April 4.

“I like the idea of November,” City Commissioner Casey Willits said about whether the ballot should be put in the August primary election or the November general election.

“If the idea is that we want to bring it back to the people of Gainesville and the largest pool of voters possible this would be in a presidential year and that makes me feel the best about it,” he said.

Layne is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.