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DeSantis appoints new GRU Authority members, including former general manager Ed Bielarski

GRU entry sign displayed on the corner of Southeast Third Street. (Micah Page/WUFT News)
GRU entry sign displayed on the corner of Southeast Third Street. (Micah Page/WUFT News)

Correction appended: A previous version of this story misstated the number of resignations from the GRU board.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday appointed five members to the GRU Authority board, following a joint resignation in March.

The new members are Ed Bielarski, former GRU general manager, Craig Carter, Eric Lawson, David Haslam and Robert “Chip” Skinner.

Carter and Lawson were previously appointed to the authority in 2023.

The Gainesville City Commission fired Bielarski from his role as general manager in 2022. He said despite their history, he intends to work with the commission to move the utility forward.

“I think that I have a history of working with folks that I haven't necessarily agreed with. I worked there for seven years prior to ultimately being terminated, accomplished a great many things,” he said.

He has a lot of goals for the utility, including building a new power plant, changing the software in customer service and expanding access to cheaper fuels.

“I certainly know where there's some efficiencies that can be gained now that we're no longer being governed by the city commission,” he said. “There's a direction we need to go.”

Current GRU general manager Tony Cunningham released a statement about the appointments, saying “We look forward to working with the returning and new Authority members to continue reducing debt and assessing ways to lower costs while also prioritizing reliability and safety. Our board members’ expertise will prove invaluable in setting a course for GRU that focuses on improving work culture and building customer trust by practicing transparent governance and making decisions based on business and utility best practices."

Susan Bottcher is the vice president of Gainesville Residents United, a citizen group that sued the state when DeSantis signed the bill that transferred oversight of GRU from the city commission to his office. The lawsuit led to the joint resignation of all four previous members of the authority in March, and kickstarted a 60-day process for the governor to appoint new members.

Bottcher declined WUFT’s request for an interview because she said Gainesville Residents United is waiting to see the result of an upcoming city commission vote.

The commission will hold a special meeting on Thursday at 1 p.m. for a second reading of an ordinance that would affect how GRU Authority members are appointed. This would give voters in November the chance to vote on whether or not to change part of the city charter that deals with the utility, potentially changing who has governance of GRU. The first reading of the ordinance passed unanimously this week. Mayor Harvey Ward said it’s important to him that citizens get to vote on the issue.

“No matter what happens, I'm one of those guys who has this crazy idea that when the people speak, we should listen to them and accept the results of an election,” he said.

Bielarski said the move to put the charter amendment on the ballot is only a “feel-good measure,” and that if passed, he expects it to be challenged in court.

“Unfortunately, I think it sets up a lot of people for disappointment,” Bielarski said “Because it will be kind of a barometer of how people feel in the city, but it won't do anything else.”

On Bielarski’s appointment, Ward said that it is currently the governor’s decision who gets appointed, but he doesn’t expect any issues working with him. Bielarski lost to Ward in the 2022 mayoral race, claiming 42% of the vote to Ward's 58%.

“Ed has lots and lots of experience in utilities, particularly the finance side of utilities. Ed and I obviously have a history, that's fine,” Ward said. “Ed's also a grownup professional, and I'm sure he'll act like one.”

Bielarski said the new members will be sworn in at the GRU office building on Thursday.

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