1200 Weimer Hall | P.O. Box 118405
Gainesville, FL 32611
(352) 392-5551

A service of the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida.

© 2024 WUFT / Division of Media Properties
News and Public Media for North Central Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Gainesville commissioners approve ordinance allowing public to vote on GRU Authority’s fate in November

Janice Garry, president of the League of Women Voters in Alachua County, and Bobby Mermer, coordinator of the Alachua County Labor Coalition, embrace after the Gainesville City Commission passed an ordinance to ask voters in November a question about GRU governance. (Matthew Cupelli/WUFT News)

Celebration erupted in city hall Thursday as the Gainesville City Commission unanimously passed an ordinance giving voters the choice to dissolve the Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority and return control of Gainesville’s utilities to elected commissioners.

It was a celebration so enthusiastic that Mayor Harvey Ward asked the most enthusiastic to head outside the auditorium.

The ordinance allows voters to repeal Section 7 of the city charter, which establishes the GRU Authority, whose members are appointed by Florida's governor. The vote will take place on Election Day, Nov. 5.

Before the vote, nearly a dozen people spoke in favor of the ordinance. Commissioner Bryan Eastman emphasized the Commissioner’s "responsibility to put this on the ballot in November" given the public support.

Many of those in attendance, such as Janice Garry, felt the current board is unresponsive to Gainesville residents. Garry said the time allotted for public comment at GRU Authority meetings is short, reflecting a disinterest in the community's input.

“They have no obligation and no oversight to GRU listen to customers,” Garry said.

(Matthew Cupelli/WUFT News)
Mayor Harvey Ward listens as Wes Wheeler voices his support for the ordinance on Thursdsay. “Putting referendums before the citizens is an essential right of the citizens in the state of Florida,” Wheeler said. “There is nothing in HB 1645 that says you can't do that.” (Matthew Cupelli/WUFT News)

Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry, who authored the state legislation that created the GRU Authority, questioned the legal foundation of the decision.

“My observation is that their attempt is contradictory to state law,” Clemons said. He said he doubts the issue will ultimately appear on the ballot, following a likely court challenge.

Meanwhile, Ward addressed concerns about the ordinance's legality, stating that multiple attorneys, including the City Attorney, had confirmed its legal standing.

“There is plenty of legal support out there,” he said.

Additionally, Ward said if the Florida Legislature didn’t want the City Commission to put the issue to a vote, it would have prohibited the commission from doing so when it first amended the city charter.

Kiersten Ballou, who works for a law firm representing GRU, spoke against the ordinance. She criticized its vagueness, saying it "does not give voters an adequate understanding of what is being changed."

One member of the public, Alex Hood, pointed out the only people who spoke against the ordinance have “a vested financial interest” in the continuation of the GRU Authority.

Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut was pleased to see public support for the ordinance so far.

“I think quite simply,” she said, “this can be summed up in one word: democracy.”

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