Editor's Notes: Since this article was published, Dr. Tara Ezzell withdrew from the GRU Authority, citing she would not be qualified because she doesn't receive electricity from GRU.
On October 4, at 6:00 pm, the GRU authority recently appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis were sworn in by Mayor Harvey Ward. Tara Ezzell was not present to take the oath. Christopher “Eric” Lawson, Craig Carter, Robert Karow, and James Coats all recited the oath read aloud by Ward, swearing to uphold the constitutions of Florida and the U.S.
Following the oath, the appointees were required to select a chair and vice chair of the authority. The board came to a quick decision, with Coats nominating Carter for the position of chair and nominating himself for the position of vice chair. All members voted in favor of the nominations.
Coats requested that a prayer be added to the agenda before the next agenda item was moved. The new chair, Carter, asked the board if there were any objections, and there were none.
Tony Cunningham, the general manager of utilities for GRU, and a number of other GRU executives spoke at the meeting.
Cunningham acknowledged GRU’s debt, saying, “We have a significant amount of debt, more than an average municipal utility our size. We have worked a lot this year on a debt reduction plan... A part of that is putting significantly more of our revenues towards debt reduction.”
Cunningham outlined decisions the board had to make and made recommendations for what those decisions should be. He recommended they meet once a month at the GRU building, with the board having the ability to set additional meetings if deemed necessary.
On the basis of public comment, Cunningham recommended it every time the board takes action.
Before the board made a decision, a public comment was held for attendees of the meeting. One man brought up his concern about the meetings being held at the GRU building.
“We need to have accessibility and transparency; it needs to be more visible... and I don’t think it’s going to hurt you over the next year or so to struggle yourself to have more than one meeting a month. You have a lot to do, and I think your debt reduction plan is going to require you to educate yourself on those finances.”
Another commenter urged the board to allow public comment on general topics that are not on the meeting agenda. Other concerns brought up included bills that are late by several months and as high as $1600.
Karow acknowledged the public’s concerns about the location of the meeting; however, members of the board came to an agreement that the location would be at the GRU headquarters.
The board went on to debate the frequency of their meetings. Coats argued the meetings should be biweekly; however, the other members of the board disagreed with him. Carter said the meetings should be held on the first Wednesday of every month at 5:30 pm, with the board adding additional meetings as needed.
Carter went on to say he supports public comment on items that aren’t on the agenda, citing that it gives citizens an opportunity to address their concerns. Coats disagreed with Carter, stating, “I’m just wondering if we let that happen and it becomes a political shitshow.”
Members of the public were permitted to make comments again. The coordinator of the Alachua County Labor Coalition, Bobby Mermer, took the stand and criticized the board for having the majority of its members live outside of city limits. The House bill establishing the GRU authority requires 4 out of 5 of its members to live within Gainesville city limits. Mermer asked the new appointees to swear publicly to not sell GRU or any of its components to any private utility companies. None of the board’s members acknowledged his proposition.
Before the meeting's adjournment, city attorneys went through the ethical guidelines and legal obligations of the board.