by Nancy Deren, on behalf of Gainesville Loves Mountains
Representative Perry’s bill, HB 1325, sounds innocent enough on the surface. It calls for a referendum vote asking yes or no to change our city charter regarding GRU’s governance and create an independent governing board.
However, the other 557 lines of this bill spell out numerous details of this board and its powers, and therein lies the danger. No bill of this nature, with this level of state intrusion into a local matter, has ever come out of Tallahassee.
Even if this bill were pared down to a yes or no question, it would still be an issue of Tallahassee imposing a referendum on us, whether we want it or not.
Our city and our county commissions unanimously opposed this bill, as does our legislative delegation chair, Representative Clovis Watson.
Our city attorney has noted that this bill has so many legal infirmities that it would result in a great deal of litigation and would threaten the city’s financial stability for multiple reasons. It constitutes a takings of our utility.
It imposes an inflexible governance structure that would claim absolute power over our city owned utility, with no accountability to anyone but itself.
HB 1325 designates an appointed committee of only business and commercial interests. This is not reflective of our community with its broad and diverse range of expertise. Our community should get to decide who the members of any advisory committee should be.
HB 1325 would do away with many policies and practices that have made us a successful city such as our aggressive conservation and efficiency programs and programs that help our most vulnerable citizens reduce their bills.
This bill usurps our authority as citizens and undermines our elected commissioners’ ability to govern responsibly and retain the flexibility necessary to deal with the increasingly complex economic and environmental challenges that lie ahead.
Our elected officials and we citizen shareholders of GRU would not be able to decide what qualifies someone to be on the new board, what powers they would be granted or what policies that board could make. We would have no way to remove someone or make changes if problems arose. Tallahassee will have decided for us what happens with our multi-million dollar city owned asset that provides more than 30% of our city budget.
Over the years, elected commissioners have been responsive to ideas, concerns and criticisms offered by citizens and our Chamber of Commerce about utility-related issues.
Commissioners, with a great deal of community input, have been actively moving forward to address current policies and procedures that need improvement or revision and researching governance structures that include a representative advisory board to review rates, policies and other GRU matters and make recommendations to the City Commission.
Representative Perry’s bill is an insult to our community and would jeopardize Gainesville’s financial viability. It does not reflect our capability and character as a university city that attracts national recognition on many fronts, including accolades for our utility. We have much to be proud of and obviously have the capability and capacity to determine what changes we want to see, and exercise good governance locally.
Please sign the petition, and tell Tallahassee to respect and protect Home Rule and oppose HB 1325.