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Updated: Bielarski fired at General Policy Committee, announces he’s running for mayor

Ed Bielarski

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

At today’s City of Gainesville General Policy Committee (GPC) meeting, the published agenda did not indicate that Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) General Manager Ed Bielarski’s job would be on the line, but Commissioner Harvey Ward had hinted strongly last week that he would soon be leading an effort to fire him.

During the adoption of the agenda, Ward asked to move member comment to the top of the agenda, following the approval of the minutes. No public comment was taken on the motion to adopt the agenda as modified; when Nathan Skop, a citizen in attendance, questioned whether they would take public comment on adoption of the agenda, which is standard at these meetings, Mayor Lauren Poe replied that it was “an administrative item.”

Once the minutes were approved, Ward began, “The fair thing to do for our neighbors, my colleagues, staff, the other charter officers, Mr. Bielarski, is to be very clear about my thought process.” Ward said he had already told Bielarski that he thinks highly of him personally and that GRU’s employees are “phenomenal.” He continued, “The consistent, over-arching direction from the commission to [Bielarski] has been three-fold: One, deliver the most reliable, economical utility service you possibly can to our neighbors; two, take care of your people on our behalf; and three, move us to 100% renewable energy production… Notably and credibly, Ed successfully and creatively saved our city $900 million and changed the Deerhaven Renewable plant from a rarely used curiosity into one of our least expensive, most productive energy producers. That was in 2017, and it remains a very big deal. It was an audacious and audaciously successful effort.”

However, Ward said, “Sadly, since then we have missed – big – on three other large ventures.” He said that a proposed partnership with FPL in 2019-20 “essentially disappeared.” He said he had been “thrilled” about a Power Purchase Agreement for a 50MW solar installation: “This is exactly the sort of thing we’ve been asking for as a commission and a community. As the process moved on, however, it became apparent that our partner, and as a result, we, had not done the proper due diligence with the community surrounding the installation… This has been a blow to our City’s efforts at promoting and achieving racial equity and to our progress toward 100% renewable energy production.” 

Ward said that the third issue was GRU’s failure to make the short list for UF’s Central Energy Project: “Ed told the commission in a tense meeting in September that he was certain he was the right man to lead this project forward and that he felt strongly that we would be successful.” Ward’s comments last Thursday on Bielarski’s failure to provide a report to the city commission about why GRU did not make the short list were the first public indication that he hoped to gain enough support from the other commissioners to fire Bielarski. 

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Ward concluded, “It is completely acceptable to swing big, and I encourage it. But if we swing and miss, we can’t pretend we were never up to bat and quietly move on to the next game… I don’t expect the trend is going to turn around… Missing the [100% renewable energy by 2045] goal is unacceptable… Now is the time to build an operation where both sides of the house are working in the same direction, rather than competing for resources… I move now that we terminate Mr. Bielarski’s contract immediately.”

Commissioner Reina Saco immediately seconded the motion.

Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said she thought a GPC meeting “may not be the proper forum” for terminating charter officers, and she asked Interim City Attorney Dan Nee whether GPC has that authority. Nee replied that it was a “properly noticed meeting of the city commission” and that terminating charter officers is not on the list of prohibited actions at GPC meetings. 

Duncan-Walker asked Ward to “bring this matter before a general commission meeting” because not many people listen to GPC meetings. Ward replied that the issue “has been in the paper” (he neglected to say that there was no notice that it would come up at this particular meeting) and “essentially went out to 800 GRU staffers this morning, means that people are fully aware. They may not be aware of the motion, but they’re aware of the issue… There’s been a lot of chatter.”

Duncan-Walker continued that she gets concerned “when we, as a body, give direction to our staff, and they meet the benchmarks, and we turn around and we say that’s not good enough” and that she would not support the motion.

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, who attended the meeting via Zoom after filing an affidavit, said he agreed with Ward’s concerns: “I do think it’s time that we move into a new direction… I support the motion.”

Commissioner David Arreola pointed out that Commissioner-elect Cynthia Chestnut was in the audience, unable to vote, but would be sworn in on February 17: “I don’t think this is good form, so I can’t support the motion.”

Poe, who led the unsuccessful effort to fire Bielarski in September 2021, said, “I appreciate the structure that Commissioner Ward laid out and how he approached this decision. When I first brought this matter up, it was for different reasons… for me, we need to have the right people in the right place at the right time. And I believe, for a significant amount of time, when Mr. Bielarski came on board with the City, he was that person… I also do not believe that he is that person right now. I am more concerned about his management style, his ability to work collaboratively with this elective body as well as advisory boards, his ability to work collaboratively with his charter officer colleagues. And again, that is not any sort of indictment of his character or who he is as a person.”

Poe continued, “We are moving in an incredible trajectory as a City… and the only way that we achieve these community goals is to have six charter officers that are completely collaborative, and they are able to take this body’s direction and vision and work towards accomplishing it successfully and sustainably. I think that Ed will be a great fit and a great hire at any number of utilities around this country. I will give him an excellent recommendation. I just don’t feel, and haven’t for some time, that he is the right fit for Gainesville right now and as we move forward… This is a decision I wish we had made several months ago so we could already have been moving in that direction.”

“This reckless, irresponsible, and unwarranted action will not be viewed positively by the credit rating agencies” – Nathan Skop

During public comment, attorney and former Florida Public Service Commissioner Nathan Skop said,  “This reckless, irresponsible, and unwarranted action will not be viewed positively by the credit rating agencies… you want ‘yes’ people. You don’t like the fact that he tells you what you need to know rather than what you want to hear… You should demand your own resignation, Commissioner Ward… You talk about racial equity. Dumping a solar project in the back yard of a historic, rural African-American community is not equity, Commissioner Ward. Blaming Ed for that is unwarranted. And again, Rule 7: ‘the purpose and intent of this committee is to allow the mayor and commission to discuss general policy matters that are referred to the committee during a regular or special commission meeting.’ There was no referral to fire Mr. Bielarski. It’s an improper forum.”

“I do not feel that it was honest to put something on an agenda and then throw in something as serious as this because people would have planned to be here if they had known.” – Jenn Powell

Jenn Powell, representing CWA 3170, the union that represents the employees of the City of Gainesville and GRU, said the president of the union was not present, and since the item was not on the agenda, he didn’t know he needed to make arrangements to be there. She read a  statement from the president, Robert Arnold, saying the proposed “termination… gives us grave concerns over the stability of GRU.” He pointed out that when Bielarski’s termination was on the agenda on September, speakers were “overwhelmingly” in favor of keeping Bielarski. That meeting went until 1:30 a.m., with people staying through the whole meeting and still calling in at the end. She said employees are concerned and that she was concerned about people quitting. She concluded, “I do not feel that it was honest to put something on an agenda and then throw in something as serious as this because people would have planned to be here if they had known.”

“I’m very concerned about what kind of person, what kind of employee we will attract. Gainesville’s name is just being drug through the mud. We are becoming known as the City that is an interim. We are an interim City because we have interim employees.” – Commissioner-elect Cynthia Chestnut

Commissioner-elect Chestnut said, “Mr. Bielarski was given a very impossible task in trying to negotiate with the University of Florida, and that’s why we were given a [low rating] in looking at our debt. We were doomed from the beginning to get that contract, doomed… To spring this on us, I think, is unfortunate, and it’s not fair to the citizens. It’s not fair to the employees… they’re at work. We want them at work… This is not fair today, the attorney… said … it would need to be a referral… from the commission. This is not a referral… I think the strong thing to do… is to face the people… Don’t do it in a meeting that is not really something the public can participate in… Finally, I’m very concerned about what kind of person, what kind of employee we will attract. Gainesville’s name is just being drug through the mud. We are becoming known as the City that is an interim. We are an interim City because we have interim employees.”

“This … is absolutely wrong, it’s not the day that it should be discussed because had other people known, this room would have been packed, and outside… Our community is in an uproar right now.” – Evelyn Foxx

Evelyn Foxx, president of the local NAACP, said, “This caught me by surprise today. I had no idea this was on the agenda… This … is absolutely wrong, it’s not the day that it should be discussed because had other people known, this room would have been packed, and outside… Our community is in an uproar right now.” She pointed out that a majority of the commission will change this fall, and “I think some of these decisions should be made by the new commissioners.”

Robin Baxley, Bielarski’s assistant, called to speak in support of Bielarski: “Today I’m just sad… He’s working on these issues that you’re asking him to work on, but he’s taking a slow, methodical approach… trying to make sure we get it right… The last thing 800 GRU employees need is more uncertainty, more turmoil.”

Jennifer Jones called the action “a complete ambush… This shows your true colors as a commission.”

When the discussion came back to the commission, Poe asked to add the appointment of Tony Cunningham as Interim General Manager to the motion. Arreola disagreed and wanted to appoint GRU CFO Claudia Rasnick, but he did not succeed in bringing that to a vote. Ward also changed the motion to indicate that they were firing Bielarski “without cause.”

At that point, the call-taker indicated that he had more callers on the line, but Poe would not let them speak, saying it was the same motion and they had already taken public comment. 

“I will tell you that the actions you’re taking are scaring the living boots off employees… You say that you care about the employees, but the employees follow my leadership, we do the things that make it a safe, reliable utility… we do our job, we do it well… One thing I got from Commissioner Ward was swing big…. I’ll swing big. I’ll run for mayor.” – Ed Bielarski

Bielarski spoke to the commission, saying, “We’ve had our differences and some of them have been more dramatic than others, but I think I will leave the utility in a better place than when I first came here… The last time I was in this position… hearing all the love I got from my folks was, really, in a lot of ways, the end of the story. There didn’t need to be any more. I had accomplished what I wanted to do, I had turned the utility around… I feel their love… It’s why I fight every day… I will tell you that the actions you’re taking are scaring the living boots off employees… You say that you care about the employees, but the employees follow my leadership, we do the things that make it a safe, reliable utility… we do our job, we do it well… I say what I think, I mean what I say, and say what I mean… There’s certain regulatory restrictions that stop this from being the One City on a shining hill that you all want. There’s one thing that gets in the way of that, it’s the city charter… We do communicate, we don’t do each others’ jobs… One thing I got from Commissioner Ward was swing big…. I’ll swing big. I’ll run for mayor.”

The vote to terminate Bielarski was 4-2, with Duncan-Walker and Arreola in dissent.

The City, which has six charter officers, now has four interim charter officers: Interim City Manager Cynthia Curry; Interim Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director Zeriah Folston; Interim City Attorney Dan Nee; and now Interim GRU General Manager Tony Cunningham, assuming contract negotiations are successful.

Commissioners indicated at a recent meeting that their intention is to keep all the interims in their positions until a new commission is elected this fall. City Auditor Ginger Bigbie and City Clerk Omichele Gainey (who resigned and then rescinded her resignation in September 2021) are the non-interim charter officers. Curry made major personnel moves at City Hall on January 10, including moving Police Chief Tony Jones over to City Hall as Interim Chief Operating Officer of the City and moving Director of Public Works Phil Mann to a special assignment as a special advisor to the City Manager. 

  • So, you’re the manager of the most incompetent, most hated organization in town and you’re going to use that popularity as a launching point for a political career? Yeah, it could work in Gainesville.

  • This lousy city commission management is right out of the Biden/Harris playbook. He didn’t cause the problems at GRU, our mayors Poe and Hanrahan did by ramming in the biomass plant contrary to public opinion.

    • Exactly. I think this could end badly at CityComm if Ed can as nasty as they are. Let’s hear the truth about Gainesville.

        • The reason GRU lost the UF Central Plant bid is because of massive debt because of massive GFT because of innumerate (majority) city commission!
          The folks who should be fired are Ward & Poe!
          Imagine a Mayor who understands GRU & responsible corporate finances! What a blessing that would be! Another blessing is term-limits this fall for Poe, Ward & Adrian H-S
          This commission is settling scores everywhere before being term-limited! The “interim” city manager, Cynthia Curry, is a hit-person, firing everyone who she comes across @ city hall with a score to be settled!
          So far Ed B has my support for Mayor! There may be another candidate announce but so far Ed B is the only candidate with a track record of accomplishment & financial acumen!

    • You are correct. Poe is the reason why GRU was not able to get the contract. Ward is just as much a low-life as Poe. Karma will get both of them in the end.

    • Don’t forget the FIT Feed-In-Transfer that GRU pays 10-20 times the going rate for the privilege of Buying these people, like Queen Peking Hanrahan, solar electricity. Request her public GRU bill and some of the other democrap elites, your see they pay NOTHING to GRU! Actually get a credit! Absurd. Like GRU needs their electricity! Dump this crap that Poe endorses and help pass as a commissioner.

  • They’re panicking because they know Chestnut will soon be there to start dissecting them like fetal pigs in a biology class.

  • If he runs for mayor he’s got my vote. Anything to push Two Faced Harvey’s vein on his head to explode and besides, wouldn’t it be great to see the two of them work together.

  • I think I saw GFR going towards City Hall…cross your fingers, rub your rabbit’s foot & pray to whatever entity you pray to.

  • Can’t wait for the State Auditors start cleaning house too! I do think Belarski was just an extremly overpaid “yes man” whipping post keeping the Commissioners Giddy over their ill gotten gains from GRU Customers but can’t wait to see the Mud to get slung and knock down drag out Mayors race.

  • Ward is just as dirty and nasty as Poe. I do hope the truth will prevail in the end.

  • If there’s any justice in the world, Two Face Harvey and Porkin’ Poe’s electricity will go out Friday night. Who am I kidding? They would probably just cuddle…
    Let’s go Poe!

  • GRU is a BIOMESS! More carbon emissions, aquifer water hog and atrocious smell from fermenting wood chips being hauled on my large trucks on the highway all times of the day. And GCC is a cash hog leading the biomess to more funding for feral personal projects. They deserve the implosion!

  • thinking about bio-mess: what happens to all that wood-ash leftover from burning all those trees? That stuff can’t possibly be environmentally benign! What kind of environmental nightmare lurks in that ash-heap?

  • If there ever was an election cycle where Bielarski could pull out a win – this is the year. Everyday more and more people are unhappy where we are heading… which will drive turnout in November. I’m a Republican, but I’ll gladly support Mr. Bielarski. He’s an effective leader – judging from the comments of his employees.

  • The video is now up on the cityofgainesville.org website under the Agenda and Minutes tab.

  • Gainesville is getting what it deserves because their 13% voters don’t care and they get incompetent Democrats to run the city into the ground. They need more social justice and bicycle paths over there.

  • Not a soul in town would re-elect Poe, Ward, or Hayes-, the ignorant ones on the commission who mistakenly believe their grandiose dreams are becoming reality! They have to be the stupidest and most ignorant to walk the earth. Completely carbon neutral and zero deaths from car accidents will not happen anytime in their sick lives. They’ve all got one thing in common: no day job. No wonder! Who would want these self-proclaimed “municipal experts” on their management team? NOBODY!

    • Sad to say there are many idiot lemmings in Gainesville who will continue to vote and follow these 3 over a cliff. I wish there was a cliff closer than the one the community will be going over in a couple years because of their corrupt fiscal incompetence.

    • The Sun editorial page and the many people in town who think in lockstep with their viewpoint would back all three for election to whatever position they might desire.

  • Ward stated, “The consistent, over-arching direction from the commission to [Bielarski] has been three-fold: One, deliver the most reliable, economical utility service you possibly can to our neighbors; two, take care of your people on our behalf; and three, move us to 100% renewable energy production… Notably and credibly, Ed successfully and creatively saved our city $900 million…” And somehow, the idiot commissioners have squandered any savings achieved.

    Ward has the brains of a peanut and the balls of a eunuch, no wonder he hides behind a mask.

  • You guys all missed the big elephant in the room…
    Where does “become 100% renewable come from
    By 2045”? I’m an environmentalist…I did not come
    Up with that, did the citizens vote for that?, did DeSantis
    And the State of Fl mandate that?, did Trump mandate that
    Before Brandon? The answer is No. Did our local
    City officials take a loyalty oath of office to uphold the
    State & US constitutions? Yes. Then why are they taking
    Orders from a foreign government? That government being the United Nations. It was Hanrahan who ruined
    Our utility by trying to comply with Kyoto Protocol and
    Then went to biomass because it was supposed to
    Have lower CO2 emissions and it doesn’t. You’ve all
    Been duped by the “big lie”. Schwab from the World
    Economic Forum (WEF) said “the pandemic was the
    Perfect cover to implement the great reset”…you
    Missed the forrest because they’re putting it in the
    Tree burner…quarantines resulted in a 7% reduction
    In CO2 emissions and they want to lock us all down for
    Another 10years. The great reset is about regulating
    CO2 emissions (control), stopping climate change,
    It has social justice elements…it’s about a new world
    Order, global totalitarianism, the taking away of freedom,
    Liberty, private property rights, the right to defend yourself….they are using medical tyranny and a global psychological operation (psy ops) fear campaign to control
    The brainwashed masses using main stream media (MSM)… they want to change the current reality on
    The planet and do a paradigm shift to the 4th Industrial
    Revolution…they want to “wet ware” you…in essence
    Make you transhuman, an android, to interface directly
    With the internet to control you. Quantum computers,
    artificial intelligence, and facial recognition. Social justice
    Scores, quarantines, universal basic income, redistribution of wealth, go to cashless society…you will
    Not be able to engage in commerce if you don’t comply.
    It’s the most advanced system of slavery ever devised
    By man. Remember that your rights are inalienable.
    Be the resistance! Fight for freedom, liberty, & the US
    Constitution…all it takes is for a few good people to do
    Nothing for tyranny to take hold. Say no to vaccine
    Mandates and masks…now is the time for all good people to come to the aid of their country… they ruined
    The dollar & the economy…that’s all part of the plan…

    • All civilizations pass through the following sequences:
      From bondage to spiritual faith.
      From great courage to liberty.
      From liberty to abundance.
      THEN…..
      From abundance to selfishness.
      From selfishness to complacency.
      From complacency to apathy.
      From apathy to dependency.
      From dependency back into BONDAGE

  • Campaign slogans for Ed Bielarski:

    Let’s get the City out of the red, vote for change, vote for Ed.

    Time for Barbie Harvey to take a bus, it’s past time to get rid of the puss.

    Get rid of the BS & mularkey, time to vote for Bielarski.

  • The man knows the truth. He knows the true agenda of the city. I’d vote for him. Just to upturn the apple cart.

    • Although I am usually vehemently opposed to golden parachutes, if he puts it towards funding a campaign or buying Poe a train ticket I’m all for it. I especially liked what a prior commenter said about getting Ward’s vein to explode – that’s worth a campaign contribution in my book.

  • It’s so telling that Ward made the motion and Saco seconded. The two most commie members who cannot stand any lack of uniform compliance (from others). This is what’s become of the once “liberal” ex-civil liberty Dems, now taken over by rigid, irrational, bad at math commies.

    • I heard Saco freaked out and had to leave; one of the officers got her things for her while the camera was facing a different direction.

  • BIELARSKI IS A CPA. WHAT DROVE THE COMMISSION TO HIRE A CPA FOR A UTILITY MANAGER POSITION? REVENUE. BIG REVENUE. GREED DRIVEN MANAGEMENT. SORRY, BUT BIELARSKI LACKS KNOWLEDGE OF MANAGING A UTILITY SERVICE BUT CERTAINLY HAS EXPERTISE IN MANAGING THE HORRENDOUS AMOUNT OF REVENUE GENERATED FROM AN OVER-PRICED UTILITY SERVICE. THERE ARE MORE HEADS THAT NEED TO ROLL OUT THE DOOR THAN JUST BIELARSKI.

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