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Bielarski fires two members of GRU’s leadership team, eliminates role focused on sustainability

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – In a memo sent to all Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) employees on June 20, Interim CEO Ed Bielarski announced significant organizational changes, including the termination of two members of GRU’s leadership team and the elimination of a role that was created to support the City Commission’s sustainability goals.

Chief Sustainability and Reliance Officer

Bielarski announced that he had eliminated the Chief Sustainability and Reliance Officer position formerly held by Eric Walters and reorganized the Office of Sustainability and Reliance as Operational Planning and Support. The new department will report to Tom Brown, who will “review the work of this department to ensure efficiencies, productivity and compliance with state law.”

The department was created after a joint meeting of the Gainesville City Commission and Utility Advisory Board on October 26, 2021; UAB Member Wendell Porter was openly skeptical that Bielarski, who was then the General Manager of GRU, would support a new Climate Change Officer position that both boards had requested. Porter asked Bielarski, “You’ve been at loggerheads several times on this issue of climate change with us, and now this person’s going to be working for you? Give me a warm and fuzzy that that’s not going to be a real contentious thing that doesn’t go anywhere.”

Although the position and department were created, the perception that Bielarski didn’t fully support the City Commission’s goal of zero greenhouse gases by 2045 was a factor in then-City Commissioner Harvey Ward’s motion to fire Bielarski on January 27, 2022. At that meeting, Ward said, “Missing the [100% renewable energy by 2045] goal is unacceptable… I move now that we terminate Mr. Bielarski’s contract immediately.” Bielarski was fired by a vote of 4-2.

Chief Telecommunications Officer

Bielarski has also eliminated the Chief Telecommunications Officer position formerly held by Lewis Walton. GRUCom will report to Chief Information Officer Walter Banks, who will “spent the next several months evaluating how GRUCom can best serve the utility.”

Chief Operating Officer

Unlike Walters and Walton, who were fired, Chief Operating Officer Brett Goodman will “return to the Water/Wastewater Department in a different role and continue to make valuable contributions to our organization.”

“Becoming the utility our community can afford”

Bielarski wrote that the changes align with his mission of “becoming the utility our community can afford” and called the changes “difficult but necessary.” He thanked the terminated employees for their decades of service to GRU and wished them the best in their future endeavors. He wrote that he would continue to make changes as necessary and that he expects GRU to “absorb these changes and embrace them as a driving force to better serve our community.”

    • Oh no what if Big Daddy Eddy B fires me, like I fired him. Where will I get my free donuts from? If I have to buy my own donuts I will go broke.

  • And so it begins…

    The City should do the same within their walls.

  • Good News for GRU – Bielarski brings Tom Brown back to GRU!

    With Mr. Bielarski now serving as GRU/CEO/GM, our municipal utility, Once Again, will be Focusing on Reliability and Affordability.

    City Hall/The Gainesville City Commission CANNOT be fixed – possibly eliminated.

    They took a wrecking ball to GRU and now appear to be taking a wrecking ball to the City with their UNWILLINGNESS to be good stewards of taxpayers money with their growing incompetence.

    In 2005, after Pegeen Hanrahan was elected Gainesville Mayor, the city commission started running GRU as a self-serving Political Tool for the city commission, throwing our utility over the Financial Cliff, leaving GRU customers with Sky High utility bills.

    Hopefully, it is not to late to repair the damage.

    • Town Crier,
      I am sorry I cannot give you more than 1 thumb up on your post. The truth hurts. I hope readers research the past leaders actions with GRU. That will paint a clear picture of how we got to this mess. I remember how some of the general public warned us of this exact situation. They were chastised for their words. The “machine” runs deep in Alachua County.

  • If the position does not provide a better quality of service to the customer, then eliminate it.
    City hall is famous for creating ‘do nuthin’ positions like “the office of doing.”
    What kind of useless, tax money wasting position is that? Keep it lean Ed.

  • This mini-autocrat – taking the lead from the governor who will no doubt approve if he learns of it – is making political decisions now, not operational ones, and that is clearly not in his job description. That’s what commissioners do and if the leaders elected by the citizens of Gainesville want “sustainability” as one element to guide the utility, it’s not his business to do anything but his best to include that in the operations. If he or anyone else wants to dump “sustainability”, win a GD election for a change!

    Hopefully this little Napoleon gets fired by somebody and quick.

    • Too bad you and the rest of commissioners can’t fire him anymore! You are the autocrats who lost control. Please stop!

    • Seems he’s doing what’s best for GRU, not the City Commission, “elimination of a role that was created to support the City Commission’s sustainability goals.”

      Bielarski wrote that the changes align with his mission of “becoming the utility our community can afford” and called the changes “difficult but necessary.”

      You seem to have issues with making GRU more affordable for everyone.
      By the way, in some ways conservatives did win an election, the results are currently residing in the Governor’s mansion in Tallahassee. Do like most of us do with respect to local leadership, gripe and whine about it, or shut up and win an election.

      • It is not the GRU Chairman’s job to make decisions about the overall goals of GRU. That’s the owner’s job, and they are the citizens who elect their leaders. Belarski ran and lost! In a democracy he doesn’t get to set goals and policy, but to only do his best to efficiently run GRU within those goals and policies set by others. Tell me why I’m wrong about that, and yeah, I know you don’t like the current commissioners and can’t get it up to elect new ones.

        The fact that all you here only cheer outcomes without any thought to principles – if you have one, let’s hear it – means you have none.

        • The overall goals of the Authority (formerly GRU) are no longer dictated by the city commission. Moreover, Ed’s HR decisions are much in line to that of the city manager’s doing the same with the assistant city managers that were fired— to align with the new direction of the organization. It’s clear that you don’t understand basic principles yourself.

          • 1. The “Authority” issued no such directive, so no, right now it no one’s goal but Herr Bielarski’s and that’s not in his job description.

            2. If the “Authority” does issue such a directive, it to will be a violation of the goals approved of by GHRU’s owners through elections. The legality of that remains to be seen, but anyone who believes in both property rights and democracy should oppose that theft by those who were never elected by the owners.

          • Wrong and wrong— the people didn’t vote for the goals around sustainability as those are commission-driven and confirm that the people were lied to and continue to be lied to by the city commission. Operating based on egos and self-interests, including those of your friends and cronies, are not in support of the people. The fact that you think your goals that were passed on from previous commissioners trump state law and this new direction by the Authority says a lot. The goal of the Authority is to attempt to repair the financial health and future of the utilities including ridding previous goals and initiatives that seek to deter the current goal to rebuild from financial ruins. The only sustainability we should be concerned with is that of the utilities to be able to continue to operate and even exists, which it wasn’t under the city commission’s governance. It was a fast sinking ship. Ed has taken steps towards stopping the hemorrhaging.

          • Jazz,

            You are the one trying again. You want a do over on your terms.

            There was an election.

            You can’t deny it. You may not like the results. But the votes were counted and certified.

            And you lost.

            Surely, you are not an election denier.

      • You, the citizens of Gainesville own GRU not the state. Your comment is irrelevant.

        “What’s best for GRU” depends on it’s goals. If the citizens of Gainesville want that to include providing utilities with a path to sustainability , that’s their business, not the Governor’s or the chairman of GRU. If you don’t like that goal, elect new commissioners.

        • You keep telling us that but as owners we’ve never asked for utility increases. In fact, we asked them to stop – they didn’t care. So shut up about, “citizens of Gainesville own GRU.”

          It’s the chairman’s job to make the business profitable and return equity to it’s owners; in ways that have already been mentioned.
          The commissioners haven’t been doing that otherwise GRU wouldn’t be in the financial predicament it’s in.

          Too bad you don’t like the fact that someone had to step in. You can liken it to the State taking children away from parents who can’t care for their children the way they’re supposed to or is that difficult to understand through you indoctrinations?

          Currently, it’s your king Ward and cronies who are irrelevant with respect to running GRU. Don’t like it? Shut up and elect a new governor or do like the commissions do, keep crying.

          • Of course no one wants to pay more for anything, but in a democracy you don’t tell commissioners by writing here but by winning elections. Try it sometime.

            GRU has the same credit rating as FPL, the organization which helped reelect their boy Perry with illegal contributions. The Fl Public Service Commission oversees rates, not the House Rep from Newberry of the opposing and hostile party which is grabbing more and more power from local governments all over the state. WAKE UP!

            The state doesn’t own GRU, the city does, so who the governor is should be irrelevant to it’s operation unless criminal level malfeasance has occurred. It hasn’t and you know it.

            I live in the county and don’t even know who the commissioners are and have no allegiance to them or the mayor.

            Your last sentence proves my point above:
            “The fact that all you here only cheer outcomes without any thought to principles – if you have one, let’s hear it – means you have none.”

          • You’re a liar about not knowing who the commissioners are.
            You’re allegiances? Maybe that just depends who’s offering you the most on any given day.
            An election was won, he’s the person you keep whining about. Your next opportunity – 2026.

          • Didn’t know you were mind reader. No wonder you win all the arguments with yourself.

          • Your simple mind and the direction it’s going makes it easy. Try to have a nice day, even if you have difficulties remembering things.

        • One other thing in case you haven’t noticed – looks like the Governor some of us elected, trumps the people you elected.
          Deal with it, you’re stuck with him for 2 more years. Unless you’re like the other liberal hypocrites who said they’d move if Trump was elected.

          • Read article one, section one of the Florida Constitution:

            —All political power is inherent in the people.

            Not the governor numbnuts, the people!

          • And who’s the Governor that was just reelected to a 4 year term by an overwhelming margin.
            Just think, we could have been stuck with the guy who lost his clothes in South Florida or the other guy who can’t make up his mind.
            I guess the latter falls right in line with some. Maybe you have that issue as well. It’s 🚺 or 🚹, not 🤔

          • They know this Paulie but can’t help cheering a result with no thought to the law, precedent, or principle.

          • We know this too…
            Ron DeSantis is the Governor of Florida.
            Joe Biden is the President of the United States.
            🚹 = Boys.
            🚺 = Girls.
            There’s no “in between.”

          • Your being redundant, so I guess I should be too:

            “The fact that all you here only cheer outcomes without any thought to principles – if you have one, let’s hear it – means you have none.”

        • Yes, the problem with your logic is that the citizens of Gainesville did not want that path— you (the city commission) did.

          • Then the “Citizens of Gainesville” you claim should make that clear in an election.

        • It’s sad and weird that all of a sudden the city commission cares about the people or their input (voices) with this false narrative about “ownership” when all decisions were made irrespective of the people’s voices and valid concerns by the same city commission. These same owners tried to stop the downward spiral that is today but they didn’t have a say over the autocratic city commission. Seems to be a tactic now to get back control of the utilities and not genuine or true based on historical decision making and exclusion of the same people/owners you speak of. Typical politician! Repeat something so much, you and others start to believe it to be true. Try again with the false narrative meant to get people riled up based on your selfish interests and ideology. It wasn’t a true ownership under the city commission as the people were not heard or even considered in decision making.

          • Please tell us what is false about stating that GRU belongs to the citizens of Gainesville and how they elected the current commission and the ones preceding it. You and the few unprincipled right wing loud mouths on this board are not somehow the real voice of the citizens of Gainesville. Neither am I, but their intent is known through multiple elections. There is no other way to do it in a democracy.

            Win an election in the town that owns GRU and I’ll shut up.

        • Do the customers outside of city limits have any voice in what happens with GRU?

          Or do citizens of the city have complete control over everyone outside the city limits.

          I would love it if GRU services stop at the city line.

          Many of us would be happy getting our power from someone besides GRU.

          • No, customers outside the city limits have no say in GRU policy, though the Florida Public Service Commission is tasked with overseeing rates. That is the same no matter what utility company serves you.

  • Used to be, someone analyzing a company’s efficiency would ask, “what do you do for the organization that adds value or increases efficiency?”

    Now it’s more likely they ask, “what protected minority group do you belong to?”

    Don’t want to lay off the wrong person or the company will get sued.

  • The focus MUST be on financial sustainability for GRU AND Ratepayers. The GRU organization-wide hemorrhaging of Ratepayer funds into City coffers directly AND indirectly must stop now.

    • Jim, you ran for office and lost – it wasn’t close. Your declaration of what “must stop now” carries no weight.

      • That’s a personal attack, Mr. Jazzman. Thought you didn’t condone those…please speak to Mr. Konish’s facts.

        • What is not a fact about my post? He ran for the Gainesville City Commission, lost (and it was not close), and his opinion – like me and you – carries no weight otherwise, though he declares in his post what “must” happen.

          Unlike you, I did not pretend to read Jim’s mind, or like many others here do, reference imagined sexual behaviors by him. Never do, never will. That’s for middle schoolers and people with no argument.

          • Seems to me that Jim is one of those “owners” you keep praising that has ownership in the utility and able to make calls in the direction the utility takes, unlike you. You are an obnoxious loud mouth know it all self important wanna be that stated above that you dont even live in the city and “dont even know the commissioners”

      • Seems to me that Jim is one of those “owners” you keep praising that has ownership in the utility and able to make calls in the direction the utility takes, unlike you. You are an obnoxious loud mouth know it all self important wanna be that stated above that you dont even live in the city and “dont even know the commissioners”

  • Bielarski is the one that’s going to get fired after the referendum passes this election day.

    • Have you even read it. How is going to be fired. It doesn’t take effect on the day if the election numbnut.

    • Please explain to me how this referendum can change State Law? Besides, you really want the City Commission to go back to running GRU into the ground?

      • The state legislature and the governor cannot do whatever they want – though the current ones try to – so courts will ultimately decide if the referendum passes or suit is otherwise brought. Given that they forced retirement on some SC justices and then packed it with DeSantis appointments, the courts are not likely to be fair minded, but that’s our system and we’ll – citizens of Florida who’s local governments have been pre opted time and time again by the big government GOP – will have to abide by it.

    • The city commissioners will remain fired from governing the utilities. The wool has been pulled back — the media stories and doomsday spin has gotten tiring now. People know the truth as they were never treated as owners or considered as such until the city commission lost control of the utilities. The manipulation is next level.

  • Ed is GRU HR and Liquidity Facilities ONLY. EVERYTHING else must be brought before the ATHORITY’S Members. Authority members ( not “Directors”) have usurped virtually all powers of the pre-Article VII City Commission AND most powers of the Sec. 3.06 City Charter GRU GM. This is why the word “Authority” is used. There has been a reorganization of the governance structure of the management of GRU. The previous GRU governance paradigm has been repudiated and replaced with Sec. 7.12 to the chagrin of the miscreants who ran GRU into the ditch we must get out of soon. All Authority members are equal. Lawson merely runs the meeting and sets the agenda with Ed. Lawson would be well advised to not allow anyone to filibuster ANY agenda item This will facilitate discussion not merely providing an audience to someone grandstanding.

    • Your post is dead on accurate regarding the working of the Authority, though not your characterization of how they took over. It was a power play by the state GOP led by outsider carpetbaggers, not elected officials of Gainesville as you have previously claimed.

    • Especially, now that he won’t have to bend over backwards trying to please City Commissioners who wanted to bleed GRU dry and instead now answers to a board of business professionals.

  • Upon deleting these 2 executive positions, how much will the utility save in salary and benefits per year?

  • The “sustainability” craze began when Climate Cult whipped up the “peak oil” myth. As years ensued since, we’ve discovered the Earth keeps producing oil and gas, there’s no limits. And the carbon neutral sect was dreamed up to fund more Dem NGO campaign donors thru Biden style shell companies.
    Why can’t Dem voters get it? Anyone called a “govt expert” is a clown out to destroy America and surrender to Globalist clowns 👹🤡👿👺D

    • Real, putting aside the ancillary problem of climate change drive CO2 accumulation – this a fact and endorsed by all major scientific organizations the world and not opposed by any – newly discovered oil reserves include unconventional ones which due to difficulties extracting it, will not provide the high yields we mostly enjoy now. In fact, peak oil is not a stat from the past but a changing and disagreed on prediction for the future that even OPEC accepts as on the horizon (2045).

      “One difficulty in forecasting the date of peak oil is the opacity surrounding the oil reserves classified as “proven”. In many major producing countries, the majority of reserves claims have not been subject to outside audit or examination.[50]

      For the most part, proven reserves are stated by the oil companies, the producer states and the consumer states. All three have reasons to overstate their proven reserves: oil companies may look to increase their potential worth; producer countries gain a stronger international stature; and governments of consumer countries may seek a means to foster sentiments of security and stability within their economies and among consumers.[50]”

      As hopefully sensible humans who are conservative about our resources and the futures of our children and grandchildren, all of whom should be alive and otherwise thriving in 2045, why wouldn’t we conserve as best we can the very valuable and portable energy source below our feet? Is the best use of this gift to have lawyers running around now in 3/4 ton pick-ups, or conserving it for whatever more important future uses our progeny may need it for? Oil is not unlimited and no one who knows anything about it thinks it is.

      • There will be mini neighborhood nuke power stations, in the future too. Any “difficult” energy today will be easier in future.

        • Real, you are correct that nuclear power will no doubt be relied on in the future – as it is now in parts of Europe – but your claims about peak oil are still wrong.

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