Bipartisan legislative committee tells Mayor Ward to take drastic action on GRU debt or face removal from office


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A bipartisan Joint Legislative Auditing Committee (JLAC) today told representatives from the City of Gainesville, including Mayor Harvey Ward, that if they don’t take urgent action to reduce GRU’s debt, they could face removal from office or a reduction in state funding.

JLAC heard a presentation from Derek Noonan, the Audit Manager of Local Government Reviews and Special Audits for the Florida Auditor General’s office, describing the findings in the City of Gainesville Operational Audit. The audit had 18 findings, which are described here

“These are major, major items that the audit has revealed.” – Rep Mike Caruso

Following the presentation, Alternating Chair Rep. Mike Caruso (R-Boca Raton) said, “These are major, major items that the audit has revealed.” He said he was concerned with the golf course findings, the Reichert House, and particularly the findings on internal controls, but “Mr. Noonan, I think the audit doesn’t go far enough… If we could have sound effects in here with lightning and fire and thunder, I think that would more appropriately show the magnitude of what this audit has touched light on.”

Caruso said the audit “inadequately addresses the fact that the GRU (Gainesville Regional Utilities) is not sustainable.” He said GRU has $1.7 billion in debt, which “technically may be in default for breach of the anti-subsidizing clause.” He said the City is “using the GRU as its own piggy bank, without consideration of its own fiscal responsibility… without consideration of the hardship it places on GRU customers… I don’t think the magnitude of all this has been addressed.”

“We have a GRU that is on the verge of failing and a City that will tumble after it.” – Caruso

Caruso wanted to see a plan to meet the debt service and a plan to fund the City’s budget without a General Fund Transfer (GFT) from GRU: “The recommendations from the Auditor General are not strong enough… We have a GRU that is on the verge of failing and a City that will tumble after it.”  

Sen. Tracie Davis (D-Jacksonville) said, “Everyone should understand what is being requested because you’ve already heard words like ‘non-sustainability,’ and when you’re talking about a City [and] non-sustainability, please be ready for what’s about to happen. Please be ready for explaining what this 84% debt ratio is–because it’s coming.”

Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward said he wanted to “recognize and thank the Gainesville residents who requested the audit of the City in the first place; they’re all dedicated neighbors who value our community.” He said the city commission had already voted to decrease the GFT by $2 million per year through 2027. “Already this plan has reduced the transfer to a lower amount than it has been since Fiscal Year 2009, even without accounting for inflation. Certainly we will continue to turbocharge that decrease in General Fund Transfer funding.” He pointed out that he is only one of seven votes on the commission.

“The beauty of a municipal utility, particularly in Florida, is that every high-level decision must be open and transparent.” – Mayor Harvey Ward

Ward boasted about GRU’s reliability, saying the system has never had a blackout, and added, “This past year, our electric system customers had access to power 99.99% of the time, which is an amazing statistic here in Florida… The beauty of a municipal utility, particularly in Florida, is that every high-level decision must be open and transparent.”

GRU General Manager Tony Cunningham said a big part of the plan to reduce GRU’s debt is the GFT reduction: “Another part of the plan are modest rate increases.” 

Sen. Keith Perry (R-Gainesville) asked whether the utility expects further debt downgrades; Ward replied, “We do not believe that if we stay on course with the program that we’ve laid out or do better than that, we do not believe that we will continue to receive downgrades.” 

In response to a question from Perry about what the City’s consultants had recommended, Noonan said that a report on generation needs had estimated that if the City keeps and refurbishes its existing generating assets, it will incur an additional $250 million in debt by 2045. If they build new plants to move to renewable power generation, it would be closer to a billion dollars. Ward said, “I would not say we’re moving toward a billion dollars in renewable energy, no.” Perry pointed out that the City is moving toward a goal of NetZero in 2045 and asked if it was “misinformation” that the consultants had estimated a cost of a billion dollars for that. Ward replied, “I am not ready to sign off, nor do I have any plan of signing off, on a billion dollars of new debt.”

Perry pointed out that at 82%, GRU’s debt ratio is much higher than is usual for utilities, and he said GRU paid $104 million, or 22% of its budget, just for debt in this fiscal year. He asked for specific plans to decrease the debt. “From what I’m reading… you’re moving in the direction of [increasing debt].”

GRU General Manager Tony Cunningham said the plan is a combination of reducing the GFT and “modest rate increases.” Perry asked how much those measures would reduce the debt; after Cunningham meandered in his answer, Alternating Chair Jason Pizzo (D-Hollywood) interrupted and asked whether the measures would even keep up with the interest payments; Cunningham said he didn’t know. 

Caruso asked how much of that would go toward reducing the debt, and Cunningham said, “Some of it will.” Caruso replied, “Some is a dollar… So we don’t know how much of the $42 million over six years’ time is gonna go to $1.7 billion of debt. And if all of it went, have we really touched the debt?… I’ll bet you in six years, we’re over $2.5 billion in total debt.”

“What is the justification for entering into a contract that the general public can’t know about, you won’t let them know about?” – Sen. Keith Perry

Regarding the Solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) the city commission just approved, City officials refused to disclose the price per MWh for the purchased power, saying that it is a “trade secret.” Perry compared the Solar PPA to the PPA for the biomass plant, which was also heavily redacted and was such a bad deal that the City ended up buying the plant to save money. Perry asked, “What is the justification for entering into a contract that the general public can’t know about, you won’t let them know about?”

Ward said the City had decided to sign a contract “that gives us reliable, predictable purchasing of power, or we can say we really like it when natural gas fluctuates by 300% per year.”

When asked what the cost per MWh is for natural gas, Cunningham said it’s typically $35-$40/MWh. When asked about the cost of solar, Cunningham said, “That’s the trade secret.” 

Perry responded, “Can the public make an informed decision when they don’t know all the full details?”

Rep. Yvonne Hinson (D-Gainesville), who is not a member of the committee but was permitted to ask questions, said, “I’m trying to figure out at what point we got into this outrageous debt, because I remember when we had a AAA credit rating.” Cunningham said that entering into the biomass PPA and then buying out the PPA roughly doubled the debt of the utility. Hinson continued, “Why would we move into a similar Power Purchase Agreement with redacted clauses, why would we do that?”

Cunningham said that not all PPAs are bad, that the agreement shifts risk to Origis, and that the cost of the solar power would be lower than GRU’s average cost of power. 

“We are in crisis… GRU’s been used as the piggy bank.” – Jo Beaty

During public comment, Jo Beaty said the “elephant in the room really is the general government budget.” She said citizens consistently call for cutting the budget so the GFT can be cut: “Our foundation is crumbling, and they’re in there hanging drapes and chandeliers. We are in crisis… GRU’s been used as the piggy bank.” She said commissioners do not welcome citizens who come to meetings regularly and consistently give the same advice.

“Our eyes are on it now. We can’t say we forgot, we can’t say we don’t know what it is, and a lot of these numbers don’t make sense.” – Sen. Jason Pizzo

Pizzo said the members of the committee would make themselves available to citizens and said he wanted Gainesville residents to know that “Our eyes are on it now. We can’t say we forgot, we can’t say we don’t know what it is, and a lot of these numbers don’t make sense.”

Angela Casteel read a statement from Nathan Skop, saying that the Gainesville City Commission has ignored citizens’ concerns: “As an illustrative example, when the state audit of the City of Gainesville was announced, it was condemned by the Gainesville City Commission. On November 13, 2019, Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe told CBS4 that the state audit was a politically motivated request, calling it ‘a thinly veiled attempt to play politics with the residents of Gainesville,’ also saying that the audit was ‘a waste of time and taxpayer dollars.’ Poe said they ‘welcome the opportunity to put the claims to rest.’ The audit report was instrumental in exposing the material weaknesses, lack of internal financial controls, and lack of effective management oversight by elected officials.”

Casteel said that Skop has calculated that GRU residential electric rates are approximately $62 higher per 1000 kWh than FP&L. 

Faith Kerr pointed out that when bills are estimated, usage can be pushed into Tier 2 and billed at higher rates than if the correct amounts had been billed in each month. She said bills should be audited for everyone who has received an estimated bill. She added, “It’s literally like being in a relationship that’s toxic.”

Tyler Foerst said the City has a “large new staff not beholden to doing things the way they were, just because that’s how they were always done, and I have every confidence that they will bring the City into financial compliance.” He added, “GRU is sustainable because the GFT is being lowered systematically to address debt issues… The citizens of Gainesville have been absolutely clear, time and time again–they want GRU to remain a public entity.”

James Ingle said, “I feel like we’re going in the right direction; we realized we were in a hole, stopped digging, start getting things going, and I’m glad we’re taking these steps.”

After Brian O’Brien told the legislators that he was unable to get a copy of the final draft of the 2018 audited financial reports before the city commission voted to accept them, Pizzo asked Ward whether that was true, and Ward said it was “available at the commission level,” so Pizzo asked him the same question again. Ward said he thought he gave O’Brien his copy from the dais. Pizzo asked, “You still subscribe to the ten-day notice requirement before you put something on the agenda at the municipal level, right?” and Ward said, “We try to adhere to that, yes, sir.”

Following public comment, Perry said it’s understandable that the City wants to be NetZero, but he wanted to know how much it would cost and how much it would add to the debt. He did not receive an answer.

Legislators recommend large budget cuts, property tax increases

Senator Jason Brodeur (R-Lake Mary) said the City needs to have an “immediate conference” and stop transferring money from GRU. He said they needed to cut the general government budget by about 25% “and put all that money toward getting ourselves out of debt” and “look at raising taxes… You’re in a big hole, and you didn’t get here overnight.”

“Because what we haven’t really heard is how you get rid of this debt… And it’s not a plan for the future; it’s a plan for right now… You’ve got to get this solved today.” – Sen. Tracie Davis

Davis said, “I’m lost for words… I’m looking at this group here, but I’m also thinking about the communities in Gainesville that look like me, that cannot afford what you are talking about… It’s accountability, it’s transparency… I personally am having a hard time seeing you be able to be sustained for years to come if you don’t change now. Because what we haven’t really heard is how you get rid of this debt… And it’s not a plan for the future; it’s a plan for right now… You’ve got to get this solved today.”

Hinson said, “They don’t have a plan to pay down the debt, and they didn’t seem concerned about it. That bothers me.” She said the commission needs to take a hard look at their budget and possibly get rid of positions that haven’t been filled. She concluded, “You need to find this money now.”

Sen. Corey Simon  (R-Tallahassee) said, “This isn’t rocket science; it’s numbers. The more you operate in the dark… the less trust they have in government… You’ve got to at least start to have an honest dialogue with the folks and not turn off their microphones when they show up at your commission meetings and have people arrested, and all that other nonsense because we don’t like what they’re saying. There’s validity to what they’re saying… Currently your lack of transparency shows no confidence in what you’re doing. So I just urge you… let’s get it fixed. Let’s not kick the can down the road.”

“If it’s too expensive for you to be in the electric business, get out of it” – Sen. Jason Pizzo

Pizzo offered to take a look at the Solar PPA contract and suggested that GRU shed some assets they’re “not good at. You guys got your hands in too many things… If it’s too expensive for you to be in the electric business, get out of it… I think you guys took on too much responsibility.” Pizzo asked the City representatives to give him a concrete plan by July, and Ward said, “We absolutely will have a different plan to show the auditors when they come back, late summer.” 

“I certainly will support drastic changes, bold moves.” – Ward

Ward said that since they have to pass a budget by September 30, he would prefer to come back with a plan by October 1, but “Yes, we hear you… I believe we can have a plan to you for the next fiscal year, absolutely… We certainly intend to do things prior to that… I certainly will support drastic changes, bold moves.”

Caruso said, “I was hoping you would come here today with a plan for sustainability… We’re not hearing that.” Caruso said he was concerned about the 40% of GRU’s customer base that doesn’t get to vote for the city commission but generates profits that make up part of the City’s budget. “It’s taxation without representation… That’s how this whole United States thing started… I hope you have an emergency workshop to deal with this and get it to us long before October 1.”

“I’m telling you, go back and make those bold moves, or we will take action. What action? We will write letters to the governor, ask him to remove you from office and put people in that will take the bold actions to save GRU, to save the utility, to ultimately save the City.” – Rep. Caruso

Caruso said that as a CPA, he has worked with companies that are in financial trouble, and in his experience, “If they deny the issue, they totally fail… So if you’re in denial, GRU’s done. If those corporations would only accept marginal corrections, they didn’t have a chance. They were out of business in months. Those corporations that took bold moves, it caused pain, it’s things you don’t want to do, but you’ve got to figure out how to survive here… I’m telling you, go back and make those bold moves, or we will take action. What action? We will write letters to the governor, ask him to remove you from office and put people in that will take the bold actions to save GRU, to save the utility, to ultimately save the City.”

Caruso said he might attend the budget workshop, “and if I feel like it’s not being appropriately addressed, I want to look at the appropriations, your City’s request for state funds, because I don’t feel like the money that you’re collecting from your taxpayers is being spent wisely. That’s how critical your situation is.”

Following the meeting, Rep. Chuck Clemons told Alachua Chronicle, “The Auditor General’s report was an indictment of the decades-long mismanagement and malfeasance on the part of Gainesville officials. The shock and dismay is bipartisan – the evidence is clear that it has been one false promise after another which has led to the reckless and unsustainable debt incurred by the city and GRU. Today’s testimony by Gainesville officials makes it highly apparent that they are unwilling to face the realities necessary to avert an even greater catastrophe.”

Perry told us, “It’s completely unacceptable for the City to approve another PPA that is not transparent to the public, given what happened with the biomass plant. Residents of Gainesville should be speaking up to their elected officials in an effort to stop the signing of the contract amendment that was approved last week by the city commission.”

  • Transparency is essential in all matters of public interest. Officials have a responsibility to be honest and open about their decisions and the agreements they make with the public. This is particularly important when it comes to issues of fiscal responsibility, such as the City of Gainesville’s debt crisis.

    As a conservative, I believe in the importance of honesty, integrity, and responsibility. Elected officials must act with a sense of duty towards the public they serve, and that includes being transparent about their decisions and the consequences of those decisions.

    The City officials in Gainesville must take urgent action to reduce GRU’s debt. This means reducing the reliance on the General Fund Transfer and finding alternative ways to fund the City’s budget. It also means being honest about the current state of GRU’s debt, which is unsustainable and puts undue hardship on its customers.

    During these challenging times, it is important for officials to remain calm and rational. Emotions can cloud judgment and lead to poor decisions. City officials must focus on what is within their control, which is reducing the debt and making a plan for long-term fiscal responsibility.

    In conclusion, the City officials in Gainesville must act with transparency, honesty, and integrity. They must take responsibility for their decisions and the consequences of those decisions. And they must remain focused on reducing the debt and ensuring long-term fiscal responsibility. As a conservative, I stand for these principles, and I expect my elected officials to do the same.

    • Individual freedom… Unfortunately, most of the leadership you refer to have none/zero/zilch of the qualities and traits you refer to. They haven’t for a long, long time.

  • Some ideas to cut costs and reduce the City’s debt:
    Sell Ironwood Golf Course.
    Drop Reichart House Program.
    Sell the power plant.
    Buy power from FPL.
    Kill the Solar Power Purchase Agreement, it’s the Biomass contract all over again.
    Kill the RTS, subsidize Uber rides, it is better service, on time, and door to door service, seniors don’t have to stand in the hot sun waiting for a late bus.
    Rescind the City Commissioners’ raise!
    Consolidate GRU staff to the building on North Main Street.
    Sell the downtown GRU building.
    Eliminate the overpaid positions like Office of Inclusion or Office of Sustainability
    Go back to core government services, kill all extra programs not required.
    Cut the GFT in half immediately.

    Make Bold Moves, and cut off the arm, or the Governor will remove you from office!

    • And abolish the DEI and other woke admin. offices. Gainesville is a college town and racism is NOT to blame for the “inequity” here. It’s just a logical byproduct of college towns.

      • Reduce the size of Grace Mkt 90%
        And provide 3 days help for you to get back on your feet or a bus ticket back to where you came from..

        • Relocate city hall and city meetings to Grace. Set a requirement that commissioners only be allowed to take RTS to Grace. Turn city hall into a veteran rehab building, that would be a lot more useful than it is now.

        • They do…?

          UF/SFC tuition includes rides via RTS so thats where that money comes from.

          • Ultimately RTS is a city program, they may get kick backs from those programs but many elderly, and disabled take RTS as well!

      • Not fully. About 60 % is funded by UF and SFC and the grants are for new busses.

    • Agree with all ideas except doing away with RTS. It serves many people and it has served me very well. I do not use uber. Otherwise your ideas are good.

    • This is thinking! How do we get this done with the existing regime?
      I am one of those on GRU with no vote.

      • John I am one of the ones that do not at all have a vote for who raises my rates. But I found my voice! The legislative delegation meetings are where I have a voice.

    • Yeah. Put several thousand people out of work because the liberals have ruined the city with their unsustainable green energy plans. FYI. For the $750 million to buy the 100MW green biomass plant GRU could have built a 500MW Combined cycle plant (natural gas and steam) and sold electric and made money for the city and had some of the lowest rates in the state.

  • The city has been banking itself on GRU for decades. It’s time they stop breaking the back of the people who live here.

  • So the big decisions are transparent? A solar power PPA is a “Trade Secret”? How is that transparent?
    The Commission could have a 50% pay cut now after to PAYRAISE and still make more that last year.
    I hope that a jail term might be in the commissioners future. Why let them have a ride?

  • More ideas… keep it going

    Nix the Solar Power Purchase Agreement
    Rescind the City Commissioners’ raises
    Renegotiate the recent outrageous charter salaries
    Implement across departmental cuts with 10% reductions
    Start alternating 4 day work weeks
    Nix car allowances and other perks for senior staff
    Sell GRU building
    Eliminate special advisor positions
    Cut the GFT by sliding scale to get to 30% reduction

    So many ideas… so little courage

  • What a glorious event and sight to see! I could hardly believe my ears!! They are on notice now, bold- really bold action plan by 30 Sept or face removal and state intervention! Even Rep Hinson said everything on the table, including Reichert House, cutting positions, etc. We’ll, it’s about danged time!

    • I truly appreciated the voices of sane Democrats at the meeting. Their statements completely eliminated ability of the local progressive cabal to keep implying this is some evil Republican plot. How does one apply to be the urban fringe GRU customer representative on the Gainesville restructuring committee?

  • A little over 3 years ago, just months after being publicly humiliated and summarily fired as City Auditor (primarily for my factual audit report of the Reichert House) I answered the call from Senator Perry to help put together information and a presentation for the JLAC in Tallahassee, requesting the FL Auditor General perform an operational audit of the City of Gainesville. I stepped up, worked with his office many hours (although already living in another state). I did so because right is right and I’d seen too many citizens with legitimate concerns spend countless hours at CCOM meetings, only to be ignored. Myself and Citizen Volunteer Brian O’Brien spoke in-person to that JLAC Committee who quickly voted unanimously to require the audit. City officers and city press releases referred to the audit being caused by a “disgruntled employee.” However, when the audit report was eventually released, the Auditor General again validated my Reichert House findings, found recent slipping of finance and accounting processes, and noted the extreme debt levels and GRU rate increases. Today we learned, little has been accomplished to address the issues. But finally, the days of reckoning are upon us and those concerns of the many citizens who spent countless hours trying to better city government are in the crosshairs! Senator Perry and Representative Clemons have gotten your concerns to the proper authority and continue to represent you well.

    Your previous City Auditor, C Holt

    • Thank you for your service to our community, despite the mistreatment at the hands of the Gainesville officials who had so much to hide!

    • Carlos, Is there a chance that Moody will downgrade GRU’s credit rating again if they’re not allowed to know the price per MWh for the purchased power because it’s a “trade secret.” ?

      • Of course! Uncertainty certainly affects ratings. However, after it is actually signed, it seems as though the price would have to become known at that time since invoices would have to be paid (not in secrecy). The whole trade secret labeling is far fetched and unlikely to hold up )from the skepticism I heard yesterday. This really is like something out of a movie! 😂

  • The leftist idiots who govern Gainesville are predictably very successful in what they achieve. They predictably succeed in turning everything they touch to crap. But that’s apparently okay, as long as it’s equitable and inclusive crap which pollutes the lives of every Gainesville taxpayer equitably and inclusively (everyone must share the misery). When you look around at the havoc our imbecile “leaders” cause, you have to wonder — are they really that stupid or are they getting generous perks in the form of kickbacks, bribes, etc?

    • Someone got kickbacks from that insane biomass plant deal. People should be in jail for that.

  • This ongoing spiral does not instill confidence that pensions will continue to be paid by the city when everything falls apart.

  • I’m gonna go on a bit of a rant here….The problem is “net 0 by 2045”….was that a mandate from the Federal government? No. Was that a mandate from the State of Florida? No. Where did the city of Gainesville get the marching orders for “Net 0 by
    2045”from?… Was it my idea? No. Was it your idea? No. —-how did we get into this mess? It was former Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan trying to comply with Kyoto Protocol which the United States was not a signatory to….there was that talk about “ cap & trade” and
    RUINING OUR UTILITY going biomass. They ruined our utility by trying to reduce CO2 emissions to stop climate change….there was supposed to be a market where big polluters could exchange carbon credits which never panned out. Now
    the plan is the “great reset”… The tenants of the great reset are: stop world hunger, stop homelessness, stop climate change (CO2 regulations), promote diversity, equity, & inclusion, social justice score, digital cash, redistribution of wealth, mandatory vaccines and
    Vaccine passports in order to travel,
    Digital cash that’s tied to your carbon footprint, end private property rights,
    Take away your right to defend yourself…” you will own nothing and be happy”…they want to have technology inside your body that can
    Determine your carbon footprint by
    2030 and now want to accelerate that goal. We are in dire straits. Schwab from the World Economic Forum (WEF) has openly stated that
    The Covid pandemic was the perfect cover to implement the great reset.
    Schwab has openly stated that the next crisis is the crash of the internet, communications, and electric grid.
    That’s why it’s called great reset. The plan is to crash the system and then
    Reset the planet with global totalitarianism one world government…they destroyed the dollar and the US economy….this is
    All supposed to be for “the greater good”….the devil is in the details…liberty & freedom are at stake. The vaccine passport is the mark of the beast…Their plan will fail if you resist mandatory vaccines and the vaccine passports. The United States of America is the best country in the world…we are a sovereign nation…we must not allow the World Health Organization (WHO)
    To usurp our constitution and be able to shut us down for any reason. If we
    Get shut down, supply chains will be interrupted, there will be no gas at the pump, or food in the grocery stores. Be prepared. They have done
    Simulations of these scenarios. Now is the time for all good people to come to the aid of their country…it’s going to be a rough ride ahead if they
    Crash the system. “Mad Max”.

    • And pedojoe is signing the WHO agenda crap or already has. So they can control us when there is another plandemic. And the States will not be able to go against it. Pisses me off more than the open border crap.

    • Harvey Ward is Gainesville’s liaison to the United Nations-Energy org, ICLEI. Look them up, search members for Gainesville, and there he is. This is where the UN agenda 21 / Net Zero is coming from. Click on the program description, it links to pdf that states members pay a fee to ICLEI to be part of the program.

    • Joe, there’s other things that would be more appropriate for Pain-in-the-Ass Hanrahan. Just can’t say here.

    • As a licensed Professional Engineer I wish that there was some way to get Hanrahan’s engineering license pulled on the basis of malfeasance. She is an embarrassment to the profession.

  • I wonder what kind of spin Gainesville Leadership Minions and Staff will try to put on the facts they have bankrupted GRU and Gainesville. The Commmisioners and GRU Advisory Board should be issued a cease and disist order of any decisions and directives to GRU. They are begging for outside legal teams to take over. It’s about time the mistruths in LaLa Land are punished. The Commision past and present could not be more unqualified to govern over anything concerning our money. We need our refunds while they still think they are not insolvent.

  • Anyone else pick up on Two Face Harvey’s response? He is but “one of 7 votes.” Another Democrat who chooses to blame someone else. It’s his modus operandi.

    Instead of accepting responsibility, he instead chose to deflect the blame and throw the others under the bus. Typical Harvey, he’s a coward & needs to be held responsible for his actions, or should we say, inactions.

    I’m hoping they establish a timeline…1 year sounds appropriate. It’s about all the city can ill-afford to put up with.

    Some people learn from their mistakes, some don’t. Those who don’t are called Democrats.

    • Not all Democrats are on the side of the Commissioners and Mayor. Some of us KNOW there has to be a change.

      • Great but I hope this state investigation doesn’t get watered down and twisted into being a conservative witch hunt. Just wait until the liberal rag the Sun refuses to report any of this. The problem with this and news of our pathetic government is that dems will refuse to listen to any failures of their own party. Dogmatically stupid people.

        Many thanks to the Alachua Chronicle for reporting this so well.

        • Every line of the Chronicle’s excellent reporting is a direct professional insult to every editor, publisher and local news reporter employed by the Gannett Mullet Wrapper since the day the biomass plant was first proposed.

          Generations of city hall incompetence, most elected with full throated endorsement by the Sun, have driven the city to the edge of receivership and it is complete surprise at the Sun.

          Anyone who believes a single word in that rag is a fool.

  • The “action” they’ll take to resolve debt is to raise rates even higher. Beaty is right; GRU has been using ratepayers as an ATM!

    • It’s not GRU that is the fault, it is the Mayor and the city commissioners that control GRU.

    • Try again. The people you votes for has been using GRU as a piggy bank doing stupid liberal projects. Don’t blame GRU for the city commissioners corruption.

  • Yes, GRU’s massive debt is the big elephant in the room. But what barely got mentioned was most of the other findings in the audit. What is apparent is a pattern of mismanagement and lack of accountability throughout the City Government. The City Commission spends money like there’s no tomorrow but rarely concern themselves with how that money is spent and what the results are from the projects they fund. Purchasing cards are another area of major concern, yet the City has done little to assure accountability for who has access to these cards and what they use them for. Ward is like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, while he tries to convince the world that he is willing and able to fix the City’s problems but instead he doubles his own salary and tells the rest of us we need to pay even more for his malfeasance.

      • Or “beautification” projects in medians…how much do palm trees cost? Or gigantic planters? Or landscaping crews to maintain those palm trees and gigantic planters full of various plants?

        • How many palm trees have they killed? They kept replacing the one in the roundabout over by GRU at least 3 times before they gave up. All of the ones in the roundabout on S. Main are gone….

  • PLEASE Florida legislature RID US of these profligate spenders! I don’t want to move, but it’s coming down to that if things don’t change soon…we’re becoming San Francisco without the charming cable cars…

  • Progressive policies and the outrageous spending attached to them have the effect of termites infesting the local government and destroying our freedoms and economy, harming families with more restrictions as well as higher and higher fees and taxes, while delivering worse service. Like a termite infestation, it’s not just one termite that can do this level of damage – it’s the multiplicative effect of many, many poor decisions, over a long time, that has led us to this point. I hope the termites can be dealt with, and the structure salvaged, before total collapse. Those worst hurt will be the very people this “compassionate” progressive city commission claim to be helping. I am SO thankful that the State of FL is now aware and willing to step in to fix this massive problem with irresponsible governance.

    • Me too, I have written to the Governor about the corrupt city commissioners. Probably along with many more people.

  • This is music to my ears as I was losing faith on when an actual audit would come.
    My only regret is that this mandate didn’t fall on the lap of Poe and his spendthrift commissioners.
    They wrecked the car and ran.

    • Worse yet, they wrecked the car and stayed around like nobility in England. Living loud and proud despite the fiscal disaster they perpetrated.

  • Even broken clocks are right twice a day.

    Gainesville government still doesn’t know what time it is even when given the numbers by state audits and officials.

    Here is the problem; Gainesville is trying to maintain an ‘openly liberal’ image it cannot afford, and even bipartisan scrutiny sees it and draws direct attention to it.

    It is clear the city government is tone deaf to things like red ink. Red ink is the drug in government’s bloodstream which keeps residents blind to the reality that Gainesville’s ‘progress’ is translated as fund more debt to correct the previous progress.

    In this latest challenge and accountability by state lawmakers Caruso noted, “….40% of GRU’s customer base that doesn’t get to vote for the city commission but generates profits that make up part of the City’s budget.”

    Representational government doesn’t apply, apparently, to Gainesville’s albatross, a.k.a. GRU.

    And, in that environment Gainesville dares to enter into a contract where the comparative costs to consumers vs. FPL is a ‘trade secret.’

    It isn’t at all helpful for politicians like Rick Perry to just admonish the city’s PPA approval as unacceptable. Gainesville hears that all the time. It’s white noise at this point. Republican math doesn’t apply to Gainesville. Former mayor Poe said so; it’s all politics according to him because 2+2 really equals 5.

    Removal of officials is problematic since Gainesville residents would probably benefit from a fiscally responsible leadership, but the city is too tied to a political narrative and self-image of being the liberal island in a sea of red.

    While as politically noble as the bumper sticker on a Prius, being an ‘island’ demands government to be far more efficient on any level. Debts levels must be sustainable, and solutions must be viable.

    Radical change is in order. How about a novel idea easily plagiarized from the state; a balanced budget requirement?

    There’s something never heard from the left or right in Gainesville. It would require – rather than trust – government to be fiscally responsible with public revenue.

    There are cities in Florida, believe it or not, which, exist without a debt ratio approaching 84%.

    But, those cities are led by people who can do math and if they can’t, at least are open to learning rather than tightly holding on to a political narrative identifying with black ink, thus making it so.

  • Can’t wait for a response from the left wing idiots about how they are going to get everything done by October it’s going to be interesting on what cuts they come up with the big pay raise they just gave themselves should be first

    • They can start by reversing that raise they voted themselves. Desantis just needs to remove them from office now and appoint new people.

  • It is absolutely mind boggling how the city commission has been allowed to give themselves raises AND negotiate a contract for future power that NO citizen has access to its true cost. This is not only malfeasance, it appears to be criminal negligence. Let the legislature clean house at the commission and install fiscally responsible representatives. Before you cry that the commissioners are ELECTED and shouldn’t be replaced without elections, I am one of the people in the county forced to buy from GRU with ZERO representation. Let’s see how the commission like it.

  • Thank you, Alachua Chronicle for this information. GRU and the City is in real trouble and this solar contract will make things worse!

  • Which city officials and designates got raises? As per our failures, so what? We’re strongly committed to social values – even though our children of poverty can’t read, can’t go to a nearby grocery store, can’t get a job at a living wage – but wait – they can choose a pronoun and go to the bathroom of their choice! That’s progress that matters to them whether they realize it or not. So, what does that new diversity officer make now? And where does they live?

  • Unfortunately, they have gone so long with a broken business model for GRU that there is no way out except for the rate payors to bend over and come up with the 1.7 billion these A holes left us with.

      • Guest: I think they should be prosecuted. Who got us into this mess? Hanrahan. Those Biomass LLC’s
        Lined their pockets with our tax money. The guys who pitched this
        Deal should be investigated. Such a crime and done in the open daylight…they didn’t want anyone to speak against biomass and shut citizens down and would not let them talk…You know, “your 3 minutes are up”.
        This was a bad deal and info was redacted on contracts, etc. it was an inside job.

        • The Obama Administration was saying biomass was good and federal monies were available….follow the money….just follow the money.

          To make things worse, we overpaid for a piece of crap and now the ratepayers are paying it.

          • If you research, what the city paid for the biomass plant, $750 million, the city could have built a combined cycle plant (natural gas/steam) like the Kelly Plant and produced 500MW and MADE MONEY SELLING POWER for about $550 -600 million but the city commissioners want unsustainable green energy.

    • Lou, GRU has a 22.5 % debt burden. It is be determined non sustainable ( DUH!) They will be sold for pennies on the dollar. If you are in the City of Gainesville , move. It is going th get ugly for the people under the regime that killed the goose that laid the Golden Egg . They are in the State and National spotlight on how to bankrupt a Utility.

    • GRU is not broken. It’s the general fund transfer of about 32million a year they have to give general government to pay for their raises and 100k a year jobs they creates for their friends. Example Department of Doing.

  • Best news I have read in a long time, there may finally be hope for the citizens of Gainesville.

    The corruption of Ward, Poe, and all their predecessors on the city commission is finally coming to light. Some of my favorite quotes:

    “[T]he City is “using the GRU as its own piggy bank, without consideration of its own fiscal responsibility… without consideration of the hardship it places on GRU customers…””

    “Our foundation is crumbling, and they’re in there hanging drapes and chandeliers. We are in crisis… GRU’s been used as the piggy bank.”

    “They don’t have a plan to pay down the debt, and they didn’t seem concerned about it. That bothers me.”

    “I was hoping you would come here today with a plan for sustainability… We’re not hearing that.”

    “It’s taxation without representation… That’s how this whole United States thing started… I hope you have an emergency workshop to deal with this and get it to us long before October 1.”

  • Do we now refer to Ward as “Harvey the bold faced…” instead of “…bald faced…”?

    Noticed Sun and this publication didn’t get comments from Poe and his 3 amigos; media in this town getting sloppy–watch out!

    Does this mean Cynthia Chestnut will now become the “adult in the room (said she would during campaign)?

    Kudos to Carlos Holt! Hope he refiles his lawsuit against the city under state or Federal civil RICO laws, believe they both allow for triple damages. There’s more to come.

  • The reality is as GRU’s General Manager I had fought against the City Commission for the last five years. I tried to get them to reduce the General Fund Transfer (GFT), stop using the utility assets to subsidize local government, and loading the utility with unfounded mandates. They tried to fire me 4 times, with the 4th time a successful effort. These elected officials have virtually no comprehension of fiscal responsibility. Bottom line: I along with my team told them without reducing the GFT, they’d have to consider freezing positions, cutting non-essential programs, exiting the power generating business and consider selling GRU COM assets, Public radio systems and consolidating support services such as IT, Finance and HR. Within months, Ward made the motion to fire me at a General Policy Meeting without public notice.

    • You had no problem paying that drug addict Andrew Gillum $25k of rate payers money for a useless speech! I’m not stupid, I realize $25k is a drop in the bucket!
      You are in no way free of guilt for wasting rate payers money on stupidity! It’s funny how people think those of that pay your salaries forget about your decisions/actions!

      • Let’s see. Saved $1 billion fir the city. Paid Andrew Gillum a fee, which was not accepted from what I remember for a scholarship banquet. Guilty as charged. Next complaint.

        • A fee… 25k to run his mouth because of the color of his skin! You say the fee wasn’t accepted, one would think that you would have made sure the fee not being accepted made the news as a candidate for mayor.
          You say you saved 1 billion, show us where you saved that billion big guy! GRU electric rates have been the highest in the state for a while, if you saved a billion, why didn’t rate payers received a reduction under your watch?Some of us have family members that work in management in certain departments at GRU and have for years, you can say whatever you like on a public forum, however, that doesn’t mean it’s the truth! We know the city commission turned on you, they turned on Sadie as well. We also know you are a big government, big waste liberal that tried to portray being middle of the road for an election. Typical lying politician!

          • First of all, his fee was $10k, not $25k. I’m not a Gillum supporter, never have been. The fee was not paid. I am anything but a big spending liberal. I’m a fiscal conservative. While the city budget was growing out of control, I was managing the GRU budget to less than 1% a year growth. In regard to saving $1 billion, you need to go to audited financial statements and analysis by our financial advicers PFM and Goldman Sachs. It’s real. The yearly payments under the original PPA went from $75 mm to zero and the debt payments began at $36 mm. That’s $39 mm a year over 30 years, plus ownership of the biomass plant avoided the need to replace aging assets.

    • Ed: who’s idea was it to purchase the biomass plant and why? Because evidently the plan backfired and buying it did not help GRU or the city…were you brought in to negotiate that deal?
      I’m unclear.

      • The Buyout reduced GRU debt and saved them from making a $75 million a year payment under the PPA to making a $36 million debt payment. It was nominated as the Deal of the Year. We had advice from three legal firms that the original deal was unrevocable, unbreakable and unable to abrogate.

        • Ed: So, we should have stayed with clean coal and natural gas? We should never have gone with biomass to reduce CO2 emissions? There was never a need to add future generating capacity, and we should have bought surplus from other utilities instead of going with a biomass plant? We were duped and this was a bad deal from the get-go?

          • We didn’t even get a say in it. I think the tax payers should get to vote on ANY major decision such as biomass or solar.

          • Well at least you get to vote..some GRU customers don’t even get that luxury.

          • The biomass plant was a base load facility, not the type of peaking unit whose flexibility was needed.

          • Yes it was. 30 YEAR contract with a biomass plant that burns dirtier than clean coal whether it RAN OR NOT. For the $750 million the city could have built a combined cycle (natural gas and steam) like the Kelly Plant that produced 500MW for about $550-600million and MADE MONEY for the city. Whoever signed that 30 year contract needs jail time. They are the ones that hurt GRU.

          • Don’t get confused with the original deal and the buyout. If not for the buyout, GRU would be spending $39 million a year to outside investors.

        • from what I read they paid 450 million to build it and the city paid 750 million for it
          It’s was a stupid idea to start it sure as hell didn’t lower rates as you and the city promised

          • Sorry, but that’s wrong. The original contract obligated the city to $2.5 billion over 30 years, come he’ll or high water. I negotiated out of that contract. The value of the biomass plant was irrelevant. If you owed $25,000 on a loan for which the collateral asset was worth $10,000, would you pay $15,000 to get out of a $25,000 debt? Sure you would.

          • Still it was you and the city officials who started the project to start with that came back to bite the GRU customers in the ass just own up to it y’all made a bad decision it’s as plane as day

  • Nice effort Mr. Former Auditor but the connections to GPD were just as problematic. There didn’t appear to a clean hand involved in any of it. There are deep cuts that need to be made, that’s obvious to all now. The bunch of them can go.

  • I think there is a City Commisioner JLAC Review Show at City Hall 1pm Monday. Everyone should attend to hear their philisophical discussions about Gainesvilles financial hole options as they gleefully contiune to oversee the demise of the City.

  • Way back when, then GRU general manager Mike Kurtz, wanted a new half-billion-dollar generating unit. Kurtz was into having surplus capacity and wholesaling it to other systems. Good plan when you have a favorable demand growth curve but, not so good when the power business is on the edge of a restructuring in the opposite direction.

    Unfortunately, Kurtz was not that good of a manager and ignored the tops of the storm clouds on the horizon regarding future demand growth and the desirability of centralized generation.

    Pegeen saw the opportunity to hijack Kurtz’s new unit and turn it into a biomass project thus burnishing her street creds as an eco-warrior as well as showing how “enlightened and progressive” (her words, not mine) she was.

    As a side note someone needs to get Ray Washington to post his story about Pegeen’s Congressional appearance.

    To others who are confused by the biomass plant discussion:

    This entire situation is composed of several discreet actions that you MUST consider and address separately.

    Basically, Pegeen’s train wreck of a contract for building, operating, and purchasing the power output of the biomass plant is a TOTALLY different animal from the Bielarski contract that got us out of it.

    The buy out that Ed Bielarski was involved with got us two things, the physical plant itself and a release from the original Pegeen contract.

    Simply buying the plant alone was not a possibility as the contract with GREC was a fundamental component of the project i.e., a PACKAGE DEAL!

    While on this subject I seem to recall Bielarski was initially far more aggressive towards GREC and willing to stand up to them until Lauren Poe interfered.

    I’d really like to hear his take on the closed door meetings they had on all this!

    To Bullwinkle:

    There is no such thing as “clean coal”. It don’t exist.

    • Good ol days: the city referred to the coal they bought and burned as “clean coal” as compared to a
      Lower grade… higher quality coal is referred to as “clean coal”…you can look it up. The city would contract for the higher quality “clean coal” and have it delivered by rail.

      • Thanks, now I understand your reference.

        I’d argue they should have used the term “clean(er)”.

  • Citizens have been complaining of shady, nefarious dealings for years. The commission has acted offended at the accusations and ignored the people. An outside audit happens and the findings are confirmed that the commission has acted questionably and has not listened to its citizens. The commission continues to act like The Black Knight in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. (He keeps claiming his injuries are only flesh wounds even though they clearly are not). The commission continues to ignore that they are bleeding to death or that JLAC sided with “their enemy”. They continue to profess that nothing is wrong. The JLAC has the power to put actions into place and hopefully give the citizens of Gainesville some reprieve. We have been held down without a voice or true representation for too long and now we are at risk of losing what was once an amazing place to call home.

  • I see 3-4 “Woke-bots” giving inappropriate thumbs-down to multiple comments…. just because… Ha!

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