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Ed Bielarski deletes, reinstates, then deletes his Facebook page following widespread power outages

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

This article was updated after Bielarski’s Facebook page disappeared again, late on Monday, February 10.

Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) General Manager Ed Bielarski has been using his Facebook page to provide information about GRU to the community. His “Did you know?” posts are familiar to his Facebook “friends.”

However, some of his posts have personally criticized people in the community, such as former Utility Advisory Board (UAB) member Mary Alford:

His posts have acknowledged that they sometimes create pushback:

He has also recently created a series of posts arguing against a proposed City Charter Review Commission proposal that would eliminate the GRU General Manager as a City Charter Officer. 

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He posted frequently during the recent storm, praising the work of GRU employees who were restoring power to as many as 24,000 customers. He wrote, “That said, I understand that there are still 100 customers without power who don’t share that sense of accomplishment. I also understand that we are guilty of some poor communication, including our inability to have our outage maps on-line more than it was off. I can assure GRU customers that these issues will be the subject of intense lessons learned meeting in the ensuing weeks and months.”

He continued, “I will also tell you that the frequency of these high impact storms make it all the more important to pursue smart meter technology, which would allow GRU to know exactly where and when outages are occurring along with have diagnostic tools embedded in the technology. This would also allow our existing customer support staff to be able to focus on working with customers more efficiently during the outage…”

Apparently, this post upset someone, although there do not appear to be any comments to that effect on the page. On Saturday, Bielarski posted, “Did You Know? The usefulness of using Facebook to inform about what GRU does and why has reached an end. Today, in trying to inform the community about how our outage work is performed and how we set priorities I mentioned the need for smart meter technology. I was accused of hijacking someone’s misfortune and not showing empathy and care.

“Obviously, this effort has gone astray. As a result I am deactivating this account. Thank you all for your input.”

About 10 minutes later, Bielarski sent an email to the City Commission and the UAB, stating that he had deactivated the Facebook account:

However, at their most recent meeting on February 6, the City Commission had just passed a new Public Records Policy. The policy contains the following provision: “In addition, some City employees may use instant messaging, chat rooms, social networking pages, or other internet-based tools to accomplish their job functions. In the course of using such devices or systems, City employees may create or receive public records. If public records are in fact created or received on such devices or systems, City employees are required to retain such records in accordance with Florida’s public records law.”

Since Bielarski was clearly using his Facebook page to “accomplish [his] job function” and deleting the Facebook page effectively destroyed those records, we made a Public Records Request for all of his Facebook posts since October 1, 2019 but told GRU that restoring the Facebook page would be an acceptable fulfillment of that request. The Facebook page was back up by this afternoon. 

Late Monday night, the page disappeared again. There is a search result for “Ed Bielarski, Gainesville Regional Utilities,” but clicking on it leads to this:

The city has sent us all (as far as we can tell) of his Facebook activity since October 1, in response to the Public Records Request. This seems to indicate that the page will stay down.

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