GRU Authority members sworn in; first meeting set future schedule and format

Left to right: City Attorney Daniel Nee; new GRU Authority members Craig Carter, Eric Lawson, James Coats, and Robert Karow; GRU General Manager Tony Cunningham


GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Four of the five members of the new GRU Authority were sworn in tonight by Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward at the beginning of their inaugural meeting.

Once the board members were sworn in, GRU General Manager Tony Cunningham welcomed them, saying he was “optimistic that we can work well together and continue the good quality service of GRU well into the future.”

Cunningham also clarified the roles of the three board members who were appointed last week: Robert Karow has been appointed to the one-year term, James Coats has been appointed to the two-year term, and Eric Lawson has been appointed to one of the two four-year terms. 

Coats, Karow, and Lawson were all listed as members who are residents of the unincorporated area of the county, and Lawson was listed as the member representing a private, nongovernment customer consuming at least 10,000 kilowatt hours per month of electric usage during each of the previous 12 months. 

Cunningham said he had spoken with Dr. Tara Ezzell, who was appointed today, and she said she was looking forward to serving but was unable to attend this meeting. He then asked the members to introduce themselves. 

Craig Carter

Craig Carter, who was also appointed today, said he served as a Gainesville City Commissioner from 2014 through 2017, then joined the Gainesville Housing Authority; he is also a commercial realtor and was recently appointed Chair of the Gainesville Airport Authority Board. Carter said the Airport Authority Board works with the City similarly to the way the GRU Authority Board will work with the City.

Eric Lawson

Eric Lawson is the CEO of North Florida Hospital and has been in healthcare for 35 years, 30 of which were in executive leadership roles. Lawson said when he heard about the Authority, he “wanted to be a part of the solution and not be on the sideline,” so he applied. 

James Coats

James Coats said he has lived here since he was 11 or 12 years old and that a chance meeting with then-GPD Public Information Officer Sadie Darnell in 1990 had led to being introduced to local business owners, which led to food and jobs for him and his family. He said he studied microbiology at the University of Florida, where instructors noticed he had “a very unique understanding of entrepreneurship,” and he created “several large businesses in this community.” He said he has volunteered with the Veterans’ Entrepreneurship Program at the UF Warrington College of Business, as well as the Chamber of Commerce and the City’s Entrepreneurship Program. He has a bachelor’s degree in social sciences, specializing in intelligence data analysis, and is a subject matter expert for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Development Group, the U.S. Intelligence Community, and the National Institute of Justice. He also has an MBA with core focuses in entrepreneurship, law, and quantitative analysis.

Robert Karow

Robert Karow said he was born in Marion County and went into the Marine Corps after high school. After retiring from the Marine Corps, he went to law school at UF. His first job out of law school was clerking for Justice James Atkins on the Florida Supreme Court, then he took a job in the energy field in Houston. He is a member of the bar in Texas, Florida, and the District of Columbia. He’s worked in two foreign countries in oil and gas–in construction, in facilities, and in production. He was most recently on the board of an energy company that was the largest producer of oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico, but the BP disaster ended all exploration offshore in the Gulf, so the company went bankrupt. Karow said he has more than 40 years of experience in oil and gas and various forms of energy. 

Cunningham introduced members of his staff and then led the board through some decisions they needed to make about their meetings. 

The statute that created the GRU Authority states that the board must meet at least once a month, and Coats proposed meeting twice a month, but Karow was concerned that would put “a big burden on the staff over there at GRU to come up with a dog and pony show for every one of the meetings… I tend more to the monthly meeting.” Lawson and Carter also favored a monthly meeting, with the option for extra “informational” meetings.

City Attorney Daniel Nee reminded Carter that the board had not adopted the agenda, so they stopped to do that. During public comment on the motion to adopt the agenda, Jim Konish suggested that they add general public comment to the agenda. Armando Grundy-Gomes was concerned about having meetings at the GRU Administration Building and suggested holding meetings at the Alachua County Commission boardroom; he also supported more than one meeting a month because “you have a lot to do… There’s lots of things to look at, folks.” Debbie Martinez also urged them to add general public comment to their agendas and asked the board to make sure the meetings are livestreamed, not just recorded.

Cunningham said improvements would need to be made to the GRU facility to make livestreaming possible. 

After the agenda was adopted, Coats suggested to the other board members that they start “digging independently, which gives us the ability to have multiplication of ourselves. If we have a public meeting once a month, I’m okay with that… But we owe this community, and we owe this utility, and the work family, presence within it, without confusing leadership.”

Carter said livestreaming was important, so Cunningham agreed to let the board know if the GRU facility will not be ready by the next meeting and present them with options for other locations if it’s not.

Meetings to be on the first Wednesday of the month

Meetings will be at 5:30 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every month, and the board decided to add a general public comment item to agendas.

During public comment on the motion to adopt the meeting procedures, Bobby Mermer said the board members are “already violating the law that established the board that you’re sitting on, so you definitely need to clear that up. I don’t know how you guys want to do that–talk in the sunshine about who should resign, who should not resign? This board is already acting unlawfully.” He also asked members to publicly promise to not sell “GRU or any of its components to Florida Power and Light, Duke, or any other private utility.”

Grundy-Gomes spoke next and said he could answer that: “You can’t, it takes a referendum of the people; you don’t have that ability.”

After some training on ethics and Sunshine law requirements, the board took a final round of one-minute public comments and adjourned.

    • At least they didn’t raise GRU rates. That’s something.

      Harvey didn’t have a massive coronary. That’s unfortunate.

  • Mr. Coats is a pit-bull! What a great selection. He’s going to cut through the bs and get to the point.

    I wish the hospital guy and oil dude spoke up more.

    This is going to be must see tv moving forward. The real work now starts.

    • You obviously do not know Coats. He’s a charlatan with a very poor business track record. Ask him how Phalanx worked out. He’s fleeced more people than about anyone I know.

      Beware of anyone who defines themself as an entrepreneur and who solely relies on grifting off government agencies.

      Still better than the city running the show though

    • Carlos makes me laugh! A grown man with a super hero fetish is not intimidating.

      • All that does is tell me he enjoys life and has diverse interests. Try it yourself sometime.

  • Mr. Murmur take your ball and pout on your way home. The GRU ratepayers now have competent oversight of GRU.

    • Oversight yes, competent to perform the task at hand? Only time will tell but at least for now, the City Commission will no longer be able to use GRU profits for their personal agendas and pet projects.
      That’s all most GRU customers wanted so that’s a good start.

  • Hallelujah. Please run GRU as the people’s utility, not like the 3% who elected our politicians did.

  • Bobby Murmur: … board members are “already violating the law that established the board that you’re sitting on, so you definitely need to clear that up. I don’t know how you guys want to do that–talk in the sunshine about who should resign, who should not resign? This board is already acting unlawfully.”

    Bobby, if you have $500,000 you too can receive a lesson in why your opinion is wrong via Judge Dempsey.

    • I believe Bobby “Murmur” is actually Bobby Mermer, a coordinator for far-left union group Alachua County Labor Coalition.

      He wrote an op-ed in The Alligator about how all police K-9 units should be disbanded, his Twitter supports “dissolving the Supreme Court”, and he is basically the stereotypical far-left liberal.

      There is a professor at UF, Robert Mermer, so I have to think this is the same guy. His students seem to hate him overall:

      • It was so funny when he told the board that there’s not supposed to be any jeering or cheering in the room and to maintain proper decorum. Coates told him it’s not healthy for people to hold it in if they’re excited. Maybe he is a professor, but he sure looked like a wild-eyed Antifa on drugs or at least a serious alcoholic.

  • Our City Attorney claimed in a meandering response to Mr. Coates’ question regarding a conflict of interest and ownership of the utility as follows (paraphrased):

    1) The City owns the utility
    2) I am the attorney for the City
    3) Therefore, I am the Authority’s attorney

    Mr. Nee has not spared any expense in attempting to disenfranchise our Authority. No other City Charter was involved. Mr. Cunningham is now the only GRU Charter Officer.
    Mr. Nee’s representation is questionable under these circumstances. Mr. Nee answers to the Florida Bar and the City Commission.

    • City Attorney Daniel Nee supposedly stated:

      > 1) The City owns the utility
      > 2) I am the attorney for the City
      > 3) Therefore, I am the Authority’s attorney

      Excuse me, my BS detector is screaming at Volume 11, let me turn it off…that’s better.

      Nee needs to be asked the following:

      1) who pays his salary?

      2) who has the authority to hire and fire him?

      3) since he represents the city commission at all times in his official capacities, and 1645 clearly states the commission has no say over GRU, under what authority is he enabled to tell/advise GRU anything?

      4) if the commission and GRU get into a conflict with each other, who does he obey/represent in any legal actions?

      5) in other words, WHO IS HIS FIDUCIARY? (spoiler alert, it ain’t GRU)

      Under the structure of 1645, Nee cannot represent both the commission AND GRU without violating the Fla Bar’s Cannon of Ethics and would be open to an ethics complaint if he tried.

      • SiB, you hit the nail with item 1). He’s justifiably worried about how he’s going to get paid for his city work if A) the new GRU board gets a new lawyer and B) zeros out the payment to the city. All those six figure salaries at the city are going to need a re-set.

      • The Authority and Commission are both “units of City Government” and cannot sue each other directly. The Commission can and in fact is suing the City and/or Governor through third parties and are using City funds to to provide discrete legal assistance.

  • If the City Of Gainesville Mouthpieces would not waste valuable time with their embarrassing inaccurate legal opinions and continue their denial agenda it would help meetings be productive. This new governance group is so far above the level of knowledge and financial competence that the failed City Mayor and Commission has it is eye opening. Better Days ahead for GRU and it’s customers. The City needs to get serious about continuing budget cuts. They need tp be prepared for the transfer to go to zero and start paying back any GRU funds that were not justified to be taken.

  • Don’t see any average Joe on the board. Guy or gal who works check to check that can represent the bulk of electricity users.
    Those guys have deep pockets full of cash. Probably don’t pay their own bills.

  • The board is entirely illegitimate, even if it’s members were legally chosen, which they clearly were not. How Ward decided to bend over for this nonsense is inexplicable and the commission should ignore all of it’s actions as should the citizens of Gainesville who are victims of a hold up in broad daylight..

    • Like to say you’ve been missed but I’d be lying. You’ve been bending over quite a bit of late, why should his bending over bother you?
      But like the typical liberal Democrat, you’re used to ignoring laws and you encourage others to as well.

    • Good luck with that strategy… I hope they do, cuz the Governor would take over/reappoint the commission overnight!

    • Did you speak last night? Or you just come here to cry/whimper after it’s over?

    • Dam here I thought jazz had moved or pass away haven’t seen him in awhile glad neither happened I need a good laugh every now and then

  • There is no apparent need for this board to meet more than once a month. For reference, the median number of board meetings for all S&P 500 companies is seven (7) per year.

    • How many S&P 500 are running on financial fumes and are knocking on insolvency?

  • If these board members had an ounce of integrity they would decline their appointments on the grounds that they are not qualified according the law passed on which the board was created. The fact that the governor completely ignored the law on residency and then appointed 5 Republicans to run a board that is supposedly representative of a city that hasn’t voted for a republican president or majority GOP commission since reconstruction (when the Republicans were the federalist progressives), tells you all you need to know about his intelligence and/or his hostility to the residents of Gainesville and their elected government.

    This is a corrupt, unlawful – and by these appointments of people who don’t live here – stupid, sloppy, and hostile takeover of Gainesville by it’s self defined enemies. Right thinking citizens, commissioners, and the appointees themselves should turn their back on this board and all it’s actions. At a minimum, and until the law is thrown out by the courts, The governor and his stooges local and statewide should go back to the drawing board, rescind the appointments of these modern day carpet baggers, and at least try to follow their own law on who gets seated. Failure to do that is a middle finger shot at Gainesville, it’s citizens, and the citizens of Florida.

    • 🖕🏻Like this? That’s what Saco did to the employees of Gainesville.
      Keep braying.

      • If Jazzy is a lawyer, he’s fired along with his man love City of Gainesville’s City Commission and Mayor

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