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Harvey Ward hints that GRU General Manager’s job is again in jeopardy

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

During commission comment at the end of the January 20 Gainesville City Commission meeting, Commissioner Harvey Ward signaled that Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) General Manager Ed Bielarski’s job may still be in jeopardy. Bielarski’s termination was previously added to the agenda of their September 13 meeting by Mayor Lauren Poe, but a motion from Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos to terminate his contract was withdrawn after it became clear he didn’t have the votes. At that meeting, Ward told Bielarski that he needed him to name a Chief Climate Officer and a team to work with the Climate Advisory Committee and the Utility Advisory Board and bring back a plan by January (this month) to get to 100% renewable energy. He needed him to “fold some duplicate services together with General Government.”

At the January 20 meeting, Ward referred to GRU’s failure to make the short list for UF’s Central Energy Project: “I was hoping we would get information on this before asking for it, that it would be offered to us as part of the regular business of the commission from a charter [officer]… We certainly felt good about getting on the short list, and I’m sure that there are good reasons that we were not on the short list… And given the assurances that we were given—assurances is the wrong word. That seems legalistic, and I don’t like that. It sounded to me like getting on the short list was going to happen and that that was a big reason that Mr. Bielarski was on the team… We didn’t get the bid. We didn’t get on the short list… For many, many years, the idea that we needed to do whatever we could to get UF to buy power from GRU has been a constant drum beat, and it should be… I felt like we were in a position to do that, and having missed it, we need to, as a body, have a better understanding of how we missed it and what we could do differently.”

Bielarski responded that they are still in a blackout period, and “we can’t discuss that because it’s subject to those rules of procurement… When we’re out of the blackout period, I’d be glad to discuss it.”

Hayes-Santos chimed in, “The UF proposal was more than disappointing. I mean, that was one of the things that we talked about for a long time, and to not even be close is a significant issue. And it does bring concerns in management—that was the main reason why we said we should keep our current management… he was the only one who was going to be able to get it done. I’m not sure how the rest of the commission feels, but that was concerning for me.”

Commissioner David Arreola referred to the rash of charter officer resignations in September of 2021 (the City Clerk later rescinded her resignation): “I think we have to strive for continuity but also make sure that we are upholding the highest standards for all charter offices.”

The next day, Bielarski sent an email to the city commissioners, stating that the only feedback they had from UF was their scoring of the bid, in which GRU finished 11th out of 11 respondents. 

“None of my staff nor I know why UF scored GRU so low, but given the release of the Auditor General’s report and the focus on the size of GRU’s debt, along with the recent downgrades, one can only suspect that the financial wherewithal of the other parties was much stronger than ours.” – GRU General Manager Ed Bielarski

Bielarski wrote, “Each respondent’s submission was scored up to 1,000 points in four categories; Financial (300 points); Operations and Maintenance (300 points); Design and Construction (300 points); and Understanding (100 points).  GRU received a score of 443 out of 1,000 points, while the top four respondents all received over 700 points.  In the Financial section alone, GRU scored 50 points, versus the top 3 respondents received 285 points and the fourth received a score of 185.  None of my staff nor I know why UF scored GRU so low, but given the release of the Auditor General’s report and the focus on the size of GRU’s debt, along with the recent downgrades, one can only suspect that the financial wherewithal of the other parties was much stronger than ours.  Of particular note, Duke was 9 out of the 11 with a Financial score of 100 out of 300.  Also, FPL is a partner in one of the short-listed entities.”

Bielarski included a presentation put together by GRU Chief Financial Officer Claudia Rasnick that included this chart:

The presentation said that based on the scoring results, GRU’s consultant, JP Morgan, “assumed” that UF “placed significant emphasis on demonstrated public-private partnership experience… GRU’s primary partnership, with UF on the SEC plant, was not factored in as UF considered it ‘conflicted out.’ Duke Energy’s project partnerships with UF were also excluded. GRU and Duke scored in the bottom three of the 11 proposals.”

Former Florida Public Service Commissioner and Attorney Nathan Skop wrote in an email to Alachua Chronicle that “Commissioner Ward doesn’t seem to understand that the UF Central Energy Project opportunity was not GRU selling electricity generated by GRU to UF. The opportunity was to design, construct, operate, and maintain the plant on UF campus for the benefit of UF. Although GRU had a fiduciary duty to pursue the UF Central Energy Project opportunity, this incremental revenue stream probably wouldn’t make a noticeable difference in lowering GRU electric rates and may have resulted in GRU issuing additional debt. Ward also cannot seem to figure out why UF didn’t short list GRU amongst the responses.”

Skop pointed out that GRU’s debt, a recent two-notch downgrade in GRU’s credit rating, and “dysfunction on the city commission” may have been factors. Skop concluded, “It is apparent that Commissioner Ward is now blaming GRU and using this as a pretext to fire the GRU General Manager for pursuing the opportunity, as instructed by the city commission.”

  • Why would anyone want to do business with an entity that has constant resignations and infighting, threats (and subsequent retractions) of terminations of senior officers and other nonstop small-minded white trash drama, and a ‘board of directors’ that often comes across as candidates to be in a remake of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. They are just too asinine to look in the mirror and let reality sink in.

    • Hit the nail on the head. It’s mostly Ward, Poe, and Santos that are soooo ignorant I guess if you have no job you can sit and imagine yourself a great and powerful official who has accomplished many things. Quite the opposite for these 3 big-time losers. .

  • Nice to see “Last Chance” Harvey hiding part of that scrotum head of his behind a mask.

    The commission & GRU management can’t understand why they graded so low? Maybe the scoring is reflective of the results if the commissioners were to take an IQ test…much closer to the bottom than the top.

    Harvey needs to go hide behind some more skirts before opening his mouth about something being on a “short list.” He’s on the short list too – short on intelligence, short on common sense, short on caring about the residents of Gainesville and hopefully short with time remaining in an elected office.

  • Harvey Ward should get in front of a mirror & scream, yell & curse @ person responsible for GRU’s massive debt!
    Then he should demand his own immediate resignation due to his part in GRU’s 11 of 11 ranking in UF Central Plant bid!
    Put the blame where it belongs! Fire the person most responsible!

  • The cost of the job search (again) will be added to the 30-yr biomass loan, with interest.

  • Commissioners can’t see the Forrest for the trees. Look in the mirror numbskulls! It’s YOU/them/that/yours that are the stinking problem. Your GFT has been unreasonable, you’ve assumed over a billion in debt, and spent like zillionaires even repeatedly and publicly trying to fire the one good steward of GRUs people and ability to operate. Come Nov will start on changes to your ability to bankrupt this utility and the city.

  • What the F? Why do we need a CHIEF CLIMATE
    OFFICER? These guys are idiots. Where did they
    Get that from? That’s that UN crap. They need to stay
    In their lane & local jurisdiction and focus on keeping our utility bills
    Low. Didn’t they take an oath to defend the US constitution? Why are they following that Kyoto proto,
    Agenda 21, Agenda 30, Great reset stuff??? I think
    They got oxygen deprecation to their commie brains!
    The black lady in the photo is double masked too!
    Didn’t they get their booster shots? Maybe they need to
    Get their booster shots in their buttocks because that’s where their
    Brains are….

      • 100% renewable energy? What, we going back
        To wood like caveman?? We should just buy all
        Our electric from utilities regulated by the PSC…
        We should have gone nuclear instead of biomass.

        • Solar panels add to global warming because they
          Are black and absorb heat and displace green
          Trees…Trees generate oxygen. We need CO2 because trees create oxygen through photosynthesis. Windmills don’t work well inland
          And kill migrating birds…the Chinese are in control of all the lythium to make the batteries and
          The mining of rare earth metals creates a lot of
          Pollution. The future is that Hydrogen3 and fusion
          Reaction…nuclear is the future.

          • And Hillary Clinton sold the rights to our uranium to the Russians with that uranium deal..

          • I can’t even see how Gru gets away with breaking people’s arm off for their bill

  • Is the COG Commissioners oblivious to the fact they somehow managed to lead GRU along with the COG into insolvency? C’mon Man quit making things worse. The State Authorities will hopefully be here soon to save the taxpayers, GRU Tax slaves and rid the Commission of any decision making. Buckle up , it’s going to be a wild ,ride out of town

  • Gru is so expensive I can’t believe that the state can sit there and let them over charge people like they do it’s like we have to slave drive just to pay our light bill it’s like Monopoly but we have to have lights

    • If you want lower rates, vote them out. GRU is owned by the city, and the voters keep voting in corrupt incompetents to run the city. GRU is mandated to transfer 36-38 MILLION dollars per year to the city.

      GRU doesn’t set the rates, the City Council does.

  • Ed Bielarski is just doing the best he can do with the hand that he has been dealt by the city. GRUs problems began before he was even hired. I’m surprised that he hasn’t willingly left for another job given all of the bs politics and blame game be he has to put up with. The city commission should pray that he doesn’t leave because no competent professional would ever want to take that job after reading about everything Ed had put up with.

  • The way Harvey “Two Face” is pushing, perhaps he has a special incentive. Maybe a special audit of his personal finances would be warranted.

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