January 15, 2014
Dear Mayor and Commissioners,
The bill Representative Perry presented last Friday is a dreadful undermining of local control of our city’s assets and your ability to conduct our city affairs, including long term strategic planning and fiscal prudence, and I call on all of you to vigorously oppose this misplaced attempt at disenfranchising we city residents, the owners of Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU), and the undermining of your fiduciary responsibilities to the City and its future.
This bill says that each GRU account holder, city and non-city alike, would get a letter in the mail this summer, at a time of year when a lot of people are gone, with a yes or no vote to create a board that is formed by mostly outsiders — this is not even being done with an election under the supervisor of elections and the public debates that accompany elections. Account holders are not necessarily residents of the City, yet this is going only to them. Anyone with multiple accounts, including corporate account-holders, will get more than one vote, which could skew this vote even more unfairly.
In my household are three voting citizens of Gainesville. I am the only account holder, so right there, 2/3 of my household, who are owners of GRU, are denied their right to vote on their asset. In the nine houses on my cul-de-sac, this bill would disenfranchise HALF of the voters, so what is that number going to be across the city?
GRU is a city owned asset, a 100-year investment by the residents of this City, and should not be governed by a preponderance of members appointed by other bodies, especially from outside the City, especially by the State (Governor).
GRU is a core component of, and integral part of our city’s strategic planning and vision. It is critical for our City Commission to be in charge, since an appointed board has one narrow focus/responsibility, which appears to be only about low rates. It is the City Commission’s broad integrated policies on taxes, energy, environmental quality, public works, housing, transportation, infill development, etc. that must work together, with long term thinking, to create Gainesville’s quality attributes that continue to attract national attention and have buffered us during this economic downturn.
The 30% of non-city customers not having a voice is a false argument. I keep hearing that 30% of the owners of GRU are being left out—account holders being confused with owners. Because we have a public utility, everyone does have a voice. Just because they can’t vote in the city, doesn’t mean they are shut out of meetings or not allowed to present their viewpoint or information.
I lived outside the city for my first nine years here and I was involved in opposing the proposed new coal plant. Others even more involved than I also lived outside the city limits, but we met with GRU management and staff. We attended city meetings and spoke— we offered research and ideas about conservation and health, — the only thing we couldn’t do was vote for City Commission, but we certainly were heard—and we don’t have that new coal plant either!
Most people in Florida and elsewhere not only don’t have a choice of their utility, they have no hope of a voice, because they are under a for-profit private corporation that could not care less what its customers have to say. You live with it or move. And because private utilities are beholden to their shareholders and quarterly performance, what is best for the community and community values are not part of their fiduciary responsibility or interest, so the community is more vulnerable and worse off.
The Tampa Bay Tribune reported Oct 12, 2013 a demonstration against Duke Energy where the crowd was out in front of Duke Energy’s downtown St. Petersburg office protesting a proposed settlement with the Florida Public Service Commission that permits the utility to recover more than $3 billion from 1.7 million customers for the nuclear plant that will not be built. Those customers were outside on the street, not in Dukes’ office, not able to have a voice at all!
Rates are also a red herring. Taking GRU away from direct governance by the City Commission will not automatically give people low rates or bills, and high rates do not automatically equal high bills. High bills are a housing issue, they are a wasteful habits issue, they are a lack of knowledge issue. They are a global issue of rising electric costs due to shifting to unconventional fossil fuels that are expensive to extract and process. They are an issue of leaky, non weatherized, or non-retrofitted buildings, and a lack of state and national financial and policy support for transitioning to renewable energy and rewarding conservation and efficiency. We tend to waste about 30% or more of our energy and water in the USA.
High rates can actually inspire people to learn how to quit wasting, and to seek out ways to lower their use and their bills. High bills hurt the poor and fixed income population, and I support substantial efforts to address the financial stress they are coping with, but that is a housing, lack of knowledge/wasteful habits, income inequality, health and poverty issue that is a systemic problem whether rates are high or low.
The cry for low rates distracts us from recognizing the immediate financial and health benefits we gain by implementing vigorous and comprehensive conservation and efficiency measures, and that keep us vulnerable to volatile fossil fuel markets and costs of transport from far away.
Please do what you can to oppose this bill, and protect our rights, and our options, as owners of GRU and citizens of Gainesville.
volunteer with Gainesville Loves Mountains