What follows is a bit lengthy, and complicated, but, for those who comfortable with details and complexity, I believe it adds context to the latest attempt by GRU officials to threaten with arrest Gainesville citizens who dare to attempt to talk with GRU customers about the GRU-GREC biomass deal on GRU property:
For more than two and a half years GRU and the Gainesville City Commission have aided and abetted the private limited liability company GREC’s attempt to keep hidden from the public the important financial details of the GRU-GREC biomass deal – at more than $3 billion the most costly contract ever approved by the city commission.
Seven citizens of Gainesville, on April 6, finally succeeded in having previously secret details of the GRU-GREC contract made public, in settlement of public interest litigation that had been opposed by the Gainesville City Commission and GRU. As a result of the release of these details, many members of the public learned for the first time that the GRU-GREC contract did not contain a back out clause that commissioners had promised and that would have allowed the city to back out of the deal if GRU’s rosy financial predictions turned out to be wrong. Those rosy predictions have turned out to be very wrong.
On May 19, I appeared before the Gainesville City Commission and formally asked the commission to appoint an independent panel to review whether the GRU-GREC deal still made sense in light of GRU’s faulty predictions, and in light of substantially changed circumstances. My request came weeks before GREC filed its final notice to proceed, an event up to which GRU-GREC co-lead negotiator Ed Regan had previously implied to the commission that GRU could back out of the deal for about $2 million.
On May 19, each commissioner was also presented with my request in written form, along with a box to each commissioner containing hundreds of petitions from citizens pleading for commissioners to do their fiduciary duty and readdress the GRU-GREC deal before it was too late. GRU General Manager Robert Huzinger advised commissioners not to respond, suggesting that he would not touch the subject “with a ten foot pole.” The commission failed to respond to the request and to the citizen petitions, even to acknowledge that the request had been made.
At about the same time, in May, an engineer and citizen member of the Gainesville Energy Advisory Committee named Joe Wills was ordered by GRU-GREC co-lead negotiator John Stanton to cease his efforts to encourage communication between the City Commission and the public about the GRU-GREC deal. Wills subsequently resigned as a protest over these improper attempts to prevent GEAC from performing its legally mandated duty to serve as an information bridge between the commission and the public on matters related to energy policy.
From May through June Gainesville citizens appeared at every single regularly scheduled city commission meeting asking more and more questions about the GRU-GREC biomass deal. But not a single citizen question was answered, or even acknowledged to have been asked.
Finally, on June 30, 2011 GREC, finally issued its notice to proceed, a watershed date after which the cost of getting out of the GRU-GREC deal began to rise substantially.
On July 7, 2011 the city commission authorized the subject of biomass rate “impacts” to be referred to the city’s Regional Utilities Committee, composed of GRU-GREC-biomass-at-any-cost proponents Susan Bottcher, Craig Lowe and Thomas Hawkins. For months, Ms. Bottcher, chair of the committee, refused to hear citizen requests that the RUC actually hold a meeting on the biomass referral.
Finally, a group of citizens – frustrated at the city commission’s more than two year refusal to schedule a single meeting about the most costly private contract ever approved by the city commission – decided to organize their own community biomass forum. Thereafter, the RUC meeting was scheduled, and Commissioner Jeanna Mastrodicasa and former Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan, writing in The Gainesville Sun, attempted to discourage citizens from attending the citizens’ community biomass forum, and to get their information instead from what was to be presented at the RUC meeting.
On October 9, about 150 citizens attended the citizens community biomass forum, the first substantive discussion ever held about the costs and effects of the proposed GRU-GREC biomass plant. The only city commissioner to attend the forum was Commissioner Todd Chase, though every other commissioner and the Mayor had been invited to attend Neither Mr. Hunzinger nor any other invited GRU official to participate in the forum chose to do so.
On October 10, the RUC meeting on biomass rate impact was held. It was attended by about 60 citizens, many of whom had attended the citizens community biomass forum. They came armed with sufficient knowledge to ask important questions. Many of these questions were ignored by the RUC meeting’s emcee, GRU General Manager Hunzinger, who announced it was his intention to answer only those questions he deemed “pertinent.”
Following the RUC meeting, citizens demanded, without success, that Commissioner Bottcher allow a video that had been made of the RUC meeting to be posted on the city’s website so that citizens who were not able to attend the meeting could view the meeting on line. Commissioner Bottcher finally authorized the video to be posted on the city’s website. But weeks ago I wrote Ms. Bottcher and other commissioners requesting that the video be placed on the city’s where citizens could find it – specifically at the link to the link to the October 10 RUC meeting, below the tab labeled “video.” To date, my letter has not been responded to, and the link below tab labeled video continues to be grayed out with the notice that the video is “Not available.”
Citizens able to view the video of the RUC meeting would see and hear GRU’s general counsel step forward to claim on Mr. Hunzinger’s behalf that Mr. Hunzinger had spoken individually, in private, to every commissioner before the GRU-GREC contract was approved on May 7, 2009 and informed each commissioner that the “suggested” back-out clause had been removed. The back-out clause, it was asserted, was removed because GREC would not allow the clause. It was that every before the May 7, 2009 meeting at which the GRU-GREC contract was approved was aware that there was no back out clause in the contract (and thus no escape valve if GRU’s financial predictions turned out to be wrong).
About a week after the RUC meeting, concluded, citizens, as a result of a public records request, obtained a copy of a memo written by GREC that proved that – contrary to Mr. Hunzinger’s assertions –GREC had actually included a back out clause in the contract. This discrepancy has never been adequately explained.
Additionally, shortly thereafter, I was told about a recording of a city commission meeting held on December 17, 2009 that establishes that more than 7 months after the city commission approved the GRU-GREC contract commissioners appeared still unaware that GRU had removed the back out clause.
Now, GRU officials have called in the police to stop citizens from talking about “biomass” on GRU property.
Again, I do not believe the citizens of Gainesville will allow this to stand. The results of next month’s city election will be the test.