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Letter to Mayor: Is Coverup Worse Than the Crime

Robert Mounts <> Sat, Aug 12, 2017, 12:28 PM

to Lauren, buddhm, Adrian, wardhl, Helen, gostonce, arreoladi, Anthony, 

Dear Mayor Poe and Members of the City Commission,

For your information, and as a courtesy, below my signature block is the text of an Op-Ed regarding the proposed GREC biomass plant buyout which the Gainesville Sun plans to publish next Sunday, August 20, 2017.  

I am not passing judgment on the proposed buyout or any particular office-holder's responsibility, past or present, as I do not at this time have all the facts. I am simply urging you to walk away from this proposed buyout contract and opt fearlessly for a full and open process that will expose the details of this entire matter, not just the most recent contract negotiations, so that the public interest may be protected from further grievous financial harm. Given the huge and continuing financial impact upon the citizens of this community, your duty as a public official requires no less.

This is exactly what I meant in my December 2016 talk to the Alachua County Democratic Executive Committee when running for State Committeeman, a minor post I won; that our party's highest goal should be "good governance", not just electing Democrats. When fellow Democrats are alleged to be culpable in mismanagement, official misconduct, or fraud, it is critically important to open it all up, find out all the facts, and "let the chips fall where they may".  This is the only way to restore and preserve the public trust, in our party, and in our local government.



Robert Mounts

GREC coverup worse than the crime?
By Robert Mounts
Special to The Sun

Like many residential utility customers, I find the pending $750 million dollar buyout of the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center biomass plant to be very troubling, if not criminal. 

The known facts are very complex and difficult for the layman to understand. I don’t honestly know whether those who brought this obvious calamity upon the city of Gainesville were incompetent or nefarious. It may be that they simply made economic assumptions that later proved to be false.

One thing I do know: The cover-up is often worse than the crime. Fundamentally, I see no reason why Gainesville Regional Utilities customers should be required to pay for this mistake to the tune of $36 million or more a year over the next 30 years, through what is acknowledged to be at or near the highest electric rates in Florida.

If the City Commission approves this purchase in the name of getting us out of a bad deal and saving us money, we may never know who should be held accountable, or whether the proposed solution is fair and reasonable. Without a forensic audit, arbitration or a court-supervised opportunity to learn why this happened through discovery and subpoenas for appropriate records, the record will be sealed from public view. In my view, not only is that throwing good money after bad, it is a blatant cover-up, plain and simple.

A few months ago The Sun published a very informative primer on the GREC biomass plant issue. However, it stopped short of holding anyone accountable, including former Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan or any other city commissioner, past or present. Surely The Sun has access to voting records and other public documents that would allow the public to see who supported it and why. 

It doesn’t inspire public confidence to know that key officials signed a non-disclosure agreement, preventing them from revealing the details of negotiations. Rumors and allegations deserve to be either validated or quashed through an open and comprehensive review of all the facts and related documents before a final settlement is approved. Without opening the entire transaction up to that sort of open process, there will forever be a stain on the competence and motives of both past and present city commissioners, including current Mayor Lauren Poe.

At a candidate forum conducted during the last mayoral race at the law school on campus, former Mayor Ed Braddy said he tried to get a “termination for convenience” clause in the GREC contract, standard in any government contract, which would allow the city to get out of the deal if circumstances later warranted it. However, he said, he “didn’t have the votes” (actually, on May 12, 2008, Braddy and six others had unanimously approved the clause, but it was later dropped; who voted for that?). Then candidate and former City Commissioner Lauren Poe told the audience he was “young and new to the commission”, thus didn’t have enough experience to ensure the public interest was protected.

Today, our mayor can no longer claim to be young and inexperienced. The only way to restore public trust is to walk away from this deal and take the case into arbitration, or into the courts, so that all the facts may come out.
Just so you know, there is long-standing legal precedent holding that the government has always possessed the inherent authority to suspend contracts, whether or not a termination for convenience clause is expressly included in the contract. The possibility of alleged collusion and fraud makes it all the more imperative that the city exercise this inherent authority, now.

Otherwise, the cover-up will truly be worse than the crime. No one will be held accountable and we will all pay dearly for their mistakes. The sad thing is it may well have all started because of well-intentioned efforts to put Gainesville on a renewable energy track, albeit at demonstrably excessive costs, working with speculative investors apparently only interested in a quick buck.

Sadly, the key players here are all Democrats, as am I. However, in my days as an aide to Gov. Reubin Askew, such wrongdoing was not tolerated, regardless of party. When a political ally was indicted for bribery, General Counsel Edgar M. Dunn told the governor’s senior executive assistant, Jim Apthorpe, who angrily questioned why we were indicting our friends, “if our friends are crooks, we don’t need them.”

Robert Mounts lives in Gainesville.


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