GRU vote staves off additional searching

Published: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Based on the votes marked on ballots cast by Gainesville city commissioners Monday, most commissioners were ready to seek out more candidates for Gainesville Regional Utilities' new general manager if their preferred candidate was not elected.

Andy Ramirez, El Paso Electric Co.'s vice president of power generation, was selected as the first choice of the commission after three rounds of voting at Monday's meeting. The multistage voting process was necessary to eliminate two candidates and a third option that would have continued the search process.

"I mean it when I say all three were really close for me," said Commissioner Ed Braddy, who supported Novick early in the process but said Ramirez brought experience running diversity programs and handling a union work force.

Ramirez will take over as the head of GRU if he and Gainesville Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan are able to agree on a contract in the coming weeks and the contract is approved by the commission. Ramirez is expected to ask for about $250,000 in salary, about $84,000 more than former GRU General Manager Mike Kurtz made when he resigned in May.

While Ramirez's selection was eventually approved by a unanimous vote of the commission, on a previous vote three of the seven commissioners voted against Ramirez in favor of continuing to look.

"I thought at that point if we weren't satisfied we should keep looking," Commissioner Rick Bryant, who voted to continue looking, said Tuesday. "It's no reflection on Mr. Ramirez, if we end up working out the contract I'll work with him."

Ramirez has extensive background in energy generation and has also worked for Austin Energy, which some commissioners and city residents consider a model for conservation programs. During public interviews Saturday, Ramirez questioned the need for an additional 220-megawatts of power to meet Gainesville's future energy needs but argued that future power would be supplied by nuclear or coal generators.

Ramirez could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Bryant and Commissioner Scherwin Henry, who had supported Novick, ended up voting to continue the search process after their favored candidate was eliminated in the second round of voting. They were joined by Commissioner Craig Lowe, who had supported Ramirez as a second choice but preferred to go on with the search.

Hanrahan, Braddy and Commissioners Jack Donovan and Jeanna Mastrodicasa all voted for Ramirez. Before Monday's meeting, Donovan had been critical of the search process and sought to continue looking.

Donovan could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Though Ramirez was selected, Bryant said an agreement with him was not guaranteed. The hefty price tag he brings could be a problem, particularly because it could require the commission to re-evaluate the salaries it pays other high-level employees, he said.

"I'm hoping everyone's a little bit price-sensitive," he said.

Jeff Adelson can be reached at (352) 374-5095 or adelsoj@gville

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