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Racial Justice Town Hall Part 1: Overview and City of Gainesville

BY JENNIFER CABRERA / MAY 1, 2019

Bottom line for the City of Gainesville: around $5 million

On Wednesday, April 24, the Alachua County Chapter of the NAACP and the United Church of Gainesville (Racial Justice Task Force) hosted a town hall meeting at the Thelma Boltin Center on “Understanding Racial Inequities in Alachua County: Where are we now?”

The goal of the meeting was for officials from the city, county, school board, and large employers to explain how their organizations have responded to the January 2018 report, “Understanding Racial Inequity in Alachua County” prepared by the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR). 

The program for the meeting can be seen here. The second page highlights some statistics from the Racial Inequity report, and the first one, frequently quoted in The Gainesville Sun, is misleading: the statistic is given as “Average income” for blacks vs. whites, but the table in the original report lists “Average household income.” This is important because a household can have any number of earners, and “household” doesn’t tell you how many earners contribute to that household’s income. Another statistic in the report says that over 79% of black babies in the county are born to single mothers, so it is likely that the average number of earners per household is smaller for blacks than for whites in Alachua County. It is misleading to compare households with different numbers of earners and claim that the differences are due to racial disparity. 

Five questions were given to each organization before the meeting:

  1. How have the “Inequity Study” results been incorporated into your institution’s plans, goals, and job assignments?
  2. Quantify the specific expenditures that have been allocated toward achieving the above.
  3. How is success in increasing equity being measured by your institution?
  4. What are your institution’s plans for the next 1-5 years for increasing equity?
  5. Provide an anecdote of success that will encourage us in our hope for positive change.

Questions were also taken on notecards from the roughly 160 attendees, and some of the officials gave answers to a few of the questions before time ran out. The remaining question cards were sorted by organization and given to each organization’s representatives at the end of the meeting.

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Alachua Chronicle reporters attended the meeting, and we will divide our coverage into separate articles for the City, County, School Board, higher education, and local employers; this article gives an overview of the meeting and the responses from the City of Gainesville.

The meeting opened with introductory remarks from Evelyn Foxx, President of the local chapter of the NAACP, and Rev. Andy Bachmann, representing the United Church of Gainesville’s Racial Justice Task Force. Bachmann spoke of the “heartbreaking and enraging statistics” in the BEBR report and said the meeting’s participants would be talking about “what has worked.”

Each speaker was then given 5 minutes to present their answers to the above questions. Fortunately, each organization also provided its answers (in varying detail) in writing to these questions, because none of them got through the questions before their time was up.

Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe spoke first. He said that “equity is the cornerstone of every activity and action” the city takes. He said the city had hired a new Equal Opportunity director, Teneeshia Marshall, to oversee their equity and accessibility efforts. The city has implemented a program to give local small businesses the opportunity to win procurement and other city contracts. They also re-launched their Small Business Mentoring Program in April 2019. The city is working toward a “living wage”, with $13.75 as the current minimum wage for city employees. The city is also discussing mandating a “living wage” in all city contracts. 

The City of Gainesville has also spent close to $500,000 on affordable housing initiatives, which are detailed in the city’s document with answers to the five questions (link at the end of this article). Poe discussed Heartwood and Cornerstone, housing projects that “are aimed at revitalizing and reimagining east Gainesville.” Heartwood, when completed, will have 11 “cost-contained” dwellings. 

Gainesville’s mobility efforts include the Last Mile, First Mile program (active in parts of southeast Gainesville), which provides rides to the nearest bus stop for anyone who has to walk more than a quarter of a mile to the stop. Poe said this is primarily used by school-age children who live within 2 miles of their school and are thus unable to use school buses. The service is “performing beyond expectations”: they expected 20 riders per day, and they actually get more than 30. The costs for this service included the purchase of 7 microbuses at $85,000 each (Poe said $75k, but the written report says $85k). The document didn’t include any information about operating costs for this service, which is planned to operate for 3 years.

Poe discussed the Community Resource Paramedic Program, stating that the top users of 911 calls are almost all minorities. He said the program has reduced 911 calls by a third.

The City Commission has allocated more than $175,000 in the FY2019 budget for youth programs in at-risk communities. According to the written document, $100,000 was allocated for an out-of-school time initiative for the Phoenix neighborhood and $50,000 to expand GPD’s BOLD (Brave Overt Leaders of Distinction) Program. 

Poe said the city added $5 million in spending last year for equity programs. Poe was unable to be specific about how the city measures increased equity, saying they were using “new quality analytics” and “digital and analog methods.”

Gainesville has recently become a member of GARE, the Government Alliance on Racial Equity; Gainesville is the only city in the Southeast that is part of this alliance.

Gainesville City Commissioner Gail Johnson then stood up to announce that there will be a presentation on racial equity at the Gainesville City Commission meeting on May 16 at a time certain of 6:30 pm. 

The question-and-answer period took most of the remaining time. The questions that were answered by city representatives are listed here; more questions and other answers to these questions will be given in the articles about the other organizations that attended the meeting.

What policies does the city have to serve black neighborhoods and not push poor people out?

Mayor Poe talked about the city’s historic preservation board, which emphasizes reinvesting in neighborhoods while maintaining their character.

How do we encourage economic growth on the east side while protecting it from gentrification?

Poe said the city wants to combine all the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) districts into a single district so that funds raised in one district can be redistributed to other districts. This will be discussed in the CRA meeting “next week” (we couldn’t find any information about a CRA meeting this week on the city’s website). He also talked about a city initiative to create renters’ rights to a safe, energy-efficient home. (See the Alachua County Labor Coalition’s “Safe and Healthy Housing for All” flyer that was distributed at the meeting.)

In answer to the same question, Interim Gainesville City Manager Deborah Bowie said the city will move the CRA staff to the GTEC center so they will be closer to the CRA districts. She also said that affordable housing is a divisive issue in Gainesville: “We want to be equitable until we have to be equitable,” apparently referring to the defeated GNV Rise initiative. She continued, “We have to be honest about what we’re willing to do.” Poe added, “We don’t want to force displacement.”

How are the city, county, school board, and law enforcement working together? 

There was general laughter in response to this question, along with gestures indicating the current gathering. Mayor Poe said they are making a greater effort to work together, especially with the CRA. He said the city is working closely with Santa Fe College and the new business incubator. He said they need to improve the available activities for after-school and out-of-school time and that “it’s hard to get us all in the same room.”

Crime is up in the city and county. How can the community help?

Mayor Poe says the city has challenged GPD to arrest fewer people and that they would like to decriminalize marijuana. He said that people who use drugs “are not psychopaths, not violent people” and that he is traveling to San Diego for a meeting with four other cities to discuss issues relating to crime. 

Ms. Bowie said the Duval Initiative is an example of what the city is doing to combat crime; they need the community to partner with them because “neighborhoods are being terrorized.” She said GPD is doing what they can, but GPD is short 40 officers. She said they “don’t want to be reactive.” 

GPD Chief Tony Jones said “We’re not going to arrest our way out of crime” and talked about using the Drug Market Initiative (DMI); he actually mentioned open air drug markets, but we assume he was talking about DMI. DMI allows non-violent dealers to have a “reimagined relationship with the law” and be accountable to leaders in their community instead of going to jail. 

How will you increase opportunities with the city and county for minority businesses?

Ms. Bowie talked about the city’s Office of Equal Opportunity, saying the city offers a small business program but that “lots of minority businesses can’t even compete” for city contracts. She said there are a lot of entrepreneurs in the black community, but they don’t have the training to write a business plan or get loans: “The city can do many things, but it can’t do everything.” She said the city needed to improve training and awareness: 27% of the government workforce is black, but that’s not reflected in city contracts. She said they have a “gender goal” or “minority goal” for certain city positions. 

More detailed answers to the five questions above are included in the city’s Equity Update. The answer to question #3 is particularly noteworthy because it underscores the fact that it will be difficult to demonstrate success in improving equity and that they can therefore claim any result that suits their objectives : “We create measures of success across different programmatic and service specific areas understanding that our outcomes are measured against a variety of different objectives. We use both qualitative and quantitative measures to define our success.”

Although Rev. Karl Smith had opened the meeting by exhorting everyone to “disagree without being disagreeable” and to discuss ideas instead of criticizing other people, Evelyn Foxx closed the meeting by calling out the leaders of the organizations that did not attend the meeting (UF, Shands, and the Chamber of Commerce). She said they were “scared” to come and didn’t want to deal with the community. The Gainesville Sun also criticized these organizations in opinion pieces; neither Foxx nor the Gainesville Sun acknowledged that these organizations provided written answers to the questions. 

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