A path forward. Gina Peebles, Chief of Staff for Alachua County, Florida, joined the podcast to discuss Alachua County’s truth and reconciliation initiative. This work was driven by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) museum and memorial for lynching victims. Gina shared how the process was community-driven and how other local governments can start a similar effort.
This episode was recorded from the Florida City/County Managers Association (FCCMA) 2021 Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida.
Host: Ben Kittelson
Ben Kittelson 00:09
Hey y’all, coming to you from Orlando, Florida, this is Gov Love, a podcast about local government brought to you by Engaging Local Government Leaders. I’m Ben Kittleson, consultant at Raftelis and Gov Love co host. We are on site at the Florida City County Managers Association Conference. And we have a great episode for you today discussing reconciliation in Alachua County. But first, the best way to support Gov Love is to become an ELGL member. ELGL is a professional association engaging the brightest minds in local government. Now let me introduce today’s guest. Gina Peebles is the Assistant County Manager and Chief of Staff for Alachua County, Florida, a position she’s been in since 2020. Before taking on her current role, she served as Assistant County Manager for Community and Administrative Services and as Administrative Services Director for the county as well. Before joining Alachua County, she was the Director of Parks and Recreation for Marion County, Florida. Welcome to Gov Love Gina, thank you so much for joining!
Gina Peebles 00:59
Thank you so much for having me!
Ben Kittelson 01:00
I’m sorry for stumbling all over your county’s name but I’ve apparently been saying it wrong in my head for years now.
Gina Peebles 01:06
So you must not be a Gator
Ben Kittelson 01:08
Not, no, no, no, I moved to Jacksonville from North Carolina and then from Oregon originally. So I know. I know. I’ve been to Alachua County and to Gainesville, but not spent a lot of time.
Gina Peebles 01:20
All right. Well, we’ll have to invite you back.
Ben Kittelson 01:22
Yeah. Alright, so we have a tradition on the podcast to start with a lightning round to let our listeners get to know our guests a little better, allows you to warm up, settle in, it’s the first day of the conference, so this is a good, good warm up. So my first question for you. What was the first album that you bought?
Gina Peebles 01:37
New Kids on the Block.
Ben Kittelson 01:39
New Kids on the Block. Nice.
Gina Peebles 01:40
Oh my goodness. Yeah. And so that really brings back some memories. Like, you know, being a teenage girl and loving those guys. So yeah.
Ben Kittelson 01:50
That’s great. Okay, I think mine was also a boyband. But it’s more like in NSYNC or 98 degrees.
Gina Peebles 01:55
Same, same thing.
Ben Kittelson 01:58
Alright, and then since we are in Orlando, I feel like I have to ask a Disney themed question. So what’s your favorite Disney movie?
Gina Peebles 02:04
Ben Kittelson 02:05
Sleeping beauty? Okay, a classic.
Gina Peebles 02:06
Yeah, definitely. I think I know every word by heart.
Ben Kittelson 02:10
That’s fair. I think I probably still know like some of the words like I know like Lion King. I bet I can still rattle off some of the quotes as if it was playing.
Gina Peebles 02:19
So singing aloud?
Ben Kittelson 02:21
Oh, yeah, I do.
Gina Peebles 02:24
(Singing) Pink pajamas penguins on the bottoms, pink pajamas, penguins- Okay, I’ll stop torturing your listeners.
Ben Kittelson 02:32
That’s great. Alright, so next lightning round question for you. Is there a book that you give us a gift most often?
Gina Peebles 02:38
So my general go to book gift would be God Gave us You. And so generally, that’s for new moms. And it’s just a really cute little book about you know, like you’re wanted, you’re loved.
Ben Kittelson 02:49
Awesome, yeah. So I usually ask what people are reading, but I feel like the gift one is like really interesting, because folks, you give gifts books as gifts differently than I think you, at least I know than what I read.
Gina Peebles 03:00
That’s true. I don’t think that I would give some of the books that I read. So yeah.
Ben Kittelson 03:05
All right, then my last lightning round question for you. Where do you go for inspiration?
Gina Peebles 03:09
Ben Kittelson 03:09
Google? Isn’t there anybody? That’s the best place to start, yeah.
Gina Peebles 03:14
Really. Yeah. So you know, like, whenever you’re doing birthday wishes, you know, sympathy cards, any of those types of things. It’s like I’ve really gotten gotten to the point where I like to include a poem about whatever the topic is. And so yeah, I go to Google. And of course, I give, you know, the poet credit.
Ben Kittelson 03:32
Yeah, that’s awesome. Okay, so one, one of the things I always like to ask folks about when they’re on the podcast is their career path in government. So for you, what was your path to your role? How did you end up in local government? What’s been your path to Alachua County?
Gina Peebles 03:46
So that’s kind of an interesting question. I wanted to be president of a bank. So all through high school, all of the classes I took, everything, it all revolved around me being the president of a bank. So a friend of mine, he said, Hey, we have a customer service rep position at the bank, if you’d like it, the positions yours. And it’s like, well, I’m not going to be president of a bank if I don’t work in a bank. Yeah. So sure enough, took the took the position, I hated it. People are not particularly nice whenever it comes to their money. And especially whenever you try and explain to folks just because you have more checks, doesn’t mean you still have money. So having, you know, and I have difficult conversations in my current role, but those were quite awkward conversations. And so the very first job I could find honestly was in parks and rec with Marion County. And I started out as clerical staff, I worked my way up to the department director. So I worked there almost 15 years, and then I had an opportunity to move to Alachua County which you know, whenever one door closes, another opens and so it was real opportunity. And I’ve worked my way up to the chief of staff in that particular position as well.
Ben Kittelson 04:49
Very cool. Is there anything like in that that first role in parks and rec where you were like this, I want to stick with this, I really like this, this is something that I really like?
Gina Peebles 04:57
So something your audience may not realize is that you have a Leslie Knope sticker on the back of your computer. And often people do liken me to Leslie Knope, because in the parks, I would be in high heels and, and skirt suits and that type of thing. You know, I didn’t fall into the pit or anything like that. But, you know, I mean, really, there were even lots of opportunities in parks and rec where it’s like, I can’t believe you’re dealing with this. And we should send this idea to the show, because it’s hysterical.
Ben Kittelson 05:22
The pilot episode where she’s going about, like, trying to do a survey of the kids playing on the playground, that cracks me up every time because I know there are people out there that are having to do something like that just to collect data, so.
Gina Peebles 05:32
Yeah, and only in government, you know, do we put ourselves in those public meetings where we know we’re walking into a spot where we’re gonna get shot, like, it’s, it’s not going to go well.
Ben Kittelson 05:41
Alright, so your current role as Assistant County Manager – Chief of Staff. So what does that mean? What is your kind of day to day look like?
Gina Peebles 05:49
So my day to day, basically, it’s sitting in a ton of meetings, and what the Chief of Staff hat that I wear, what that means is, if the County Manager needs anything whatsoever, if I ask, it’s like she’s asking. So I try and make sure that she has anything and everything she needs to be prepared for meetings. And as far as you know, being bossy, I’m super amazing at being bossy. Yeah. So meeting deadlines and those types of things, you know, getting on to my counterparts, I have, you know, other Assistant County Managers, and it’s like, seriously, our manager needs this thing right away. And, and they know that she needs it right away.
Ben Kittelson 06:22
Yeah. Is it more like managing of the board in that current role compared to your other?
Gina Peebles 06:27
So managing the staff really. Yeah, trying, trying to, you know, work with people, talk with people, make sure that things get brought to her attention that she needs to know about. But if we can deal with things that it doesn’t need to elevate to her level, we try and do that too.
Ben Kittelson 06:40
Cool. All right. And so you already outed me as non, non Gator. But for listeners that might also be non Gators. Can you tell them about Alachua County?
Gina Peebles 06:49
Sure. So for those of you who don’t know, Alachua County is home to the University of Florida. So Go Gators. I am not a gator. I graduated from St. Leo. So I guess I’m a lion. But Alachua County, it’s really a beautiful place. Our theme is where nature and culture meet. And you see that the second that you come into any of our access entry points, you see lots of green space, you see that we really value the arts. So you know, we have museums and different theater performance. So all kinds of things.
Ben Kittelson 07:22
My, one of my good friends works for Athens Clarke County, Georgia. So he kind of swayed me to the the Bulldog side of the rivalry, but we won’t discuss that here.
Gina Peebles 07:31
No, probably not a good idea.
Ben Kittelson 07:34
Alright, so I think this is, we just did our ELGL pop ups, like kind of regional conferences recently. And it was kind of interesting to hear folks reflect back on the last year of, because it’s been a tough year for a lot of local governments. And I think there’s been a lot of lessons learned. And you know, we’re finally in person at a conference, which is both exciting and like, wow, this is very novel now, but, but looking back, what were some of maybe the lessons you learned from the pandemic? And kind of, yeah, what does that experience like for you?
Gina Peebles 08:02
Probably go with the flow. I mean, even at today’s conference, it’s like to mask or not to mask? That is the question, you know, do we shake hands? Do we, I don’t know, tap foots or elbow? Or, you know, so it’s still kind of a acclimation process. But just go with the flow. Try not to make it weird for people. I mean, I’m pretty easygoing with that. So if you don’t want to shake my hand, cool, if you want to shake my hand, cool.
Ben Kittelson 08:24
Yeah. Do you think there like any of the changes that the county made, or, you know, ways that you guys did business during the pandemic, that will like, stick around?
Gina Peebles 08:32
So as a matter of fact, we’re hiring a consultant to see how can we continue to remote work for those positions that make sense? So of course, you know, we have an Animal Services Department, the animals need to get fed and cleaned. We can’t remote work, those types of things. But whenever it comes to administrative support staff, that type of thing, it’s like, why do you need to be in the office? And maybe there are some positions that in the job description itself we’re considering putting it as a remote work position. So we’re not going to provide a desk and a chair, and we’ll make sure you have a computer and you know, those types of tools, but we’re not providing a physical space for you.
Ben Kittelson 09:06
Gina Peebles 09:07
Yeah. So I’m kind of excited about how that’s gonna look, because there’s, you know, government is all over the place. There are some folks that they were just closed for a very brief period of time, that maybe two week period, and they were back to regular work, like nothing happened and others of us, you know, in Alachua County, we’re still doing a hybrid type thing.
Ben Kittelson 09:26
Did, when do you think all offices will be back open? Or 100%?
Gina Peebles 09:31
So yeah, so we’re just gonna continue to remote work and status quo, figure out what the consultant has to say. Our board is pretty progressive. And so they’re, they’re open to doing things different and it’s, you know, maybe a way to save some money too.
Ben Kittelson 09:45
Yeah, it’s exciting to see what it’s like, what changes that were kind of forced upon local governments will like stick around and like, I think similar like the remote public meetings and like allowing public comment virtually, I think that kind of stuff will be interesting.
Gina Peebles 09:57
I hope that does stick around, you know, with like our local Emergency orders. We had 16,000 people on Facebook watching one of our particular meetings. We never ever, ever in a million years would have had that if things hadn’t changed. So really public engagement, it’s evolved. And I hope that does stay.
Ben Kittelson 10:14
Yeah. Yeah. One and saving money, like the most prime real estate in any organization is that like main office building, or the city, whether it’s city hall or the county building, like exactly like, if you can free up a little space there, that’ll be huge.
Gina Peebles 10:26
Ben Kittelson 10:28
Alright, so I wanted to have you on because you wrote an article for the FCCMA website about some of the work Alachua County is doing around truth and reconciliation. So maybe for our listeners that that don’t know much about it, maybe we can start with like what the Equal Justice Initiative is, and kind of how you guys got plugged into that?
Gina Peebles 10:47
Sure. So the Equal Justice Initiative has a monument in Montgomery, Alabama, that is open to the public, and it actually brings some recognition of those who were lynched. And for those of your audience that don’t know what a lynching is, that means they didn’t get their, their justice served, they didn’t go to trial, they didn’t have a guilty verdict, the citizens took justice into their own hands. And you know, that those people just never got to have their day in court. So Alachua County recognizes that we were a place where those types of things happened. And we want to have those difficult conversations, you know, there’s still a lot of hurt and pain, citizens in our community, because of those things, you know, that they were descendants of some of these folks that have been lynched. So the Equal Justice Initiative has markers that have names of the known lynching victims. And in Alachua County, specifically, we actually found more. So on the EJI website, there are 18 that are listed on our historical marker that’s located there at the property, but our Historical Commission was able to find through newspaper articles and that type of thing more than 50.
Ben Kittelson 12:02
Wow. And so and I remember hearing about this, when the the museum opened, and they were kind of encouraging local governments like come claim, you know, it can claim your marker and have this conversation, is that kind of how the county got plugged in was when that first opened up?
Gina Peebles 12:16
So it’s certainly the goal to bring our Alachua County marker back to Alachua County, and they will keep one for their Museum, and one will come home. And there’s a group of citizens that are going through a journey to have these difficult conversations, you know, they’re doing soil collections with willing property owners, where they know that a lynching occurred, they are working with the schools to have essay contests, they have just a different event committees, they are doing some historical research committees. So the citizens have really gotten involved in this. And that’s really the key with EJI, they don’t want to see that it’s government led. Yeah, a bunch of employees, government employees doing this, they want to see that this is the citizens coming forward. As far as I know, nobody’s gotten to take their marker home yet. But Alachua County, really, in my opinion, is the leader in this. We even had a memorial service for our known lynching victims. And they lit candles for each of the known victims, you know, we continue to do research to see if there are more than the ones that we’ve identified. So as a community, they’re really trying to do an excellent job of bringing some of these things that have been kept in the shadows for decades and decades and decades into the light and having conversations and you know, hopefully the point is to bring healing.
Ben Kittelson 13:38
So I guess, what are the parties involved? You mentioned the Historical Commission, are there other groups that are kind of involved in this effort?
Gina Peebles 13:46
So the Historical Commission really is the lead on knowing where to research things, and yeah, the history, so they have a staff liaison. So one person, you know, that kind of make sure that their meetings are publicly noticed, and all of those good things, but then it’s citizen appointed group. And that’s their love. That’s their passion, they love to kind of go through the old microfiche things at the library and find obscure stuff. And so they’re really a great asset to get involved in something like this, especially if your community has that. You know, maybe your clerk’s office in your local community has access to the historic record. So a lot of information is available there. Something interesting that people may not even realize is that with our truth and reconciliation, we’re even looking at back in the day slaves were considered property, and you were taxed on property and it was very expensive to own slaves, and that a lot of our public roads were built using slave labor. So just you know, some of that kind of interesting information, you know, going through your old commission records and, and seeing that type of information. It’s just, it’s interesting. So Alachua County, we actually have a public facing website and a lot of that information is out there.
Ben Kittelson 15:01
Cool. We’ll be sure to link to your guys’s website and then, and then I know you mentioned a couple of things. But what’s the community engagement kind of component of this?
Gina Peebles 15:09
Sure. So we have a community citizen led group that they meet once a month, and they’re having these regular meetings, they have some subcommittees. Again, they’re working with the school kids to do some essay contests and have some, so they have a soil collection subcommittee, historic marker committee, the school board, essay contest, community education, and a memorial quilt subcommittee. I just saw the quilt last week, it’s amazing,
Ben Kittelson 15:36
Really, and so I guess, what’s been the, so obviously, the board like kind of initiated something, but like what’s been kind of the staff commitment or like effort from the staff side, I guess, for this work.
Gina Peebles 15:48
So our county commission they even paid for a couple of our staff to go to the EJI Memorial. And so we sent our historic commission liaison, we sent our Equal Opportunity manager and we sent somebody from our IT department. And so kind of an eclectic group of folks whenever you think about it, but it really makes sense. Because we have, again, you know, somebody that’s knowing where the research is coming from and why it’s important, what it is that we’re looking for, we have somebody from our IT department who’s going to make the information that comes back relevant and beautiful and easy to access and maneuver on our website. And then our Equal Opportunity manager, because that’s part of her job is to make sure that people are not being discriminated against for title seven type of things, you know, so sex, race, ethnicity, all of those good things.
Ben Kittelson 16:39
Interesting, fascinating. So I assume that there, will there be like, will this be an ongoing effort? Or does does this have like an end point in time? Or, like, what’s what’s kind of going forward or the future?
Gina Peebles 16:51
So I don’t really see where it is necessarily going to come to a complete close that even years from now, whenever we do bring our historic marker home to Alachua County, that there will, people will ask what is it? So there’s always the ongoing opportunity to educate people and explain to them like we went through a process. And, you know, there was a lot of work involved to get the historical marker back. And this is why it’s historically significant, and that it’s not okay, for people not to have their day in court. Everybody deserves to have, you know, fair trial, and, you know, have their their case heard. So, just not taking justice into your own hands. Yeah, letting letting our, you know, justice, let justice be served, you know, in the appropriate way.
Ben Kittelson 17:36
Yeah. Um, so for communities that might be interested in starting their own process like this or going down the same road that Alachua County has, like, what do you have advice for them? Or where should they start? Or what are things that they should be thinking about?
Gina Peebles 17:50
So I, in our particular case, we had a commissioner who heard of it and wanted to bring it forward and had I want to say it was an 11 or 13 part motion, to really give staff direction on what it is. But ultimately, what it comes down to is it cannot be a staff led thing, you have to have interested citizens in your community that step forward and say, This is important to me. And, you know, we want to invest the time and the energy, whatever it takes to bring our historic marker home.
Ben Kittelson 18:18
Yeah, and that those groups probably exist, it’s just about finding them and tapping into them and doing it as a partnership, right, like, okay.
Gina Peebles 18:24
And it’s such a diverse group, too, you know, it’s like, and I sometimes wonder, like, if these folks ever would have gotten together, otherwise, if it hadn’t been for this project, so you know, really meeting new people, it’s kind of neat.
Ben Kittelson 18:34
Yeah. That is neat. Is there any kind of lessons that you take away from this work or things that like, maybe the county has, will change? Now, now that this, I don’t know, this education is out there, this this history is, you know, surfaced?
Gina Peebles 18:49
I think where we are, is that don’t don’t hide from your past, learn from your past. And so even by getting the school children involved, it’s like, you know, sometimes things happen in your history. And don’t erase them. Don’t forget about them, learn from them. They’re all there’s always learning experiences in everything.
Ben Kittelson 19:06
Yeah, yeah. It’s one of those things like moving to the south, like, you know, this history is there. And then and this is a way to, like, I don’t know, make it more real and make it like more understandable and, yeah, achievable to like doing something about right, like, not just this abstract thing that happened in the past, but like, here’s something that your community can do to like, I don’t know.
Gina Peebles 19:27
And it feels so cliche, but it’s true. You know, that if you don’t know about your history, that it tends to repeat itself. And so it’s super important to bring those things to light and make sure people do move forward.
Ben Kittelson 19:38
Yeah. Awesome. Cool. So that’s, that’s my last question on the truth reconciliation. Is there anything else that you wanted to share about kind of the work that Alachua County is doing?
Gina Peebles 19:48
You know, I’d really just encourage folks, come check out our website. We even have a poet laureate locally. He wrote two poems.
Ben Kittelson 19:55
I saw that so where, how did you find a poet laureate?
Gina Peebles 19:58
So we actually put out a call to artists. And so we wanted an Alachua County Poet Laureate, and we were able to narrow it down from, I think seven folks applied. And the gentleman that was selected, his name is E. Stanley Richardson. And so he’s been our Poet Laureate, he has a two year term, our very first Poet Laureate. And so he gets invited to do poems for a variety of special events. And it’s really neat, and he’s does a great job.
Ben Kittelson 20:25
That’s awesome. Very cool. So we’ll be sure to link to your guys’s website, and then the article that he wrote about this as well. So I guess since we’re here at this conference, is there a session that you’re looking forward to or something you’re looking looking forward to learning here? Or is it just being back in person at a conference? Was that enough?
Gina Peebles 20:42
It’s really wonderful being in person. Really, you know, I mean, it’s like you get so used to those little zoom squares and whatever, like, people have faces, you know, behind their masks and everything. So I’m just super excited about like network, networking.
Ben Kittelson 20:56
Yeah. Emerging back into the world. Awesome. Well, we have a traditional last question on podcast. And she’s very, Gina’s very excited about it. So if you could be the Gov Love DJ, what song would you pick as the exit music for this episode?
Gina Peebles 21:13
So I was, I got a sneak peek at this particular question. And so I was.
Ben Kittelson 21:18
I usually warn people that it’s the hardest one for guests.
Gina Peebles 21:20
And it really, really was. So I was talking to my husband last night, we were just laughing and laughing about some of the different possibilities. But I finally settled on NSYNC, one of your favorite boy bands, Bye, Bye, Bye.
Ben Kittelson 21:35
Awesome. That’s a great song. Well, we’ll get that queued up. And, and so that ends our episode for today. So Gina, thank you so much for talking with me. I really appreciate you taking the time. And Gov Love is brought to you by Engaging Local Government Leaders, you can reach us online at ELGL.org/GovLove or on twitter at the handle @GovLovePodcast. You can subscribe to Gov Love on your favorite podcast app. And if you’re already subscribed, go tell a friend or colleague about this podcast, help us spread the word that Gov Love is the go to place for local government stories. With that, thank you for listening. This has been Gov Love, a podcast about local government.