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Thankfulness Disrupts Complaining

Says it all.

Says it all.

Wow, the news  has been grim lately.

Terrorism, fear, violence, threats.  We’re seeing it all, aren’t we?

So it’s understandable if we might be approaching the holidays with some trepidation this year.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving we offer our annual list of things and people who make us thankful.

This list is by no means complete, which is something else to be thankful for. But it’s offered in the spirit of trying to lift your spirit. We hope you enjoy and begin to think about all the things in our community that make us happy.
1. Friday Night Concert Series at The Old School Square Pavilion:

Where else can you sit under the stars for a suggested three dollar donation and hear great music week after week in the midst of the best downtown around? Last week, we caught the B Street Band, a Springsteen tribute band of great renown (they’ve been at it since 1980) and marveled at the age mix and happy faces of people dancing. If you are downtown next Friday at 7:30 make sure to catch a tribute to Tina Turner. Fabulous series, fabulous venue.
2. Delivery Dudes and The Downtowner:

Between these companies and services like Uber,  we now have amazing options for transit and food. We remember when the only option was Domino’s but Delivery Dudes brings the best restaurants in Boca and Delray straight to our doors. The Downtowner is also a cool way to avoid driving. Great concept.
3. Mizner Park:

Sometimes derided as contrived, we like the place and we love the music and restaurants. And based on the crowds, so do many others.
4. The Living Room Theater and Ipic:

There’s still nothing like seeing a movie with others. As great as VOD can be, a movie experience is still better in a theater. Ipic has taken luxury movie going to a new level and Living Room’s programming is spectacular.

5. Lake Ida Park:

A jewel of a park that doesn’t get a whole lot of publicity. But Lake Ida Park has trails, loads of wildlife, great fishing, boating, picnic facilities and a wonderful dog park. Bravo!
6. Evelyn Dobson:

The long time director of Delray’s pioneering and innovative Community Land Trust has done a terrific job building high quality housing in Delray’s northwest and southwest neighborhoods. As the CLT celebrates its 10th anniversary we are grateful for its tremendous work and anxious to see it continue. And we are thankful for Evelyn’s rock solid leadership.
7. Local Rescue Organizations:

We love animals. We really love dogs. And we are so thankful for local rescue organizations. Dezzies Second Chance, Tri County and ARF are just a few of the great organizations serving our community. Personally, we are forever grateful to Kelli Freeman for connecting us with Linda’s Goldens so we were able to adopt Teddy. He has enriched our lives immeasurably.
8. Leaders Who Care:

Cathy Balestriere and Bill Branning are two community leaders who have given a huge amount to Delray. Both serve on Delray’s extraordinary CRA with distinction but that’s only the beginning. Bill chairs Old School Square, supports Delray charities and runs BSA Corporation, one of the area’s leading contractors. He’s a great guy too. Cathy is a brave and outspoken leader who has done a tremendous amount to build Delray’s brand in the world of tourism and hospitality a key industry through her long time involvement with Crane’s Beach House, a unique property. She and her team have found a way to thrive among giants, competing ably with large hotel brands. She has also done a huge amount for local charities through her events at Crane’s. For that and more we are thankful.
9. The staff at Old School Square is lean and awfully effective. They work hard and are dedicated beyond words. We are grateful. It does not go unnoticed.
10. Congress Avenue Task Force:

Personally I am thankful for the 35 plus members who have devoted the better part of the year to envisioning a brighter future for the key corridor.
You couldn’t wish for a better team.
Finally, thanks to you for reading YourDelrayBoca. The blog is a labor of love and we appreciate your support and comments. Have a great Thanksgiving.

Building the Ecosystem: Addressing the Gaps


All across America, communities are celebrating entrepreneurship.

As well they should be, because America was built by entrepreneurs and its future depends on their success.

Americans are an innovative people, freedom loving, creative problem-solvers who aren’t afraid of risks or dreaming big. No act of terror can shake those values, it’s in our DNA.

That ethos has made us an exceptional nation—and the pacesetters for the world. But here at, we think local.

Luckily, there’s a nascent effort under way at FAU to foster the next generation of great entrepreneurs.

Tech Runway as it’s called sits in a barren part of the campus in an airplane hangar not far from Boca Airport.

It’s a cool building—you really ought to stop by and visit– and it’s buzzing with possibilities and excitement.

In the interests of full disclosure, I sit on the Tech Runway Advisory Board because the concept taps into the three ideas/values that drive me: leadership (Tech Runway seeks to be a leading voice in the emerging South Florida entrepreneurial ecosystem), entrepreneurship (the runway is a launching pad for new companies) and community (Tech Runway seeks to be a gathering place for those who want to see an entrepreneurial ecosystem take shape).

Last week, thanks to Connor Lynch, Stacey Hallberg and Northern Trust, we hosted 60 plus business, civic and entrepreneurial leaders at the bank in downtown Delray to discuss Tech Runway’s vision and to elicit buy-in and support from local movers and shakers.

Our new board chair David Roth—an accomplished entrepreneur behind the brands Wakaya Perfection and Fiji Water—keynoted the event along with FAU President Dr. John Kelly.

I had the honor of speaking at the event and outlined Delray’s long time vision to be a hub for creative professionals offering jobs and opportunities for young people. But it was President Kelly who ignited the crowd with his aspirations for the university.

Dr. Kelly summed up the mission of Tech Runway perfectly: “we’ll be educating future scientists, propelling undergraduate research and inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs to take their ideas from concept to commercialization. This infusion of intellectual capital will create a powerful new economic engine for South Florida.”

Kelly’s goal is to turn FAU into one of the top public universities in America and he has assembled a stellar team to lead the way. The Runway is an important component in the big picture.

Delray and Boca—as the cities closest to FAU—have a unique opportunity to benefit from the investment and the talent that is being attracted to the university and to projects like the Research Park and Tech Runway. As mentioned in other columns, Lynn University is emerging as a player as well.

So what’s missing? Quite a bit, but creative office space in urban environments and investment capital are two glaring gaps that need to be filled if we are to fulfill our potential and realize the vision.

Young entrepreneurs are seeking urban, walkable and vibrant environments—much like what Delray and Boca Raton has to offer. They are also seeking a community of like-minded people who they can partner with. These “collisions” are harder to arrange in traditional suburban style office parks.

Building “creative” space, co-working facilities and the like in a high cost environment is not easy, but we must find a way or we risk losing our best and brightest to other cities and regions.

In Boca, Dr. Kelly thinks the 20th Street corridor and its warehouses represent an opportunity. Durham, North Carolina converted similar space to entrepreneurial uses to great success.

In Delray, we have opportunities on Congress Avenue, but also downtown if we can find a way to talk intelligently about growth and sustainability. Like I’ve said, the downtown is not done. We are missing the work and learn part of live, work, learn and play. We can’t lose our will now.

Boca too has an enormous opportunity and many units are being planned for downtown Boca. Hopefully, the city is also leaving space for creative style offices, not Class A, but space that entrepreneurs would seek out and enjoy.

The other missing ingredient is angel, seed and venture capital.

We have plenty of wealth in these parts, but we need more local investing and we need to attract some accomplished VCs too. VC’s and angels look for deal flow, the more the better.

Historically, we haven’t had much, but that’s changing in South Florida, thanks to efforts such as Tech Runway.

If we can support, nurture and invest in the next generation of entrepreneurs we will do a lot to diversify and improve our local economy.

There have been efforts in the past. But this effort looks and feels different. I think this one is going to work.


Prayers for Paris


Paris is on our minds today.

As it should be.
We ache for the shocking loss of life and we agonize over what’s happening in our world: violence, hatred, terror, extremism.
Paris is known as a city of villages and despite its distance from our shores we relate and connect.
Paris is a city of art, culture, freedom, beauty and romance. It’s an idea and an ideal.
And so we grieve when that’s attacked.
Saturday morning the board and staff of Old School Square met for a strategic planning retreat and Paris was on our minds. And we discussed–albeit briefly–concerns about security in our own hometown.
The terrorists targeted art and music and sports venues. They targeted vibrant restaurants and bars–where people gather to savor and enjoy life with friends. We built our own city around that vision. Boca Raton too.
And so this attack–sadly only the latest in a series of disgusting, despicable and ultimately cowardly acts–seemed to penetrate very deeply.
I read a lot of opinion pieces over the weekend suggesting what might be next and how we might combat the ISIS scourge.
The best piece I found was in The Atlantic because it delves deep into the ideology. We must understand it if we are to defeat it and we must defeat it. Here’s a link.
We went to see “Spotlight” at the Cinemark Boca.
It’s a must see film, expertly written with terrific performances by a stellar cast.
Why is it must see?
For two reasons:
1. The story of the Boston Globe’s investigation of priests molesting children and the cover-up by church hierarchy is an important story to tell and understand because the abuse proved to be systemic and worldwide.
2. The movie is also a primer on the importance of great journalism and the power of newspapers. Spotlight refers to the name of the Globe’s investigative team, three reporters and an editor who concentrate on big stories– the kind that take months to unearth.
As we move with blinding speed to the digital age, we seem to be losing this kind of journalism which is critically important to Democracy and societal accountability.
As much as we enjoy social media and the wonders of the Internet, we do lose something when there is no community water cooler.
Having spent 15 years in newsrooms, the movie touched a chord in me and reminded me why I fell head over heels for newspapers as a young man. There is no better job than to write and report and affect change as a result.
Sadly, the business model has changed and journalism–community journalism has taken a beating.
Technology can’t be blamed for it all, newspapers were complicit in their decline by failing to invest in writers and all but eliminating enterprise reporting the very thing that the Internet cannot do. It’s a real head scratcher because there is still an audience who wants and needs to know whats really happening at city hall and in their neighborhoods and schools.
An investment in relevancy may prove to be profitable but newspapers seem loathe to spend on the newsroom and so the decline continues.
The community loses when this happens, because important stories go unreported and innocent people are often victimized as a result.
Spotlight shows the power of old-school shoe leather reporting.
What a movie. Superb.

Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch

Compassionate communities produce a whole lot of this.

Compassionate communities produce a whole lot of this.

Last Saturday, we attended a wonderful event honoring Old School Square’s Joe Gillie on his retirement after 25 years of service to Delray.

It was a fun evening, full of love, joy and warmth. The kind of night that makes you realize The Beatles were right when they sang: “And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.”

Joe loved Old School Square and he loved Delray Beach. And in return, that love was returned by a group of people who also devoted a great many years of their lives to creating community—this community.

The “feel” of the evening was nothing short of magic. Everywhere you turned, you saw a local icon.

There was Lynda Hunter, the legendary children’s librarian who taught generations of Delray kids to love books and stories. There was Tom Lynch, one of Delray’s truly great mayors chatting with Tom McMurrian of Ocean Properties, a company that has helped put Delray on the map with its investments. I got to chat with Evelyn Dobson who has quietly changed lives for a decade at our Community Land Trust.

We saw Old School Square Chair Bill Branning, who has been a leader on our CRA and whose company built our library, the Milagro Center and the entertainment pavilion enjoyed by thousands every weekend.

The event attracted former CRA Chair Howard Ellingsworth, a local CPA who has given countless hours to preserving Delray’s history while also growing the community. Bob Currie was there too. He has been practicing architecture in Delray for 45 years and has left a stamp on downtown, Pineapple Grove, Old School Square, the library and more.

It was great to see our former Assistant City Manager Bob Barcinski, happily retired but still pitching in with this weekend’s Sister Cities Golf Tournament.

And of course, Frances Bourque who started it all, with a vision for Old School Square that brilliantly encapsulated the city’s past, present and future.

It was also heartening to see new faces as well. Connor Lynch, Tom’s son, who runs a large business in Delray, but finds time to serve on a slew of community boards while helping young entrepreneurs; Ryan Boylston who is so busy it’s exhausting to watch and Terra Spero, who was just recognized for her entrepreneurial talents by the Delray Chamber.

There was a magical feeling in the room as these people and many, many more gathered to thank Joe. And I realized– once again–how important gratitude and thankfulness is in places that seek to be communities.

It’s not easy following someone like Joe, who has a larger than life aura.

But this transition to new leadership seems to be a model for how to do it well. Rob Steele, the new CEO, is a smart, sensitive and seasoned executive who has welcomed Joe’s input and insight while taking the reins. Along with Artistic Director Matthew Farmer and COO Karen Richards, it seems that the organization will make a smooth transition; embracing the past while introducing new ideas.

After the event—not wanting to let go of that old Delray feeling—a bunch of us went to Da Da for a late night dinner. While walking to the restaurant with a friend, we talked about that intangible feeling that has made Delray Beach so special.

To be honest, that feeling is in peril. And in my mind, that’s worth a conversation and a lot of introspection.

Culture in communities is everything. In this case, we’re not talking about art, music and festivals, although those things are important too. We are talking about what it feels like to live here. Is this a supportive community? Do we respect each other? Are we inclusive of people and ideas? Do we put the community’s interests above egos and personal agendas? Are we nice to each other?

When Joe and Frances and many of the others mentioned above got started in Delray, we were a vastly different place; a start-up so to speak.

Start-ups are nimble, fun, exhausting, exciting and inspiring. Some crash and burn and others soar. Delray soared, probably beyond most of our imaginations.

So while walking on Swinton Avenue my friend asked whether it was possible to still maintain that warmth and excitement in a city that has grown larger and arguably more sophisticated.

It’s a question I’ve been thinking about for a long time now. And I lean toward yes—I believe it’s possible. In many ways, I think it’s imperative.

See the size of buildings never got me wound up—whether they are 48 feet or 54 feet—few can tell even if they are experts.

But the intangible feeling of community is what we should be focused on. And we’re not. We are not.

We’re too quick to condemn. Too quick to write off; too quick to label and too quick to pile on when we disagree.

A community that works is grateful, loving, supportive, respectful and takes pride in the past, present and future; especially if your past, present and future is as rich as Delray’s.

There’s a nagging feeling that we’re not in sync these days. That we have sprung loose from those very important moorings. So every week, we experience symptoms of that condition: we blame the (insert name of agency here)  for—take your pick: being too successful, not being successful enough, having too much money, spending too much, spending too little, being out of touch etc. etc.

We criticize our (insert an institution here)  for not being all it can be and forget to give credit for what it is; we critique festivals, criticize city staff, wring our hands about traffic and accomplish little.

That doesn’t mean accountability isn’t important or that our library, CRA or any other entity, group or project is perfect and can’t be better. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about growth and development or traffic. But the conversation has to transcend our own personal drive times and has to consider our financial future and the opportunities we are creating for future generations.

The people in the room last weekend thanking Joe Gillie for 25 years of leadership are pacesetters, civic entrepreneurs. They built a heck of a start-up. If cities were start-ups, we’d be Facebook, Apple or Google, a billion dollar plus unicorn.

Yes I’m proud of what’s been built. Is it perfect? Not on your life. Is it done? No way.

Is Delray Beach everybody’s cup of tea? Nope. Some people prefer Myspace to Facebook. But not many.

So to those saying the town has been ruined; I disagree. It’s been saved and it’s terrific. Not perfect and chock full of challenges– but still pretty terrific. Sorry, but we have nothing to apologize for and a lot to be proud of. To those who are concerned by change, I agree—to a point. I also know that change is inevitable. You can fight it, manage it, shape it, stamp you feet or hold your breath–but it’s going to happen.

But let’s talk about change intelligently.

“The opposite to bad development is good development, not no development,” said the architect Padriac  Steinschneider. He was right. Let’s talk about design and placemaking; that somehow gets lost and it’s important.

But not most important. Most important is how we interact.

We have a lot of work to do.

We can start with culture. Let’s build a place where it’s safe to disagree and safe to innovate.



7 Traits of Extraordinary Leaders


“If you are a leader, you should never forget that everyone needs encouragement. And everyone who receives it – young or old, successful or less-than-successful, unknown or famous – is changed by it.”

 John C. Maxwell


We long for leadership in our society.

We look for it everywhere; in business, in politics, in education, health care and in the non-profit world.

We thirst for it, search for it and complain about it when we don’t see or experience it.

But it remains elusive and at times it seems like a mirage, sometimes you come close and it disappears into the vapor.

But when it shows up, progress happens. And the progress can be lasting and exponential, that’s how powerful leadership can be.

I’ve noticed that in well led communities and businesses, people seem happier even when bad things happen as they often do.

It’s somehow easier to deal with life’s travails and inevitable setbacks when you have faith and confidence in leadership.

I’ve spent my entire adult life studying leadership—I seek wisdom in biographies of leaders I admire, analyze people that I think are effective and often times begin my day searching for quotes that inspire.

I know it can be a little hokey, but I’m a believer.

The best leadership inspires progress, frames reality and is authentic. It’s also consistent; it shows up when it’s needed– not just for photo ops.

The best leaders I know are servant leaders; less concerned with “optics” (what a despicable word) and focused on seeking the truth and positive outcomes, even if speaking the truth or following your conscience may sting—at least initially.

I have been fortunate to seek and find leadership in some pretty interesting places over the years.

I found it at home watching my grandparents and parents live honorable lives; doing right by people over and over again.

My grandfather and father were quiet leaders—they never held “positions” of power but smart people sought them out for advice and were never turned away or disappointed.

I watched my mother and my sister in law battle cancer with dignity and lead their loved ones through a dark journey with courage and grace.

As a young reporter, I worked for a volatile but very lovable editor named Tom Sawyer (his real name) and a gentle editor named Debbie Stern. They were different types of leaders: Tom was the crusty but ‘heart of gold’ kind of editor straight out of central casting.

He took me to lunch at Tom Sawyer’s in Boca on my first day of work and told me they named the place after him. I almost believed him. He would chase us out of the newsroom back in the day telling us that no news ever happened in the office; we had to go out and beat the streets.

And we did.


When we wrote a bad story, we heard about it. But if we wrote a good story, we also heard about it and we beamed from ear to ear because we knew Tom was tough but fair and that he believed in us and wanted us to be better. I knew in my bones that he was rooting for me and I wanted to earn his praise.

Debbie was a nurturer. She led with humor, smarts and insights. She also believed in her reporters and we worked hard to get her attention too. She doesn’t know it, but she influenced me deeply.

We’re having lunch today (we meet quarterly, she’s very organized) because even after all these years, she’s a touchstone for me. She was a leader.

I’ve also seen and experienced leadership in my business and entrepreneurial endeavors—the best leaders I’ve seen in business are generous, willing to take risks, share credit, accept honest mistakes, learn and move on whether they win or lose. They don’t dwell, they learn.

In education, I watched Dr. Kathy Weigel lead at Atlantic High School through controversy and all sorts of challenges.  And the recently retired Bill Fay led with humor, warmth and passion for kids and teachers.

At Old School Square, Joe Gillie led Delray Beach to two All America City Awards while working closely with another extraordinary leader Frances Bourque to build a cultural arts center that jumpstarted a downtown and saved a city from blight, crime and disinvestment.

In my new book, “Adventures in Local Politics” (shameless plug) I found myself writing a lot about former Police Chief Rick Overman and former Fire Chief Kerry Koen, who had different leadership styles but much in common: a devotion to their troops and the community, an ability to see the big picture and how their department’s fit in to the larger vision and a willingness to speak truth to power when those in power needed a dose of reality.

I also wrote a lot about Mayors Tom Lynch and David Schmidt, two distinctly different leaders, who also had more in common once you got beyond obvious style differences. Mayor Lynch was a big thinker and a transformational type of leader whose calm demeanor, toughness when needed and business acumen really moved the needle at a time when we needed it. Mayor Schmidt was a quiet leader, confident enough in his own skin to let others shine but also extremely tough when pushed and able to do what he believed was right even if it would have been more expedient to punt on issues ranging from moving Atlantic High School to voting for Worthing Place.

I can go on. (And let’s because it’s fun).

Nancy Hurd was an extraordinary leader at the Achievement Center for decades and mentored a wonderful young leader in Stephanie Seibel so that the center’s mission could continue unabated when Nancy retired. Ken Ellingsworth, Bill Wood and now Karen Granger have been solid leaders at our 90 year old chamber of commerce; each leading with warmth and genuine love for the community.

And there are more but the point is simple. Leadership matters. You can’t succeed without it—in business or in cities.

I think we need to spend more time talking about what good leadership looks like and feels like. I think we need to discuss what we expect from those who seek leadership positions in our communities.

Here’s a list of seven traits that I look for in leaders: integrity, vision, passion, emotional intelligence, empathy, courage and judgment.

I’ve seen people who have all seven and I’ve seen those who are 0-7.

A recent study that looked at the successes and failures of 11 American Presidents showed that emotional intelligence (EI) was the key quality for success.

Presidents high in EI (Lincoln, FDR) chose their battles wisely, behave assertively when necessary and display the courage needed to confront sticky situations with confidence.

They are able to recognize and understand their own moods, emotions and drives as well as their effect on others. They have the ability to align people, bringing them together to work toward a common goal.

They are able to understand the emotional makeup of other people and the skills it takes to treat people according to their emotional reactions.

Leaders with high EI energize people and eliminate disagreements and conflicts through excellent communication.

A high bar?

Perhaps, but it’s possible. In fact, we can’t thrive or progress without it. Of that, I am certain.



Bold Visions Inspire Giving

A rendering of the health center at FAU

A rendering of the health center at FAU

It’s been a good two weeks for Boca Raton’s two universities, thanks to the generosity and vision of Christine Lynn.

Lynn University announced at its annual State of the University address recently that it will build the Christine E. Lynn University Center, a project that begins the final phase of the school’s Campus Master Plan.

 The new building is made possible by a $15 million gift, the largest in university history, from Board of Trustees Chair Christine E. Lynn. Mrs. Lynn’s commitment is a challenge grant that establishes the foundation for others to participate in this momentous project.

This week, Ms. Lynn gave Florida Atlantic University $5 million gift to help construct a building on its Boca Raton campus.

 The Christine E. Lynn Sports Medicine Center will be a treatment center for FAU student athletes within the Schmidt Family Complex for Academic and Athletic Excellence. It’ll include rehabilitation facilities, hydrotherapy treatments and medical exam rooms.

Both Lynn and FAU are growing in stature, importance and reputation thanks in large part to the dynamic leadership provided by its presidents—John Kelly at FAU and Kevin Ross at Lynn. That kind of dynamic leadership spurs excitement and giving. Leadership matters. You can’t succeed without it.

 “The Christine E. Lynn University Center will stand at the heart of our campus and enhance the experience of students, employees and every person who visits,” says President Ross. “We are grateful for Mrs. Lynn’s unparalleled generosity and the role she continues to play in our university’s future.”

The university center’s design is the culmination of years of preparation, beginning with the development of the Lynn 2020 strategic plan in 2005, and the Campus Master Plan, developed with design firm Gensler and approved by the board of trustees in 2009.

 “Our approach is based on Lynn’s core values as a vibrant, energetic campus,” says Gensler Senior Associate Cliff Bollmann. “The goal is to drive energy on campus and create a space where students want to be.”

 The building will encompass student essentials including Lynn’s award-winning 24-hour dining, Hannifan Center for Career Connections, the Center for Learning Abroad, campus store, mailroom, coffee shop, student affairs offices, collaboration spaces and more. Its design includes a large “living room” for informal gatherings and presentations, with expansive glass windows that connect students outdoors with activity occurring inside.

The university center, collectively with future residential spaces including the recently announced Mary and Harold Perper Residence Hall, will bring together academics, housing and the overall student experience to drive engagement and create a gathering place for future generations. The project’s crowning element will be a green space envisioned as a park dedicated to Mrs. Lynn.

The university center is expected to be completed in 2018 and is only one part of Lynn’s bold vision which includes an award winning curriculum and relationships with key partners including that little company in Cupertino– Apple.

At FAU, keep a close watch on the Tech Runway which will nurture start-up companies via funding, mentoring and activities.

The Runway itself is a start-up and I’ve been proud to serve on its advisory board.

Next week, I along with local businessman Connor Lynch and Stacey Halberg of Northern Trust will host a special dinner in Delray to introduce the concept to key leaders. President Kelly and others will be there to share the vision.

Exciting times…indeed. Our local universities are leading the way.




The American Dream Is a Local One


Social and economic inequality is shaping up to be a centerpiece issue in the 2016 presidential campaign.

The issue is at the core of “The American Dream”, the notion that in America anything is possible if you work hard and play by the rules.

On both ends of the political spectrum; the left and the right, there is a sense that even if you do those things it’s becoming harder and harder to get ahead in America. There’s a sense that it’s more difficult for the poor to ascend to the middle class and beyond, for the middle class to stay in the middle or move up a rung and data shows that indeed the rich are getting richer.

Democrats tend to think that government provides solutions and Republicans want to get government out of the way.

I don’t think either party has a lock on the truth or the answers and when it comes to Washington both parties have failed—a judgement in which both party’s presidential candidates and grassroots seem to agree.

So with Washington failing and hopelessly gridlocked, policy innovation and economic development seem to be left to the states, counties and cities in our nation.

I think the most action happens on the city level, where government is closest to the people and–theoretically at least– most accountable.

That’s why it’s critical to keep informed and get involved in your community.

I think local policymakers have a tough job to do.

The decisions they make are often personal and they vote not in some far off place, but often around the block from where they live. I can’t remember the last time I saw my Congressman or State Representative but local elected officials are easily located—well most of them are or should be. If you can’t find them, get rid of them.

So I think the issues of inequality being talked about by candidates ranging from Bernie Sanders to Ben Carson will actually be dealt with by mayors, council members and commissioners in cities across America.

The fate of the American Dream has been localized.

Which states, cities and regions will offer quality education and economic opportunities? Which cities will work on innovative policy solutions to create attainable housing for young people and allow the rest of us to age in place if we choose to stay?
Which cities will tap into the tremendous human capital that exists in our cities and in neighborhoods that many choose to overlook or ignore?

Which cities will aspire to create special places that will attract and retain creative people—artists and entrepreneurs?
Who will wake up every day on a mission to create opportunities and protect cherished and hard won victories?

Cities have to strike a delicate balancing act—they must respect the past, take care of the present and prepare for the future.

Often times they skip the first and last responsibilities and spend their time on the issue du jour. That’s a mistake. Respect for the journey is critical.  The past informs the present and also can guide you into the future. Neglecting the future will leave your city vulnerable to communities that are working to further the American Dream.

Ask yourself where your city is on this spectrum of thought. Let’s hope they are addressing the past, the present and future.




Debate Is Always Welcome

Rules of the game

Rules of the game

Occasionally you strike a nerve when you state an opinion.
That’s to be expected. And in some cases, desired.
But the rules around here are pretty simple. You can disagree with us and call us stupid, but you can’t do it anonymously. If you’re convinced we’re wrong, have hidden motives or simply beyond repair have the courage of your convictions and leave your name.
See we’re from the old school. We grew up in the newspaper business.

We didn’t print letters to the editor from people unwilling to sign their name. So we won’t post anonymous comments.

We also don’t allow profanity, personal attacks, racist screeds, sexist remarks or attacks on looks. (And yes, we know we have faces for radio).
Now I understand that sometimes topics are so sensitive that you might be unable to sign your name. But sorry, no exceptions. Anonymity allows for hyperbole and nastiness. That doesn’t fly around here. I sign my name, you sign yours. Simple.
A few weeks back I wrote about a potential merger of our fire department with the county.
I didn’t like the idea. That’s my prerogative. I think our city should have its own fire department. I also think we should treat our personnel fairly.
So while I oppose a merger,  I strongly favor investment in the department, it’s people and it’s facilities. We need to be competitive and you shouldn’t scrimp on a lifesaving service.

We invested quite a bit in public safety during my term in office.  We invested in equipment, increased salaries and benefits and most controversially boosted pensions. I am proud of what we did and it stopped a major recruitment and retention issue happening at the  time.
But for some people it’s never enough. That’s ok too.

Was it enough?

I thought so. Others might disagree, so be it. I’m gone. It’s history.

Still, by no means do I feel that you can just coast. The fire department requires a continued investment. If you want a good department, that’s the deal. Same with police. And just about everything else.

It seems that the city has made the decision not to merge. If that’s the case, we have to invest in the department or we risk a repeat of what we had 12-14 years ago, losing talented people to other departments. We need to be competitive.

Back to the issue of anonymity. When we published the post, we received a bunch of comments on social media and through the blog. Most wanted to keep the department and just about everyone favored offering competitive salaries and benefits. Which was our position.

But  I also  got a series of anonymous emails from one person that missed the point of what we were saying. I was accused of wanting to screw firefighters. I declined to post the anonymous comments.

Even though I vehemently disagree with the conclusions I would have posted them had the writer signed his or her name. That offer is still open.
So if you want to debate, we welcome it on this blog.
Just sign your name. You know who we are, it’s only fair we should know who you are.

And if you missed the point of the blog let me spell it out: I think Delray should have its own fire department like we have had for more than 100 years. I think we should provide competitive wages, benefits and pensions so we can attract and keep quality professionals. I think we need to invest in good equipment and facilities. And I think we need a good working relationship with the union.  Pretty simple.


#Justice 4 Corey

I did not know Corey Jones.
But I know many people who knew him and loved him. They say he was an extraordinary young man.
Corey’s friends and family will seek justice for Corey who was shot and killed by a Palm Beach Gardens police officer on the side of I-95 a few weeks back.
Justice,  memories and love.. that’s all that’s left.
There’s a line in the Academy award winning film “Unforgiven” that comes to mind. The movie was a meditation on violence and the character played by Clint Eastwood wrestled with his past as a particularly murderous gunman.
“It’s a hell of a thing, killin’ a man. Take away all he’s got, and all he’s ever gonna have.”
Indeed. And it happens all too often in our world.
Marc Arthur Barreau, a 29 year old, father of a six year old was gunned down outside an apartment complex around the same time Corey lost his life.

He was a personal trainer at PurLife in downtown Delray. And like Corey, who worked for the Delray Beach Housing Authority, Art was beloved by those who knew him.
To date there have been 76 murders in Palm Beach County this year. That number ought to give us pause.
But for the most part it never does. Things don’t seem to change.
Perhaps they should.
I’m not sure what it will take and maybe there is no answer but it seems that we should be doing….something.
We are too violent. Too angry. There is too much hate and anger in our society and in our community.
We have become too uncaring and too willing to move on.
We need more conversation. More action. More humanity and empathy. More understanding and a whole lot more love.
We are losing too many. It’s that simple.

Fire Clash: Should It Stay Or Should It Go?


Recently, I watched a demonstration given by our outstanding Delray Beach Fire Department.

They were practicing a vehicle extraction and it was fun to watch how the firefighters work in tandem.

Earlier, we learned that the city has budgeted money for a new firefighter training facility, that long and sometimes bitter union negotiations may finally lead to a contract and that our city is negotiating a new long term deal to provide fire-rescue services to Highland Beach.

Oh and we also learned that on Wednesday—tomorrow– the county will present a proposal to take over our fire department.

More than a few people are scratching their heads on that one.

Boynton Beach recently decided against contracting for police and fire services with the county.

I hope our commission follows suit.

I think it would be a bad move. Check that: a very bad move.

I understand what’s driving the issue and I sympathize with the men and women of Delray Fire Rescue most of whom –I’m told–support going to the county. That they feel that way is a shame and ought to be a source of introspection in our city. It should never have gotten to this point.

For over two years, the prospect of “going to the county” has hung over our Fire Department. That’s not a healthy scenario. It’s hard to run a department when you don’t know what the future holds.

But despite the length of time, my hunch is very few people know what’s happening. Aside from a few robocalls from a mystery group decrying the move, there hasn’t been much public discussion about the issue.

This is disturbing on many levels and far from the transparency the public expects and deserves on this important issue.

If the commission decides to move forward, we can consider this a permanent decision. Once you get out of this business it will be too capital intensive to get back in.

So unlike other decisions—such as messing around with the LDR’s—this one won’t be able to be able put right by future commissions.

In my opinion, there are two important considerations, one intangible and one tangible when it comes to the future of fire rescue.

The intangible factor has to do with what kind of city we want to be. Our Fire Department has a rich history that dates back over 100 years. That means something to a lot of people. The department is a big part of our civic soul. Sure, you can paint the words “Delray Beach” on county fire trucks, but it won’t be the same as having our own department.

This issue is about what kind of town we want to be. Do we want to be a full-service city or do we begin to contract out services?

Regardless of how you feel, this deserves a full discussion with the community. That has not happened.

The second factor is a dollars and cents consideration and an autonomy issue. Do we want to be in control of an essential lifesaving service or not?

The driving factor behind a merger is it’s supposed to save taxpayers money.

We’ll see what the proposal says, but the devil is in the details and the terms of renewal. Many people I’ve talked to in the fire service and city management business don’t feel the economies of scale will hold up over time. We’ll see. And if you’re wondering if this is a new effort, it isn’t. I was approached several times during my seven years on the commission with the prospect of a merger. We weren’t interested, so the discussion was nipped in the bud. We felt it was important to have our own fire department. End of story.

To me an equal factor in this decision is autonomy; which over time also impacts cost.

If we have our own fire service we can shape it to meet the unique and changing needs of our community. If we merge and don’t like the service, or if we feel we need to move or add a station to meet changing needs and demographics, we’ll have to appeal to a large bureaucracy located in West Palm Beach instead of going to downtown Delray and pleading our case to the Chief, Manager, Mayor and Commissioners.

If we think we will have the same sway with seven county commissioners– none of whom represent any more than a sliver of Delray and some representing no part of our city –we are sadly mistaken.

Since fire represents roughly a quarter of our budget, does it make sense to give away control and leverage to politicians who most of us can’t vote for or against? Doesn’t sound like a good business move, does it?

When this idea was first considered a few years ago, I contacted a few commissioners and said the decision was more than just whether to keep the department or let it go.

If the decision is to keep the department, we have to invest in the department and its personnel. If we’re not willing to invest, well then we shouldn’t be in the business.

Can we afford to be in the business? I think so.

This city is not broke, contrary to the buzz around town, most of it emanating out of City Hall. Property values are growing at a steady rate and there are levers of revenue to tap, including charging for parking which would yield over $3 million a year.

We have ample opportunities to grow the tax base and we can always begin to share the cost of parking with our visitors. Notice I did not say we should give up free parking. There is no such thing as free parking; we pay for it, as taxpayers. We can begin to share that cost with visitors and we should.

That brings me to the men and women who serve in our department. We have to be fair to them. We have to offer a competitive compensation package.

Like most sagas, this one didn’t begin yesterday. There is a long back story. Here’s a summary of how we got to this point.

Over the years, police and fire union relations with the city administration have been fraught.

I’ve been observing these relations for close to 30 years. I’ve known many of the union leaders over the years and had the privilege of negotiating with a few over the years.

Many of the Union leaders I liked and respected. Some I clashed with.

All were tough negotiators who fought hard for wages and benefits.

When I was first elected in 2000 I ran on a platform of being accessible. I didn’t make any promises other than to be available and open minded. I was endorsed by police and fire, key endorsements at the time because both departments were highly respected and had deep ties to the community.

At the time, I was told by police and firefighters that city commissioners were not talking to them and that they were falling behind other departments when it came to wages and benefits.

I knew many of the men and women who served from my time as a reporter when I spent lots of time on ride alongs. It didn’t seem fair or wise to not talk to them once I was elected.

So I thought an open door and an open mind was a good policy. All I asked for in return was honesty. I wanted to hear their side of things but I wanted facts not emotions or falsehoods.

When I was elected in 2000 we were suffering from a horrible attrition problem in both police and fire. Worse, we couldn’t recruit either. We did not offer a package that would either stop the bleeding or allow our departments to recruit. I knew that working conditions and management weren’t the issues, Delray is a nice place to work and we had good chiefs at both departments. The community at large was supportive of public safety and our facilities and equipment were pretty good. We just weren’t competitive with places like Palm Beach County, Coral Springs, Boca and Fort Lauderdale in terms of wages and benefits.

So we made a decision to invest in public safety after our then police chief Rick Overman came to a labor meeting and told the commission and city manager that if we didn’t step up he could no longer protect the city to his satisfaction and all of us would be held accountable by the public. How’s that for a wake-up call? I’ll never forget it. But I’m glad the chief had the guts to speak the truth.

The Fire Chief at the time, Kerry Koen agreed with Overman. He was experiencing similar issues with recruitment and retention and we were paying a boat load of money to compensate for our thinning ranks. That was all I had to hear and the rest of the commission agreed as well. We needed to step up and invest. We did.

In my mind we weren’t being generous merely competitive.

The effort worked. We stopped the bleeding almost immediately and our departments began to recruit effectively. It takes a lot of money to recruit, screen and train police officers and firefighters. You don’t want to scrimp on quality and it’s a time-consuming process from identifying a recruit until the point where they’re able to be effective on the streets serving citizens.

There’s no question that police and fire are expensive services to provide in a city like Delray Beach. I’m not sure the exact numbers today but 8 to 10 years ago police and fire made up half of our city’s budget.

I thought it was a good investment. We would’ve not been able to revitalize Delray Beach if it wasn’t for our public safety departments.

I understand how the rank and file members of the fire department must feel. They will make more money if they go to the county. We have lost several talented personnel to Palm Beach County Fire Rescue as a result.

When the 2001 city commission under then Mayor David Schmidt stepped up in an effort to stop the bleeding and rebuild, we thought we had established a principle in which we would remain vigilant so as to keep our department competitive. We would never be able to match the county, but we felt we could offer a competitive package and other intangibles (good facilities, good management, a supportive city, knowledge that you will be working within the city limits not somewhere in vast Palm Beach County) that would be attractive to high quality firefighters and paramedics.

Maybe the arms race has gotten too expensive, but I would think there is still room for a city such as Delray to stay in the business, be fair to our firefighters and have control over fire and EMS.

We’ll see what the deal reveals, but before a final decision is made, the public needs much more information and an opportunity for meaningful input before we give away a 100 year investment in what I think is a great department with a rich and proud history.

I hope we consider the long-term impact on the community and have a deeper conversation on this issue. I believe in home rule and trust in our ability to solve problems and challenges now and in the future. But if we are going to stay in the business, we need to be definitive about it, and remove the specter of uncertainty over the department.