What’s Wrong With This Picture?

A culture is strong when people work with each other, for each other. A culture is weak when people work against each other, for themselves. –Simon Sinek

Word came last week that a Delray Beach city employee was cleared of wrongdoing after more than a year of innuendo and uncertainty.

Former Assistant Community Improvement Director Jamael Stewart was given an all clear by the Palm Beach County Ethics Commission. His boss, Michael Coleman, who got caught up in the situation, resigned when this whole thing went down. To date, he’s  never been charged with anything. He’s got a lawsuit pending against the city he served and loved.
But the damage has been done.
Two careers were ended. Two people who have served our city admirably were badly hurt.
And if you care about your town, what happened to Michael and Jamael ought to piss you off. (Excuse my language).
And they are not the only ones who have been hurt in recent years as a wide range of city employees saw their careers and lives upended— in many cases —for no good reason. When I asked a few of them what they were charged with their answer was consistent: they have no idea.
Even today, in the wake of the Ethics Commission ruling, there remains a cloud. What about other agencies some ask? Aren’t they looking too?
Nobody seems to be sure. In fact, there’s a theory that all of this is some bizarre political payback scheme.
And that’s a problem, because this is supposed to be America after all. People should have the right to face their accusers and they should know what their being accused of, especially after more than a year. All of this starts at home, at City Hall with either a demand to resign or a termination order. That’s the good news, because if the problem is local it can be solved with leadership. The buck stops with the commission. Either it tolerates this kind of behavior/culture or it doesn’t. It’s really that simple.
I guess the fate of wrongly accused employees is not as acute an issue as to whether or not the water is safe to drink or whether our infrastructure can handle sea level rise but it’s still a problem.
If you pay taxes and rely on municipal services the quality of city staff is important.

And if you have a culture that eats people up and spits them out it doesn’t take a management degree to understand that it’s going to be hard to attract and keep a talented staff.

I spent seven years on the city commission and have been following local government here and elsewhere for almost 35 years. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that a good staff makes a world of difference and a poor staff can cost you dearly.

Michael and Jamael are good men. They care about this community and they have touched a lot of lives in our city. Many of the people they impacted were young people. A few were heading in the wrong direction before they were mentored by these gentlemen and taught that there was another way.
What’s happened to them—forced out of their positions, maligned and thrown out with the trash—has sent a chilling message to these young people I’ve been told. Here’s what they’re thinking.
If it can happen to department heads, a decorated cop (Mr. Coleman was a police captain before becoming director) what chance do we have?
As a result, I know a few promising young people who have taken their talents elsewhere unwilling to put up with the toxic culture that has taken root at City Hall and permeated every corner of our city. That toxicity has convinced more than a few people to start their lives and careers elsewhere.
Who can blame them? But isn’t that tragic?
And while Michael and Jamael have been the subject of a lot of discussion and publicity because of their high profiles in town, there are others who have suffered by affiliation that we never talk about.
Donna Quinlan, a wonderful person,  worked for the city for 39 years. She was shown the door for no good reason. In fact, for no reason at all.
I guess she was guilty of being Michael’s assistant.
Jennifer Costello, a 31 year employee and another wonderful person, was also forced out for no good reason.
I worked with both Donna and Jen. They were invaluable.
Donna’s husband Tom, served for 30 years in our Police Department. He was a great officer. That family gave 70 years to this city.
Is this the way we should treat people? What message does that send to the other 900 employees?
I’ve seen the pain this kind of treatment causes families. It’s severe. Losing your livelihood, —in many ways your identity— suddenly, publicly and unfairly is a shock to the soul.
Sadly, it’s become fashionable to belittle public servants. We shouldn’t.
We seem to have forgotten that they are people with families, career aspirations, pride in their city and a strong desire to serve.
It’s wrong to hurt them.
We can’t be a good community if we treat people this way.
These kind of situations ought to trigger some deep soul searching.
This cannot be allowed to happen again and the people who have been hurt need to be made whole.
This is a teachable moment but only if we choose to learn and do better.
We should not tolerate a culture that ruins people for no good reason.
Why did this happen?
What kind of culture allows this?
What has changed? Because it wasn’t always like this.
If we just look the other way and carry on as we often do, we won’t figure out a better way.
And there has to be a better way.
A toxic culture is expensive.
Both in terms of legal fees (which we pay as taxpayers) but more importantly in terms of the toll it takes on victims and all who know and love them.
Throwing people away is just not right.
It leaves wounds that never heal and like a virus it affects every pore of our city.

200,000 lives: A Grim Milestone

This park in Detroit honors those lost to Covid-19.

 

“Breath is life. When the stakes are high and the challenge is hard, I come to my foundation for answers — breath.” Circus Performer LadyBeast. 
 
I stumbled on this quote while reading a blog about Creative Mornings and it hit me. 
Breath is our foundation.  We stop breathing and we cease to exist. 
I’ve been conscious of breathing for most of my life because I have asthma. So sometimes  breathing can be difficult. 
Every now and then, especially when I’m nervous, I have found myself short of breath. But I have never felt endangered. My asthma was mild. I knew I would feel better quickly. 
But my recent bout with Coronavirus changed my relationship with breathing.

At the height of my illness, I struggled with every breath. My lungs hurt and they weren’t working very well. 
Laying on my back, attached to leads to monitor my heart, a port in my arm and a mask strapped tight over my face I felt like I was drowning. 
I was working hard to get air and it felt as if the virus was suffocating me. Every breath was accompanied  by a painful sharpness. It’s hard to explain but when I inhaled I felt a cutting type pain. 
While I was frightened and afraid to sleep because I didn’t think I’d wake up, I was also keenly aware that I had to fight. 
I couldn’t really speak, but I wanted to yell out and say “no, I’m not letting go.”  
My mind raced from thought to thought. 
“No, I won’t let this be the end” and then “I can’t believe this is the end. I’m only 55. I have a wife and kids and a career and friends. I never said goodbye and I have so much more I want to do.”
I thought of my late mother and my beloved grandparents. I asked them for help. I prayed for G-d’s mercy and I wondered if I was in some sort of dream. 
My mind kept coming back to my mother. She passed at age 59 and missed so much. Now here I was four years younger. I would miss seeing my kids get married, I would miss having grandkids and I would lose all the things I wanted to do once I retired. While tempted to give in and let go, I just refused. 
Breathe. Just breathe. Keep breathing. 
And I did. 
 
 

I’m a little over two months into my Covid odyssey and here’s where I stand (or mostly sit).

 I am still on three liters of oxygen. I can go off for short periods of time, but when I dip below 92 on my pulse oximeter (always by my side) I have to go back to the O2 hose—you don’t want to starve your brain of oxygen.
For the most part my breathing is ok. But sometimes I feel like there’s something stuck deep in my chest. And  I still lack my wind.
My body is sore from what I guess is the therapy I’m doing after 39 days in a hospital bed.
But I also have a stabbing pain in my left thigh. I’ve been applying heat to the leg which also feels numb at times.
The stabbing wakes me some nights.
My neck is also stiff and my tailbone is sore which means that I need to sit on a lot of cushions. My friend Scott bought me a “donut” and I literally can’t live without it.
Best. Gift. Ever.
I’m not really sure if some of my soreness is the residual impact of the virus or the result of being in that hospital bed.
My sleep has been inconsistent, but I am not fatigued like so many Covid patients report.
I am, however, experiencing a fair amount of anxiety. There are some mornings when I feel very jittery. It fades as the day moves forward but I also experience pangs of fear and just overall dread that seems to come at me in waves.
When I get hit with the wave, I try to shift my mind to a positive thought. I’m so lucky that I can call friends or read messages and cards to lift my spirits.
I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and love I have received from family and friends. I jokingly told my wife that I feel that I attended my funeral without having to pass.
But boy did I come close and that experience is both real and surreal.
To be honest, I’m still kind of processing the whole experience.
As a news junkie, I’ve always paid attention to what’s happening in the world. But these days, stories about Covid truly affect me on a different level.
The 200,000 plus deaths in America is not just a grim statistic to me; it’s a shockingly real kick in the teeth because I’ve now seen the enormous toll this virus has enacted on our country and on the families left to grieve.
I was one of the lucky ones.
So I wonder: why I was spared?  And I  wonder what I should be doing now that I’ve been given a a second chance. I realize how fragile life is; how easy it could have been to simply stop breathing.
The last few months feels like a dream to me.
I went to get a test at Bethesda Hospital and came home 39 days later.
In between, I wore masks to breathe, had morphine to dull the pain (it barely took the edge off) and struggled to even sit up. I had odd dreams, painful spasms and felt dizzy and disoriented at times. For a few weeks, my eyes burned and there were times when I woke up and wasn’t quite sure where I was. Sometimes things seemed to move in the room. I would see the TV on the ceiling but then realized it hadn’t moved. I was just confused.
I heard screams from a nearby room and thought to myself someone has it worse than me and I prayed they would find relief.
Since coming home I’ve had extensive therapy and it’s helping.
I am slowly getting my strength and stamina back. I came home with a walker and a hospital bed.  Both are gone.
I can climb a flight of stairs but I lose my breath and need a few minutes to recover. But it’s progress.
I am so grateful.
When I wake up I am reminded how fortunate I am to be alive.
I’m more appreciative of my friends, love my wife even more (she’s been my rock), cherish my kids and family and can’t wait to get back to what life has to offer.
I write these words to raise awareness and to urge people to be vigilant and safe.
Last week, we attended a virtual fundraiser to raise money for Bethesda Hospital’s Covid efforts. I was happy to see a brief video of my departure from the hospital as part of the event. The health care heroes that were highlighted that night saved my life and the life of many others. When I left Bethesda, I promised them I would try and spread the word.
And that’s what I plan to do.
I am grateful I have the opportunity to do so.
I’m here because of prayers and the talents of amazing medical professionals. We are blessed to have these people in our community.
Thanks for reading.

Going To Be A Long Walk Home

Our beach is a prized asset. Protecting it must be based on science not politics.

“ Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

There’s a lot happening in Delray Beach these days.

Water quality issues, controversy over sea grapes, budget shortfalls, lawsuits and an ill timed raise for city commissioners.
As mom used to say: Oy!
When you sit alone in a hospital room for six weeks fighting Covid, you have a lot of time to think. You wrestle with issues large and small as the hours and days tick away.
Weighed against issues such as life and death, the dysfunction at Delray City Hall doesn’t mean a whole lot. This too shall pass as they say, although, to be honest, the nonsense has lasted a very long time and has done untold damage to our beloved city.
So while “sea grape gate” and “raise gate” doesn’t rise to the level of dealing with a pandemic, an economic crisis or racial strife, if you love your town —as I do —the state of affairs should alarm you.
We have strayed far, far away from the days when Florida Trend magazine put Delray on its cover with the headline: Florida’s Best Run Town.
There was a time when Delray Beach was not only well run but it was well led too.
We were aspirational and visionary. There was a sense of possibility, we knew if we put our minds to it, we could do anything.
You could feel the civic pride and the confidence that goes with it. It was palpable and that confidence was a key to our success.
Pick your issue and there was a plan and more important action being taken to make things better.
Crime problems fueled by drug sales were met by groundbreaking efforts in community policing. Community leaders, foundation executives and academics came from far and wide to study Delray’s police department and its efforts to connect to the community.
When city leaders decided to tackle educational issues they adopted an ambitious plan that called for new facilities, magnet programs, summer enrichment activities and partnerships to try and raise the quality of education in our community.
And guess what? It got done.
S.D. Spady Elementary was rebuilt and added an award winning Montessori magnet, Village Academy was built, a brand new high school with career academies was also built and partnerships with stellar non-profits such as the Achievement Center for Children and Families were created to launch initiatives to help the most vulnerable children in our community.
The CRA, ridiculously maligned by people who either don’t know or should know better, revitalized a once moribund downtown and also invested tens of millions of dollars into distressed neighborhoods.
And the list goes on.
Old School Square, Pineapple Grove, the Arts Garage, signature events, world class tennis, successful beach renourishment efforts, innovative housing initiatives such as the Community Land Trust and more.
Now this is not to say that everything was perfect.
Our schools still have a long way to go, our neighborhoods still need investment, reclaimed water was a great idea but there’s obvious managerial and operational issues that need to be addressed  and like the rest of America we struggle and always have struggled with inequality and racial division.

But the difference I see is that back in the day there was a recognition of our deficiencies and a resolve to get after it.
There was a hunger to solve problems, involve the community and innovate. There was a willingness to experiment and yes a willingness to fail.
Delray’s culture was one of “civic entrepreneurship” which is the opposite of a “gotcha” culture in which fear reigns and everyone is afraid to proffer an idea lest they get ripped by trolls on social media or drummed out of town by toxic politics.

So while I spent 98 percent of my recent Covid experience trying to stay alive and pondering how much I loved my family and friends I spent two percent of my time thinking about the town where I live.
Why?
Because I love my city.
I love it enough to criticize it because I want to see it do better.
I cringe when I see story after story of turnover and dysfunction. Others do too. I hear from many of you who can’t believe what they are seeing.
They don’t relish or take joy in the nonsense. They worry because they too love their town.
They want to see an effective and efficient city government that uses their tax dollars wisely.
They want to see a thriving local economy and opportunities created for those who live here or may want to live here.
They want a safe town and to see their elected officials work collaboratively.
It’s OK to debate passionately but once the vote is called they want to see their leaders move on and not hold grudges. Washington take note. People can’t stand Congress because the Dems and Republicans can’t work together.
Therefore, problems never get solved and opportunities are hard to seize.
Same thing right here in little old Delray.
So yes, I spent some time thinking about Delray. When you live in a place, own a home, have a business, raised a family here and dedicated years of your life to a town  you can’t help but care. A lot.
It’s going to be a long walk home as the song says. Because we’ve strayed far from the ideals that created a wonderful little city.

We have to learn to work together again.
We have to stop labeling, dividing and sowing fear.
We have to want to do better and to be better.
Not every elected official is on the take. Not every developer is here to pillage the village. Not every business is a special interest with only profits in mind.
There’s talent at city hall, but I’m not sure there’s a culture here that encourages staff to be creative or to even do their jobs effectively. For goodness sakes, let them loose to create value.

Last week, I saw the Beach Property Owners unfairly maligned for wanting to protect the dunes at the beach.
Friends, the  Beach Property Owners Association has been a force for good in this town for a long, long time.
If they differ with others on the height of sea grapes we ought to listen and ask why instead of assuming that they selfishly want a better view and that they are willing to risk the beach to get it.
I know the leaders of that association. They love Delray, they are not selfish.
The ‘Delray way’ as we once called it,  would be to listen, seek understanding and find a way to protect our dune system based on a full understanding of the science.

Yes, it’s going to be a long walk home.
But we need to take the first steps toward restoring civility, vision, collaboration and stability.
The first rule when you are in a hole is to stop digging.
Our town deserves better.
And all of us have a role to play and a stake in the outcome. We have to speak out. We have to get involved.
As John Lewis wrote in his posthumously-published essay, “When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.”
Amen.
The same goes for cities.

Life Lessons

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned this year is that good and bad can co-exist. When something’s bad, it’s not all bad, and vice versa.

Take for example my recent battle with Covid-19; I don’t have much good to say about the virus but the experience taught me several important lessons. Among them:
 
Nurses are remarkable people. Just remarkable. 
Doctors are incredible too. 
We are blessed to have a hospital as good as Bethesda serving our community. 
I have lots and lots of wonderful friends. 
My family is amazing. 
My wife is next level great. And I love her more than I can ever express. 
Prayer is powerful. Very powerful. 
Those are all good lessons to learn or —in my case— relearn. 
 By now, most of us have written off 2020 as a terrible year. 
The virus has robbed us of so much. We are a dangerously divided nation—angry and distrustful of one another. 
It’s sad and depressing. 
And yet..
Some have used the pandemic to reconnect and reinvent. We are talking about important issues and while painful, it’s good that we are having these conversations. 
We have managed to reorder our lives and in some cases our businesses and careers. 
Yes, small businesses are hurting. And it’s tragic and painful to see people’s dreams disintegrate. Yet, amidst the mess, we are reminded  of the importance of small business; not only to our economy but the very character of our communities…we will deeply mourn those who close their doors. And I hope we will appreciate and support local businesses forevermore.

Yes,  we have lost a staggering amount of people to this virulent virus. It pains me to see their loss minimized as we argue over statistics. Death should not be partisan. We need to figure out how to be a more empathetic nation. It starts on the local level.
Kindness matters.
As a recipient of a huge outpouring of love and prayers, I can personally attest to how important love can be. It saved me. And I often thought of people who suffer alone—without family and friends or community. How lonely that must be…
Yes, our children’s education and social lives have been disrupted but we have also seen many families grow closer. I’m hopeful our children will learn from this experience. They will overcome. 
So yes, life is a mixed bag. 
Good and bad can and do co-exist. 
And yes, it’s true that it is always darkest before the dawn which is why I’m confident better days are on the way. 
 
Update: After 39 days at Bethesda Hospital battling Covid-19, I’m extremely happy to be home. It has been almost three weeks since my homecoming and I’m spending my time in physical and occupational therapy. I have five sessions a week learning to breathe, walk, climb stairs while rebuilding my strength which was completely zapped by the disease and a violent case of double pneumonia. 
I’m still on oxygen but I’ve graduated from a walker and can now walk unassisted around the house. 
My breathing feels labored at times, as if there’s an obstruction somewhere deep. 
I’ve been reading a lot about COVID and the experiences of people who develop conditions such as glaucoma, depression or  lupus after battling the virus. 
To be honest, it’s scary. 
It turns out Covid is a vascular disease and one has to wonder what it does to your system. 
I’m doing my best to focus on the positive and taking it a day at a time. I’m drawing strength and resolve from the many kind people who are in my corner. I remain in awe of them and am deeply grateful for the abundance of love in my life. I’m a lucky man. 

Hello Again…

The virus millions are wrestling with.

Hello dear readers.

It’s good to be back. Or almost back. I’ve got a ways to go.
This blog was interrupted by Covid-19 and after 39 days in the hospital (mostly in ICU) I’m happy to be writing again.
It may take me awhile to get back to my two times a week pace but I’m working on it alongside my recovery.
During my hospital stay, I did my best to keep people posted on my condition via Facebook.
The outpouring of love, prayer and kindness was overwhelming. Not only did it help keep my spirits up during a brutal battle with a virus that can only be described as a beast, but it also gave me an opportunity to try and educate people on what it’s like to have a serious case of coronavirus.
My goal was to raise awareness and hopefully inspire people to take the virus seriously.
Many asked me to write a book about the experience and honestly I’m a little ambivalent about that prospect. I’m just not sure I want to relive the episode.
For me Covid, was a horrifying experience.
I came to the brink of losing my life. It was a lonely experience; painful, scary and scarring.
My lungs were battered by violent pneumonia, I lost my ability to walk and all of the strength was drained from my body.
Staring at the ceiling, alone, with a mask on my face to help me breathe, I thought of all I had left behind.
My wife, a few miles away but not allowed to visit. My children, just getting started in their lives and careers. My beloved father worried sick about me. My sister unable to choke back tears when she called. And my wonderful friends who I would miss terribly.
I have a good life and I didn’t want it to end.
I also thought about what  I still wanted to do. Before getting sick, I thought if I was fortunate, I might have 30 plus years left.
Now I wondered if I could last the night.
I felt like I was suffocating. Every breath was labored, my heart was working hard to keep up and I was overcome with sadness.
I had two episodes where I thought I might not survive.
The first happened as if it was a dream and it landed me in the ICU.
It was a surreal experience, I can’t quite describe it, but I felt that I was being urged by something to let go. It felt as if I was being given a choice but the emphasis was on letting go. It was palpable. I declined. And I decided to fight.
The second experience happened in the ICU.
I just felt like I was drowning. I also felt that somehow what was happening was all wrong. This was not supposed to be the end of my story. I was only 55. I never said goodbye to anyone. It seemed wrong, discordant.
I was determined to fight. I was determined to survive….
It’s a hard experience to revisit.
Still, there’s so much I can tell you about: what it’s like to be isolated for 39 days. The amazing health care workers who saved me. What it feels like physically to lose your ability to walk or even sit up. All that time spent alone left to think.
Maybe I’ll share more at some later date.
What I do want you to know is how important it is to stay safe.
Sadly, this pandemic has become politicized like so much else is these days at all levels of our life from Washington to our own little city hall.
So I’ve learned not to preach. Because once things become political it seems we become unable to change our beliefs. Regardless of the facts or the evidence.
But from the depths of my soul, I just want you to be safe, to take this virus seriously, to mind your health for symptoms and to protect your loved ones.
Not everyone will die from this hideous virus. But so many have. For me, they are not just a statistic—or number that increases day after mind numbing day. They are people. They have families and loved ones. I pray we have empathy as a society because we will need a whole lot of healing before this storm passes.
Not everyone will get as sick as I did. But the point is you can, it’s a possibility —so be safe.
This is all I can say right now as I am still processing my experience.
I have always been a grateful guy. I know I have been blessed in so many ways.  But this experience has made everything a little sweeter for me.
Driving west on Lake Ida Road after departing Bethesda Hospital the grass never seemed greener, the sky was never bluer and the entrance to my community never seemed so inviting.
I love my wife even more. My children too. I cherish my family and friends even more.
That part of this experience has been a gift.
The greatest I’ve ever been given.

Special Places Lift Our Spirits

 

 

 

 

Old School Square in patriotic splendor.          Let’s  start with the obvious.

This has been one horrendous year.
Let’s be honest,  if years were things, 2020 would be a smoldering dumpster fire.

I don’t have to or want to recount the craziness and tragedy, we know it all too well. We are engulfed by it.

What I do want to write about is what can soothe us during troubled times.
So here’s something to try— inspired by Yankee magazine—one of my favorite publications because it celebrates the best of New England.
Yankee’s basic premise is that places are special because they tell stories, have distinctive styles and personalities and that we ought to explore as much as we possibly can.
When I scanned the most recent issue it got me a little down because I know that at least this year, there’s no way to see any of the amazing places described in the magazine.
But then I had a thought, what are the local places that make me happy either because they are beautiful or trigger positive memories.
So I decided to take inventory of those places— first in my mind and then via a car ride—which is still possible even during this time of Covid.
I visited old homes and neighborhoods, cruised Atlantic Avenue, took a walk on Banker’s Row, went to Papas Tapas (love that place), cruised around the West Settlers District, swung by the Catherine Strong Splash Park, went north  then south on A1A, visited Lake Ida Park where I have walked all of my dogs over the years and parked across the street from Old School Square where so many of my “Delray memories” were launched.
I dropped by Knowles Park to visit the Intracoastal and took a drive west to the Morikami.
I drove the bridges at George Bush, Atlantic, Linton and Spanish River—for some reason I’ve always loved bridges. Maybe that stems from childhood when crossing the Whitestone Bridge meant we were visiting my grandparents.
Anyway, it did my soul some good.
It’s not the same as discovering a new place or going to Maine but somehow it was soothing.
I think it’s because the act of thinking about which places mean something to you triggers endorphins, memories and positive feelings.
I thought of the people I’ve met over the years at Old School Square, the photo shoot we did with my now 30 year old daughter at Morikami, great neighbors we’ve had, friends who live in certain neighborhoods and votes we took on the City Commission that led to new places and exciting things—-Bexley Park, Coral Trace, CityWalk, Ocean City Lofts, the public art program etc etc.
For a moment, I forgot about 2020 the nightmare and focused on the sense of place we enjoy.
This summer I had dreamed of going to New England, there’s something about the region that speaks to me. That dream has been dashed.
We’ve been grounded. At least for now.
So my visions of weather beaten cottages along the Maine coast will be replaced with drives around Palm Beach County.
Things could be worse.
And I promise they will get better.

Hello Old Friends

Sorry for the poor pic. Best I can do.

When you get to be my age you find yourself having lived a few lives.

There’s childhood. The teen years. College. Early adulthood. The parenting years and now the (mostly) empty nester years.
It flies by in an instant.
But the blur of years leaves you with perspective, a few scars and several buckets of friends from the various eras and roles we play in life.
I have friends from my years in the newspaper business, and friends from my time spent volunteering in Delray. I have friends at the office, business friends, college friends and friends from my time in Leadership Florida.
I cherish them all and feel extremely fortunate to have had good friends at every step of the journey.
I am so grateful.
This pandemic has made me even more appreciative because I miss seeing my friends and being able to make plans to get together.
I’m sure you do too.
For me, it’s one of the worst things about this miserable, exhausting and scary year.
But every two weeks at 9 pm I pour a drink and pull up a chair and tap into a cross section of friends that span my childhood, teen, college, early adult and now middle age years.
As we log onto Zoom, I see all these old, familiar faces populate my screen and for an hour or so, I’m transported to a better world. It’s a world of jokes and conversation, a world of memories and future plans, a world that’s familiar and not as uncertain.
I’m on the Zoom with guys I’ve known since I was 6 and 8. We know each other’s parents and siblings, we played Little League together, took the Long Island Rail Road to “the city” to explore and fondly remember each other’s first cars.
I knew their teenage crushes and heartbreaks, what teams they root for and which teachers they loved. We can complete each other’s sentences.
Together, we fill gaps in our collective memories but there are some sacred stories that none of us will ever forget.
Over the months we’ve been doing these calls we’ve added some guys who drifted away—never gone—because the bond is too strong —but drifted nonetheless.
As I mentioned, time flies. And our once daily connection slipped as we moved, married, had kids, went into business, changed jobs and lost our hair while also losing  the ability to see each other regularly. But we never let go of the basic friendship we shared. And now that we are comfortably in our 50s, I believe we will be friends for the rest of the ride.
Still, time is an interesting thing we grapple with.
I can still see the young men in the visages of middle age guys who populate my screen.
I can still see their youthful essence.
There’s Dave’s curiosity, Dewey’s kindness, Joe’s enthusiasm, Steve’s quick wit, Scott’s ever present grin and Brian’s ability to frame an issue.  Ben’s still a rascal and Howie has the same laugh he had as a kid. Greg is still the broad shouldered body builder he became as a teenager.
I’m proud of these guys. Every last one has been successful in their careers. They all have nice families and good lives.
We are spread out now—from California and Arizona to North Carolina, Virginia, New York, South Carolina, Wisconsin and New Jersey.
Combined we have seen a lot of the world and covered a whole lot of ground—kids, grandkids, businesses, hobbies, marriage, love, loss and adventure.
Some of the guys have been there every step of the way. Others drifted for periods, but were always there in our memories.
But thanks to the pandemic and the efforts of my friend Dave, we are all together again every other Wednesday on a screen for 90 minutes of laughs and friendship during a hard, hard time.
I’m over this miserable year. But when we get past this—and we will most certainly will—I will remember this as the year that my oldest friends came together to help each other through the storm.
I always knew I could count on these guys—for a lifetime.
I hope this inspires you to reach out to an old friend.

Ya Gotta Believe

I was young in ‘93. We all were.

I stumbled across a memory last week and it stayed with me.

I have this app called Time Hop and each day it reminds you of events and photos from your past.
It’s pretty cool.
Well last week, an old column I had written for the Delray Beach Times resurfaced. It was from 1993 and it was in the immediate aftermath of Delray winning its first All America City Award in Tampa.
I wrote about how the city planned to capitalize on the win with a marketing blitz that would hopefully capture the eyes of investors looking to build in Delray and companies that may want to move to Delray.

What followed were All America city buttons, bumper stickers, license plates, key chains etc.
The effort may have seemed hokey but it was effective and the results produced positive press and civic pride.
Let’s spend a minute on those two things: positive press and civic pride. They are often linked together—and it makes sense. Positive press creates civic pride.
So in 1993, when residents saw their city make the cover of Florida Trend, they felt good about their city. The headline on the magazine: Florida’s Best Run City.
It doesn’t get better than that.
Only it did—for awhile at least.
Delray in the 90s and early 2000s seemed to to be a magical place.  Every year seemed to be better than the last.
There was a confidence about the town, a sense that by working together the community could accomplish anything it set its mind too.
Want to lower the crime rate?
Ok, let’s commit to community policing.
Want to create a vibrant downtown?
Let’s invest in a streetscape (Decade of Excellence) and innovative policy (Downtown Master Plan) and events and  sure enough—with a ton of hard work— we have the “it” downtown in the region and beyond.

There were some amazing civic projects too: Old School Square, the Sandoway House, the Cason Cottage and the Spady Museum.
There were true collaborations with the Achievement Center for Children and Families, the Beach Property Owners Association, the formation of the West Settlers Historic District, the opening of the Youth Enrichment Vocational Center, successful bids for the Davis and Fed Cups, model beach renourishment projects, the founding of the county’s first land trust, the introduction of public art, dozens of citizen engagement initiatives and landmark programs designed to help Delray Beach schools.
Looking back, civic pride and confidence may be the key factor in success.
As Tug McGraw, the great reliever for the Mets once said: “Ya gotta believe.”
And we did.
We believed.
We acted.
We experimented.
We were entrepreneurial and we took calculated risks. We didn’t fear precedents; we wanted to set them.
I recently watched an ESPN documentary that examined last year’s Wimbledon match up between Delray’s Coco Gauff and Venus Williams, who also played a lot of tennis over the years in Delray.
Two things struck me.
One was Coco’s confidence that she could play with Venus. She believed that she belonged.
You don’t win without that belief.
Second, as ESPN’s Chris Fowler interviewed Coco at our downtown tennis center, I recalled the decision made to keep the center downtown and add a stadium court. That took confidence. It was a prescient decision.
And because of it, a young champion was able to walk to the courts and dream. A generation later, she’s talking from the veranda of the pro shop with ESPN about what it was like to beat a legend on centre court at Wimbledon. Very cool.
Anyway, this is a riff on confidence, civic pride, dreams, aspiration and accomplishment.
Wouldn’t it be nice to do/have all of those things again?
As we sit home enduring this awful pandemic, we ought to spend some of our time dreaming about a better future and taking some steps to make those dreams come true.
We are going to need bold new ideas to survive the post coronavirus world, which will surely be different.
The first order of business is to survive. The second is to recover and thrive. The cities that dream and act will be the ones that thrive.
The ones that wallow in despair and enable dysfunction will sink.
Let’s be the former.
Ya gotta believe.

Culture is Everything

Something is wrong in Delray Beach.

I’ve been saying this for awhile now. Sometimes I’ve been vilified by the usual suspects for pointing out the obvious but we’ve had eight city managers in eight years and that’s not good. We’ve also had a slew of department heads and City Attorney’s come and go too.
It’s not a sign of health. It’s a sign of sickness.
And if you don’t think this affects you—well with all due respect, you’re mistaken because it does.
Turnover costs money. Tax money.
Lawsuits cost money too.
It’s hard to deliver efficient services with an ever changing cast of characters.
It’s also hard if you work for the city or are trying to do business in town.

Dysfunction chases away investment and when you are known as a hard place to work it’s no surprise when you can’t attract or retain talent.
I’m writing this in the wake of the firing of George Gretsas, the latest in a long line of City Managers who have come here with high hopes only to leave beaten and battered. Every time that happens, we drive the price up for the next contestant brave or crazy enough to apply for the job.
So far, none of the previous eight contestants have left here with their reputations entirely intact.
We seem to have factions not only on the City Commission but also on the staff level with a few bad actors sowing division. That’s a relatively new and troubling development.

The next round of head hunting ought to be fascinating. The commission has already been told that Delray has a toxic reputation. Before they go out to the market again there needs to be some serious soul searching or we will pay another premium price for a CM who also won’t last.
One glaring deficiency is a lack of vision. Successful Mayors and commission’s strive to create a unified vision and shared goals. This way if there is division at least you have your common goals to fall back on.  This helps City Manager’s and staff because they have a North Star to guide them. The most recent Comp Plan exercise was lacking because it largely cut out the  public. Plus, Comp Plan updates typically happen after a visioning process not in lieu of one.
From the outside, I don’t see any goals or vision. So I asked a few prominent citizens  to tell me if they knew the city’s goals. Nobody could name one goal. Now they may exist, but if nobody knows what they are or can see progress on those goals you’ve got a problem.
The absence of common goals leads to ala Carte policymaking and a whole lot of 3-2 votes.
That leads to hard feelings and a lack of progress.
Cities (and nations) go off the rails when it starts to become about personalities and factions rather than community driven goals and plans.
 That’s where we are my friends.
Does this get fixed?
Only if we demand it does and to date we haven’t. Major institutions in town have been silent. Where are the associations? Where is the business community?
Granted, we are in a pandemic and preoccupied. But dysfunction in City Hall in a pandemic, during hurricane season with a projected budget shortfall of $10 million won’t make it easier to recover. We need to be paying attention and we need to demand better results and offer our help.
We stand for what we tolerate.
And right now we are standing for a whole lot of dysfunction.