A Fitting Tribute, a Bronze Star & The Arts

Random Thoughts on a Monday…

A Moving Tribute to a memorable officer

It was gratifying to see an overflow crowd at Officer Christine Braswell’s Memorial Service Sunday at Atlantic High School.

Officers from all over the area, Delray police retirees, residents and our own bravest and finest were there for a moving tribute to an Officer who touched many lives.

From Explorers who respected her as a drill instructor to SWAT team members who were in awe of her skills, Officer Braswell’s influence was palpable and lasting.

She connected with everyone. From homeless people who considered her a friend to business leaders who put out all the stops to honor her after her tragic passing April 9 at the too young age of 40.

Chief Jeff Goldman did a great job of leading the memorial and capturing Christine’s spirit and dedication to her job. It was also touching to hear from Christine’s father– a former officer– who recounted his daughter’s toughness and resolve to be a police officer despite his concerns over the physical and mental toll of the job.

Delray Citizens for Delray Police once again rose to the occasion coordinating volunteers and donations to make this difficult time just a little easier.

I thought I’d share a portion of a prayer from a memorial card handed out at the service.

“Lord I ask for courage

Courage to face and

Conquer my own fears…

Courage to take me

Where others will not go…

I ask for strength

Strength of body

To protect others…

I ask for dedication

Dedication to my job

to do it well.

Dedication to my community

To Keep it safe.”

Christine did all of those things for us and others. She will not be forgotten. May she rest in peace.

Bronze Star Ceremony You’re Invited
Tomorrow is a special day in Delray.
Retired Delray Beach Police Officer Skip Brown and his lovely wife Cheryl, a former PD volunteer, will be at the Crest Theatre at Old School Square at 4 pm to receive a Bronze Star for heroism. The medal ceremony, open and free to the public, comes 45 years after Skip’s heroic service in Vietnam.
It’s a fascinating story. I won’t ruin it for you right now because I’m hoping your can come and see a rare ceremony.
Skip is a special guy. This is a special occasion. Hope to see you at the Crest.

Sons & Daughters Farm and Winery
We visited Sons & Daughters on Saturday west of Lake Worth and it was terrific.
Sons & Daughters is a 17 acre organic farm where you can drink homegrown wine and kombucha, tour the farm and interact with an array of animals from donkeys and pigs to chickens and roosters.
It’s worth a visit. Friday night’s feature music, food trucks and a fire pit. It’s a cool place.
And…I couldn’t help but think this is what the ag reserve could have been.
Working farms with retail attached, Agri-tourism amenities, healthy and unique places to hang out.
Alas, it wasn’t to be.
I’m a believer in Eastward Ho..let your downtowns be downtowns tight, compact and walkable but out west..well let’s say it could have been done differently.

Wood and Fire
We gave this cool new place a whirl over the weekend and it was really good.
Delray’s own Castle Construction did the build out and it’s wonderful.
A nice interior, large bar, a wood fired oven, outdoor dining options and a nice menu with reasonable prices.
We had the veggie panini (guess who had that one) and a Margherita pizza with charred zucchini and meatballs.
There’s a good craft beer menu too.
It’s nice to see west Delray add some great gathering spots. The restaurant is on West Atlantic just west of Military Trail.
Check it out.

Speaking of craft beer
We visited Saltwater Brewery recently and chatted briefly with Chris Gove one of the young entrepreneurs behind the growing brand.
I’ve known Chris’ dad Leigh for years. And so it’s really great to see his son have his father’s creative energy and vision.
Saltwater is now distributed all the way to Jacksonville. It just feels like a breakout brand in a crowded space.
Not only is the beer terrific (try the Passion Pit) but the branding is spot on. The brewery is also oozing cool and very popular.
We ran into former Planning Director Paul Dorling and it was nice to catch up with him as well.
Delray needs more than one district that performs so it’s nice to see the nooks and crannies filling up with activity and cool uses.

Kudos to Old School Square
The new summer booklet of classes at Old School Square is out and once again it’s really well done.
The School of Creative Arts is a great asset to Delray and if you have any interest in art, writing or photography you should check it out.
I’m a big admirer of the arts and artists but have zero talent.
I might, however check out the Thursday night readings where writers share their work.

See, I have this idea for a novel about a dashing middle aged blogger who strikes it rich…it’s clearly fiction.

 

But for Leadership Florida…

Thelma and Louise? No…Wendy Spencer and Wendy Walker two of Florida’s best leaders.

This Friday, Diane and my son Ben will join me at the Palm Beach Yacht Club to thank one of our personal heroes for 28 years of service to Florida and to an organization that has meant so much to so many.

Wendy Walker is retiring after 28 years of stellar service as the President of Leadership Florida, considered by many to be the premier statewide leadership organization in America.

And while the organization is a ‘who’s who’ of talented people from business, politics, education and the non-profit world, it would not have soared without Wendy’s steady and humble leadership.

This is from a recent feature on Wendy in the Tallahassee Democrat.

“It’s impossible to spend time with Walker and not walk away inspired or impressed, but likely both. A tall, beautiful woman who is clearly comfortable in her own skin, Walker commands a room when she walks in, but gives credit for her success to great parents, good luck and often being in the right place at the right time.  She is the only person who will tell you that she is undeserving of the honor of being named one of the 2017 25 Women You Need to Know.”

That’s our Wendy.

She is our Wendy because she dedicated her life to her Leadership Florida family and made us all feel very special. Now imagine a constituency that includes governors, university presidents, senators, state legislators, mayors, CEOs, entrepreneurs, scientists, high powered attorneys, prominent journalists and Jon Levinson (sorry, Jon , it was there, so I took it). How do you keep them all happy?

Sure, they are wonderful people: generous, talented, accomplished and smart. But the lion’s share of her constituency are Type A personalities who are wildly opinionated and ambitious–often code words for hard to please.

In lesser hands, this is a combination that could easily go off the rails.

But with Wendy Walker at the helm, the organization has thrived.

Here’s what one of those really smart people—a former Leadership Florida Chair and top aide to Gov. Chiles– had to say in the Tallahassee Democrat.

“Many governors and other public officials in Florida only aspire to the pinnacle level of respect, recognition and appreciation that Wendy Walker enjoys among some of our state’s most important and influential leaders in every sphere of influence,” said Ron Sachs, CEO of Sachs Media Group and a longtime friend. “Her real secret power is a quiet but always effective style of leadership in which she brings people of divergent views together on really big issues that matter most, such as creating a greater sense of statewide community in Florida.”

That’s the magic of Wendy Walker and of Leadership Florida. We need more people like her. It’s easy to divide and polarize. It’s much harder to bring people together.

I applied at the encouragement of former Commissioner Levinson who was a graduate of Class VII when obviously the standards were relaxed to let him in (wink). Actually Jon became Chair of the organization and was recognized with a special award two years ago for his tireless devotion to the organization—a devotion that Wendy inspires in many people.

When I applied my interest was to see if Jon was being truthful– because let’s face it– he tosses around compliments like they are manhole covers and he was always raving about Leadership Florida.

I am a passionate devotee of leadership, was interested in the information I would glean from the experience and wanted to meet many of the people who were in the organization.

I was accepted—which in itself is an honor and devoted the better part of a year to attending weekend programs all over the state—Tallahassee, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and a rural  camp where we had no cellphone service and we woke to frogs and other critters in our shower stalls. But we bonded and we learned from each other and a fascinating array of speakers who gave us a deep appreciation for our state.

Among those we met were Florida icons ranging from Gov. Askew and the first African American to serve on the Florida Supreme Court to Army Generals, nature photographers, professors and experts who helped us understand our state and our own individual leadership styles.

Regular readers of this blog understand my love for Delray—but it was my Leadership Florida experience which cinched my love for Florida. Leadership Florida made me believe in the concept of statewide community—even in a state as transient, diverse and large as Florida.

In my class, there was another Wendy who became a good friend.

Her name was Wendy Spencer and she ran Volunteer Florida for Gov. Bush at the time. When President Obama was elected,  he tapped Wendy Spencer to run his national service program because he recognized that Wendy Spencer was special.

Wendy Spencer would make it back home for Leadership Florida’s legendary annual meetings including an infamous event at Epcot Center in which Wendy and I got lost in the park and couldn’t find our way back to the hotel. It was a rather hot and humid Central Florida evening and there were moments when we felt that we would not make it back alive. It was that hot and that uncomfortable. Navy SEALS we are not.

Alas, we did find our way back to the air conditioned comfort of the hotel. And it’s a good thing too.

Wendy has now come home to take over for Wendy Walker. As a proud classmate, I couldn’t be happier. She’s an inspired choice to step into some very big shoes.

Over the years, I have gained much from my membership in Leadership Florida. And tried to give back as well.

I have seen and met great speakers and thinkers: documentarian Ken Burns, author Jon Meacham, Tom Brokaw, Colin Powell and experts on history, presidential power, communication, entrepreneurship, the environment and health policy.

You leave smarter and inspired, every time. And the goal is to bring these insights back to make your part of Florida better.

But it’s the personal relationships that are just as transformational—when we were hit by hurricanes we were able to call a Leadership Florida classmate who was a senior engineer to help us with equipment that helped to keep our sewage systems from breaking down. When I needed advice as a member of the board at Delray Medical Center, I was able to ring up an alumni expert on healthcare for advice and counsel. In between, there have been presidential primary debates, governors debates and senatorial debates—all sponsored by Leadership Florida. We are great conveners.

On a personal level, my son graduated College Leadership Florida and now attends meetings with me and it has been a great bonding experience for us. It’s nice to share and to see his mind expand as he’s exposed to great thinkers and doers.

My daughter, an ESE teacher in Tampa, attends annual meetings as a guest and last year had a chance to meet Vice Chancellor of Education Brian Dassler, who inspired her as he has so many.

When Brian passed away tragically last month at the age of 38, Leadership Florida members found comfort in each other and gratitude that we had a chance to know such a special man and educator thanks to our involvement in Leadership Florida.

The stories go on.

Wendy Walker made a lot of this possible for me and my family. So did Jon Levinson.

Leadership Florida’s annual meeting will be at The Breakers in Palm Beach this June.

It’s a big year…the official send off for Wendy Walker and the official welcome for Wendy Spencer and the 35th anniversary for the organization.

If you have a good resume of civic involvement and desire to immerse yourself in a community of generous and smart leaders, I urge you to apply for one of Leadership Florida’s amazing programs.

Visit www.leadershipflorida.org for more information. It will change your life.

Thanks Wendy Walker and welcome Wendy Spencer …we look forward to see where you lead us.

 

 

Magic Awaits When You Connect & Commit

When you connect you progress–it’s just that simple.

It’s the little things that make you fall in love.
Saturday we headed downtown for the CRA’s annual Easter Bonnet Pet Parade which never fails to deliver.
It’s a small event: simple, fun, charming and benefits a great cause–Dezzy’s Second Chance Rescue.
Norman Rockwell would have loved it.
It’s these types of gatherings that build community and make you fall for a place. And it’s these types of opportunities that we must seize, savor and support.
Peter Kageyama wrote a book about the intangibles called “For the Love of Cities.” I’ve seen Peter speak a few times and he never fails to deliver.
He talks about the importance of creating events, experiences and places that foster affection for your city.
In my book, “Adventures in Local Politics” I write that love is an important component of community building and leadership.
When people fall in love they commit. And when they commit they invest–their time, money, talent, creativity and passion.
And the rest takes care of itself.
Once people commit to a community, problems can be solved, challenges can be met and tragedies become easier to deal with.
Consequently, the good news is sweeter because there is a community of people to celebrate with.
These are not difficult or complex concepts but building community isn’t easy.
In case you haven’t noticed (and I bet you have) our society is divided these days. And Delray is not immune from those fault lines.
All the more reason why it’s important to come together when we can.
Recently, we’ve had a few opportunities. The Delray Affair, The Pet Parade, Impact 100, the upcoming Police Banquet sponsored by Delray Citizens for Delray Police and more.
There are many ways to connect. But only if we look. And I hope you do. Because it makes all the difference.
You’re needed and you’ll benefit by getting involved too.
Not a bad deal.
The best leaders connect. The best citizens too.
Here’s a free event that I hope you’ll think about coming to see.
On April 25 at 4 pm Old School Square’s Crest Theatre will host the awarding of a Bronze Star to retired Delray Beach Police Officer Skip Brown.
Skip spent 20 years as an officer in Delray and a great deal of that time was spent building community. He managed the Police Department’s volunteer program and specialized in reaching hard to reach segments of our city.
He was all about making a connection.
If you want a dose come to the Crest a week from Tuesday. The event is free–bring the kids. It’s a teachable moment and a chance to honor valor and bravery.
Meanwhile, find ways to get connected. It makes all the difference.

 

 

State of the Arts

Arts Advocacy Day was a few weeks ago.

If you missed it, don’t worry most of us did.

But the day gives us a chance to assess the state of the arts and the important role culture plays in our community.

While there is some question about federal support for the arts in Congress, it appears states and cities are doubling down on their investments because they see—rightly—that the arts serve as an important economic development tool. In fact, one could argue that both Boca and Delray’s “edge” comes from a burgeoning arts scene.

While food and beverage have played a significant role in Delray’s renaissance, the arts made it possible for restaurants and other businesses to succeed. Old School Square was the catalyst for Atlantic Avenue and the many festivals and special events helped to create Delray’s vibrant and valuable brand.

In Boca, technology, education and medicine (MeduTech) are big factors in the city’s success, but layer in a robust arts and cultural scene and suddenly you have a city that is hard to compete with.

The arts create quality of life and place. The arts drive value and create and attract jobs.

Across America, states are investing in culture.

According to research by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA), State Arts Appropriations increased in Fiscal Year 2017 including in Florida where the Governor and legislature have been battling over funding for tourism (Visit Florida) and economic development (Enterprise Florida).

Nationwide, legislative appropriations to state arts agencies increased by 8% in 2017, according to NASAA.

After a small decrease in state arts agency appropriations last year, FY2017 continues a trend of post-recession growth. State arts agency appropriations experienced a 20-year low of $260.2 million in FY2012. Between FY2012 and FY2017 these agencies gained $108 million. For FY2017, state legislative appropriations total $368.2 million, equating to an investment of $1.13 per capita. This is the third year in a row that state arts agency legislative appropriations have been above $1.00 per capita.

“State arts agencies address critical needs for American communities,” said NASAA CEO Pam Breaux. “They utilize the creative power of the arts to strengthen the economy, rural development and education. They help preserve American culture, heritage and traditional practices. They support our military service members and help heal our veterans. State investments in the arts help leverage an additional $11 billion in local and private support for these causes. You would be hard-pressed to find a better return on investment.”

Indeed.

Florida’s support for the arts went from $38.88 million in 2016 to $43.65 million, a 12.3 percent increase, well above the national average.

Delray Beach and Boca Raton have both used the arts to create value and drive economic development efforts.

Boca’s “Festival of the Arts” is a signature series of events featuring nationally known artists and writers.

Mizner Park garnered public support when it was first proposed by promising an arts and cultural component and both Lynn University and FAU have invested heavily in arts programming and venues.

Boca is also blessed with “The Symphonia Boca Raton”  which bills itself as “South Florida’s World Class Chamber Orchestra” and the city also has the Boca Ballet, Harid Conservatory and several impressive arts galleries and museums.  Not to mention a non-profit children’s theatre (Sol Theatre) and a vast array of film, literary and music events at the Levis Jewish Community Center.

If you want to get a fuller picture of culture in Boca visit: http://www.artsinboca.org/ 

Delray has also made a splash with its arts and cultural offerings.

The revitalization of the city was launched by the renovation of Old School Square which catalyzed downtown Delray and changed the city’s narrative from dull and blighted to vibrant and cool.

Newer offerings such as the Arts Garage, Spady Museum and a new library on West Atlantic Avenue were investments that have yielded return on investment in terms of city branding, crowds and buzz.

The city’s many festivals have also contributed to Delray’s economy and brand. Last weekend’s 55th annual Delray Affair– the city’s signature event– has in its roots a juried art show.

Across the country, many cities have chosen to invest in arts and culture in an effort to increase awareness, attract residents, tourists and businesses.

Of course, the public investment needs to be leveraged by private support, which Boca Raton has done very well and Delray still struggles with.

As for cross-border cooperation—it seems like it’s sometimes hard for organizations in the same city to collaborate, which makes the Boca Cultural Consortium all the more impressive.

Regardless, the arts are an important driver for the local economy. And evidence shows that the role of the arts may grow even larger in the future.

And that dear readers is a good thing indeed.

 

 

 

 

We Take Care of Those Who Take Care of Us

Remembering Officer Braswell

We’re fragile.
Everything can be taken away in a moment.
Those were the thoughts that entered my mind when Sgt. Gary Ferreri called me Saturday evening to tell me about injuries suffered by Officers Christine Braswell and Bernenda Marc.
An hour or so later, while we sat listening to beautiful music at the Parker Playhouse, the texts and messages began to pour in. Christine had passed.
I’ve had these calls and messages before. We all have and it doesn’t get easier. And in many ways they get harder, as if the tragedies pile on top of each other digging deeper into our hearts.
This weekend’s devastating news brought back painful memories of Sgt. Adam Rosenthal and Officer Johnny Pun also lost tragically in accidents at the height  of their careers. I also thought back to a call in 2001 when we learned that 23-year veteran firefighter Peter Firehock was killed three days before Christmas by a man who plowed his van into Pete while he was out for a bike ride. Police think the van driver believed Pete might have witnessed him dumping a body in a nearby field. The driver received 35 years for vehicular homicide. We lost a 48-year-old community servant who was renowned for his diving skills and was beloved by all. He was known as a “hero among heroes.” These people are simply irreplaceable.
Christine and Bernenda were reportedly hit by an impaired driver while riding a scooter in Key West. Officer Marc suffered serious injuries and we pray for her recovery. She’s only 25. Christine was only 41. She was a star performer at the Police Department serving on the SWAT team and as a member of the Honor Guard. She was beloved by her fellow officers and the community.
It’s in these moments that you see just how close our officers are to each other and to many of the people they protect and serve.
This is a closeness we ought to appreciate, savor and be thankful for. I’m not sure how common it is–especially during these fraught times in which most of the headlines detail friction and worse between citizens and police.
But our department is different. It’s been different for a long time.

We support our police and they support us. It’s helped to give us good times and saved our town in bad.

There’s not only a warmth between citizens and our police department–fire department too. There’s a genuine affection too that runs both ways.
That was apparent when news spread about Officer Braswell and Officer Marc. We saw it on social media with an outpouring of prayer, in emails and text messages with people trying hard to find information and asking how they could help.
We saw it when Johnny Pun passed and we saw it when we lost Adam Rosenthal.
For those of us who knew these officers the news over the weekend stung extra hard.
Johnny was a force of nature with an electric smile, a great sense of humor and a ton of ambition for the kids he wanted to save from a life of crime.

Johnny and his partner and close friend the recently retired Fred Glass, founded a charter school and we became the proud home of the first Police Department in Florida to do so.
Johnny was a dad and a mentor to many who lacked strong parental guidance. He spoke Creole and reached deep into a part of Delray that’s hard to reach. He can never be replaced.
He went to school on a weekend day and was killed in a motorcycle accident. And suddenly his energy and his smile were gone. It was stunning. It’s still stunning.
We lost Adam in a car accident as he headed into work. He was a RAD instructor teaching women how to defend themselves. He worked with kids teaching them martial arts and mentoring them and he was an able and smart union leader.
Losing him so suddenly was surreal. He seemed indestructible.
But none of us are.
Christine was young, strong, focused and earned many friendships all over Delray. She worked as a training officer and with our Police Explorers. She reached deep into neighborhoods and won hearts and minds with her personality and dedication to Delray Beach.
It’s hard to imagine that she’s gone.
Officer Marc is a brand new officer. She was seriously injured.
She will need our prayers, support and love. And she will get it.
Delray officers refer to each other as family. And they are.
But many in our community also consider our officers family. We take pride in their service. We rely on their bravery and expertise.
And we pray for their safety. We also mourn when they are lost or hurt.
Thanks Christine.
You will never be forgotten.
In this town, we remember those who serve and protect us.
We take care of our own.

Replace the Hamster Wheel; Get Things Done

“Coffee is for closers” – Glengarry Glen Ross

I’m about to write an amazing sentence.

Ready?

Here it is….

At 35—a Methuselah like age for tennis– Roger Federer may be better than ever.

He won the prestigious Miami Open April 2 easily swatting away Rafael Nadal, whose game once bedeviled Fed and has notched a 19-1 record for the year including a perfect 7-0 against top ten opponents.

In February, 39-year-old Patriots QB Tom Brady led his team to another Super Bowl win which also happened to be the greatest comeback many fans had ever seen.

He has told teammates that he can see playing for another 5-7 years.

Charo is killing it on Dancing With the Stars at an advanced age—ok that’s stretching it— but you get the point.

Age is not a barrier to achieving great things. In fact, it may be an advantage. Maturity certainly is a huge edge.

Federer has talked about playing with a joy and a looseness that has enabled him to get great results.

Samantha Bee, a late night TV comedian, says the key to her success is that she and her team have entered the “I don’t care what you think about me” years. As a result, they are just going to hang it out there.

I find it all inspiring.

Especially as my friend and I  approach my so-called dotage (hmmm…perhaps we can change that word from dotage to do-age, i.e. the age in which we apply our hard earned experience and get things done).

Yes the millennials are here and they are awesome–I’ve raised a few–and they are changing the world but don’t write off the boomers just yet.

Delray just elected two energetic boomers and one could argue that they–not the young (er) ones on the dais–are the ones brimming with ideas and ambition; the ones willing to try new things and new approaches to government and leadership.

Bravo!

An open mind is the key to progress in just about any endeavor including building great places to live and work. When leaders are willing to make some strategic bets and create a culture of learning good things happen. You kick off a virtuous cycle and attract talent.

Consequently, when you don’t make decisions and you slam experiments, you inhibit risk and you snuff out innovation. In a world that’s increasingly driven by speed and has become hypercompetitive you simply can’t afford complacency and rust.

In Delray Beach, the recent election turned on openness to new ideas and the need to change what more and more people are recognizing as a negative culture that has bred indecision, instability and frustration. The symptoms are unmistakable: lawsuits, staff turnover and issues that go on and on and on and on draining the community of investment and enthusiasm.

The ‘let’s get things done’ message resonated with voters who want to go move forward not back. Those candidates won by margins of two to one. That’s a mandate: a mandate to move forward, stop kvetching, seize opportunities and fix problems. It is not a mandate to throw out the rules and overdevelop. But it is a strong directive to fill the done box and stop the nonsense.

As a result, there’s an interesting relationship that can potentially take shape between elected officials like Shirley Johnson and Jim Chard and open minded creatives of all ages who seek to do radical things like create jobs, grow the tax base, bring new industries to Delray and create vibrancy and a sense of place and community.

There are a slew of entrepreneurs and a lot of energy in Delray these days and it’s very exciting. They have been attracted as a result of the work done over decades by scores of civic entrepreneurs. We should have a lot of civic pride in what’s been achieved and more importantly what’s in front of us if we loosen up and go for it—like Roger Federer crushing a backhand down the line. He doesn’t always make the shot, but he always takes it. As Wayne Gretzky once said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

I’m fortunate that my life’s work has enabled me to get to know some of these emerging leaders who are finding inspiration in Delray Beach. They are excited by the new leadership and hopeful for the future.

They see Vice Mayor Chard and Deputy Vice Mayor Johnson as open-minded change agents, willing to listen and learn.

The best elected officials are community builders who see possibilities. The worst are hand wringers who manufacture controversy, douse ambition and see a bogeyman behind every idea.

If you take offense at that statement; I’m sorry I don’t mean to offend you but perhaps you ought to look in the mirror and do some self-examination. Do it quick though, because time waits for no one—(sang Mick Jagger still rocking and having babies in his 70s) and the one thing you can count on in life –other than death and taxes– is change.

Delray was built on risk taking.

Flexible codes that allowed a downtown with a human scale to take root

Conditional use that enabled infill development and adaptive reuse

And;

Public private partnerships that have given us projects like Old School Square, the Arts Garage, the Community Land Trust and yes even iPic.

Yep, we’re still talking about iPic a third of the way through 2017. The topic has been kicking around since the  original Hunger Games opened and was screened at the Boca iPic (there have been two sequels since)– but still no theater in Delray. Sigh..

Is iPic “corporate welfare”?

In a word, no.

Corporate welfare is when a company rings you up and says give me money or we will take our company to another state, county or city.

But when you ask a corporation to go above and beyond your code or the scope of an RFP and they ask for assistance it’s not called welfare (defined as “government-provided support for those unable to support themselves”) it’s called a partnership. And if you think the RFP was “flawed” so be it, time didn’t begin on your watch and it’s easy to be a Monday Morning Quarterback. The facts are the RFP attracted four good bids coming off a crushing recession–and now as a result of a terrific CRA we have a chance to land jobs, downtown entertainment and put a derelict property back on the tax rolls. If you want the deal, you make it happen. You iron out the problems and you drive it. Period. That’s leadership.

Are the terms good? Is the deal fair? Is it a win-win scenario?

All fair questions to ask and answer.

But when “requests” or “demands” are made as a condition of approval, it’s OK for those on the receiving end to counter with an offer. It’s called negotiations.

And folks, if applicants are unable to negotiate then we don’t have a system that enables compromise, progress or finality-we have something else entirely; a place where nobody will want to do business or make investments.

Think that’s an unfair assessment? A stretch?

Guess again.

Because as we have seen on other projects—even when you follow the rules and agree to dozens and dozens of conditions— you can still find yourself delayed, denied and despised.

That’s no way to run a railroad.

So how do we get from Federer and Brady to Delray politics?

Easy.

Maturity.

The veterans who succeed do so because they are seasoned leaders. They don’t panic when they are getting pounded in the first half or when they face Match Points (Match Point, that’s the subject of a future column) they adjust.

And they figure out a way to win not whine.

 

 

 

Remembering…

Virginia Snyder

Virginia Snyder and I had a long and complex relationship.

Virginia lived a long and fascinating life and I suspect she had a lot of long and complicated relationships.

She called ’em as she saw ’em—regardless of how the information might land, so in the spirit of Virginia, I thought I would share some unvarnished thoughts. I knew Virginia well enough to know that’s how she would have wanted it.

When I heard that she passed away March 20 at 96, I knew I would need a few days to process the news.

Virginia and I go back to my very first days in Delray—which is now 30 years ago.

She was a must see person if you were a reporter in Delray in the 80s and 90s and so like many other local journalists I beat a path to her door when I was assigned to cover the city in the summer of ’87.

Virginia and her husband Ross lived in the historic Cathcart House on South Swinton Avenue. It was built at the turn of the century and Virginia would correct you if you cited the nearby Sundy House– named after Delray’s first mayor– as the city’s oldest home.

She was feisty, but always friendly to me. Ross was handsome and quiet. She was very much in love with him and that devotion continued as Ross struggled with a disease that robbed him of his memory. She wrote and published poetry and many of them were about Ross.

When you visited Virginia, you would sit in her back office which served as the headquarters for her private investigation firm. The office was cramped and full of papers, files, news clippings and photographs. She was one of the first female private investigators in South Florida and before that an award winning investigative reporter, including a stint at the old Boca News, where later in my career I ended up as editor.

But in those days I was a newbie reporter—new to Florida, new to newspapers and working for the old Monday-Thursday Papers– still the finest community newspaper group I’ve ever seen. We had great editors, photographers and reporters and I tried my best to learn from them because Delray was a fire hose of news—and Virginia had a lot of story ideas, some good nuggets of information and a lot of pretty spectacular conspiracy theories too. I leaned on some of my more experienced colleagues to help me sift through it all.

She specialized in investigating death row cases and exonerating people who she thought were innocent—and several of them were –including a man accused of being the “Bird Road Rapist.” DNA evidence later exonerated the man convicted of the crimes, but he served 25 years in prison for something he didn’t do.  He was 67 years old when he was exonerated and freed from prison—with Virginia’s help in 2005. The case haunted Virginia and she talked about it often.

She was also deeply involved with a man named Omar Galvez—that name will ring a bell to some old timers out there. “Omar the Evil” as he was known by the national tabloid TV shows that visited Delray to “cover” him. Omar was a confidential informant for local law enforcement. Virginia thought he was a bad man (or worse) and that he was being protected by cops who prized his information on local drug dealers.

These were the days of murder, mayhem and crack cocaine in Delray Beach. The days when entire neighborhoods were open air drug markets, when the lights flashed on Atlantic Avenue because it was too dangerous to stop at night and when kids got in trouble for going to Doc’s because they were not allowed to cross Swinton.

East Atlantic wasn’t any great shakes either.

I was robbed of my wallet one night where Worthing Place now sits and one time, in broad daylight, when I was interviewing someone for a ‘man on the street’ story, someone grabbed me from behind and ripped my shirt sleeve clean off. We both stood there in shock. It was a clean rip—very impressive.

Virginia was in the midst of it all and her primary foil was then Police Chief Charles Kilgore, a man straight out of central casting if you were looking for a stereotypical Southern Chief from a bygone era.

Chief Kilgore was an intimidating figure. And a very cagey interview subject—especially if you asked him to respond to anything related to Virginia Snyder.

Virginia unearthed questions about his educational background and was a constant and persistent irritant to the chief.

Virginia went after the department on a variety of issues. She didn’t have much use for many of Kilgore’s officers or the upper ranks of the department, but she did have sources among the troops and acknowledged that there were good officers too. It was those good officers that she invoked when she urged the local press corps to dig into the department.

She was also upset that Omar was being used because she thought he was up to no good and was being protected.

I wrote about it—even visited Omar at his house once—probably not the smartest move since he had quite a reputation. But I was young and adventurous and Delray was an amazing place in those days. It still is, but in a much different way.

I wrote one story that so incensed Omar that he called the newsroom and we had some words over the phone. I didn’t give it a second thought, until I bumped into him a few weeks later at a store. I was with my very young daughter at the time and it was a tense moment. He had something in his eyes you don’t forget.

But Virginia was fearless. And they had confrontations—one that resulted in a scary scene that led to charges. Virginia never backed down from anything or anybody.

If she liked you, she was your best advocate. If she thought you were bad or dirty, watch out.

I was never fan of Chief Kilgore. But I respected and admired his immediate successors—Rick Lincoln who introduced community policing to Delray and Rick Overman who was the best manager I’ve ever seen up close and Larry Schroeder who was a good man who handled lots of difficult situations with dignity and professionalism. I became a very strong supporter of the Police Department and credit them with making Delray safe so that we could have progress and investment.

So Virginia and I had our struggles. Sometimes I didn’t buy what she was selling but for the most part we kept a good relationship.

She began to taper off ever so slightly by the time I ran for office in 2000. She later closed the PI agency, but remained involved around town and we kept in touch. Ross was ill and it took a toll on her.

When I was terming out in 2007, she decided to run for mayor. It’s funny—that running for mayor of Delray never even made the obits that I read about her in the local papers. It’s a testament to her life that it didn’t warrant a sentence. For some, that would have been the obituary.

Anyway, in 2007, I endorsed my colleague on the commission, Rita Ellis who ended up winning.

In recent years, I took Virginia to lunch a few times and we had many laughs and shared memories. To the end she was pitching theories and fighting for causes she believed in.

Recently, I lost a friend at age 38 to a blood clot after he broke his foot. It was a tragic and unexpected loss and took from the world an immensely talented educator who had already left a mark in Florida and New Orleans at a young age. On his Facebook page was a saying from the legendary cellist Pablo Casals who was asked at age 90 why he continued to practice; “Because I think I’m making progress,” he replied.

That was Virginia. Practicing, writing and fighting for her causes to the end. She would have had it no other way.

I won’t ever forget her. Neither will Delray Beach or anyone who knew her. She was an original.

 

 

 

 

Swearing In..

16 square miles…and endless possibilities.

“Our finger prints don’t fade from the lives we touch”- Judy Blume

Tonight, two new commissioners Shirley Johnson and Jim Chard will be sworn in at Delray Beach City Hall after a short but grueling campaign.

The old joke is first you get sworn in and then you get sworn at—and there’s truth to that statement.

Serving in local office can be a contact sport.

Unlike state and federal offices—being a local elected official means you vote around the block from where you live and you do so in front of your neighbors. That’s the beauty and challenge of local government—ideally it should keep you grounded and hopefully accountable because unlike Washington and Tallahassee where you tend to vote with a team, far, far away from your constituents here at home you have to face your neighbors at the grocery store, soccer field and in the school pick-up line. That’s a good thing.

So what does it take to succeed?

In my book “Adventures in Local Politics” I mention 7 traits that leaders need in order to find success. They are: integrity, passion, emotional intelligence, vision, a thirst for knowledge, courage (because you will be tested) and judgment.

The rub is you need all 7 to succeed because if you are missing one, it will trip you up.

Think about it: Lack of integrity is a deal killer– you can be brilliant and charismatic but if you’re corrupt or fundamentally dishonest your toast.

You better have passion for your city and the people in it because if you aren’t genuine you’re going to fall short.

Passion is usually twinned with a thirst for knowledge—if you’re passionate you tend to want to learn all you can about the subject matter.

Courage is a must, because you won’t always be popular. As for judgment, that’s  something that gets measured over time.

While nobody bats .1000 you need to get most of the big decisions right or you won’t be fondly remembered. Judgment also means that you know how to prioritize—therefore you don’t major in the minor, you understand the job (where it begins and where it ends) and that you know who is real and who is playing you.

I think demeanor and tone is important as well. Your words matter. How you interact with people—and whether you interact with people–counts.

As noted before, you need to develop chemistry and trust with your team and your team is the staff at City Hall—especially your direct reports and you only have two—the City Manager and the City Attorney under our council/manager form of government.

While I’m a believer in accountability, I also believe that a supportive culture is what builds championship organizations. It’s hard to innovate when you’re being chased by a lion.

In other words, if your staff fears you, you won’t get their best efforts.

They should respect you and the sentiment should be mutual, but a fearful or bullied workforce won’t produce over the long haul. If your staff is reluctant to write a report or make recommendations because they fear getting shredded you have a problem because you’ll be surrounded by “yes men and women” and that’s how mistakes get made. That said you should feel free to respectfully challenge assumptions and encourage staff to justify their advice. But when they call the roll—it’s your vote and ultimate accountability resides with you, the elected official. It’s also important to make decisions–and not let issues linger for months or years. Former Mayor Tom Lynch gave me great advice when I was first elected: you have to make the best decisions you can, with the information you have at the time you are called upon to vote. Most mistakes aren’t fatal or final–but allowing issues to linger can be damaging. Vote and move on. Never make it personal–you’ll win some and lose others. Vote your conscience and explain why–most people will respect that.

Ideally, you want a team that will run through walls for you and for each other. That only comes with time and when you invest in relationships and when they know you have their backs as well. I will never understand elected officials who refuse to build relationships or those who think they have all the answers.

Serving a community you love is a rare honor.

There are 19,429 municipal governments in the United States. Many have three, five or seven elected officials meaning there are roughly 100,000 city elected officials at any given time out of a U.S. population of about 325 million.

As you can see, being a mayor and commissioner is a unique privilege. That’s why it’s important for elected officials to understand that it’s a job to do, not a job to have. And there’s a big difference.

In Delray, you are only guaranteed three years—and it flies by. Even if you get two terms, that’s only six years; a blur in the scheme of things. So you have to have a sense of urgency in order to make an impact.

We started this post with a joke about being sworn in and then sworn at. It’s true.

If you step into the public arena, you can count on meeting the critics in your community. Listen to them; they may have something to teach you. But there will come a time—hopefully early in your tenure when you’ll have to make a choice on who you hope to please because you will not be able to please everyone.

The elected officials who make a lasting impact and make a true difference are those who seek to serve the people in their communities who are hard at work building the community. The hard workers at City Hall, the men and women in your public safety departments, the community leaders and volunteers who are involved in schools, neighborhoods, children’s issues, charities, business, the arts and more.

When your time in office is over—those are the stakeholders that you will want to have helped. It’s about achieving their goals. Remember this is supposed to be about service to others.

The naysayers—here’s a prediction based on experience: you won’t be able to please them. And chances are that even if you do— on an issue or two— you’ll find that you won’t on something else and they’ll dump you.

But the community builders they are a different story; even if you differ with them on a few things. They’ll stick by you, because they know they can’t win them all and they are in it for the long haul.

Those are the people you want on your side. And ultimately their verdict will determine whether you succeed or fail. If you help them leave Delray a better place than when you found it, you will be a success. If you take the city backwards or dismantle the progress made by others you will fail.

It’s just that simple.

There are people who build things up and people who tear things down. Just remember whose side you’re on.

 

The Human Touch Is Essential

Theo Epstein’s leadership created world champions in Chicago and Boston.

Fortune Magazine released its list of the world’s 50 best leaders recently,.

It’s a diverse list—from a variety of professions—and includes 25 women among the top leaders, which is very cool.

Topping the list is Theo Epstein– the architect of the Chicago Cubs’ World Series win–which broke a 108 year “curse”/ drought for Cubs fans. Epstein was also at the helm when the Red Sox ended their decades long curse in 2004 with a World Series win.

The profile of Epstein was fascinating to read.

Sports Illustrated senior baseball writer Tom Verducci describes the evolution of a man whose understanding of important human qualities among his players—the character, discipline and chemistry that turn skilled athletes into leaders—enabled him to engineer one of the most remarkable turnarounds in sports history.

It’s an important message in an era where it seems like we are being overwhelmed by technological change all of which seems to be displacing humans. Machine learning, artificial intelligence, data analytics, augmented reality, automated driving, robotics—all have some wonderful attributes but you can’t help but feel that people may be rendered obsolete by all these “advancements.” As Bruce Springsteen sings:  “I just want something to hold on to…and a little of that Human Touch.”

A tech blogger recently surveyed Silicon Valley “disruptors” to determine where they see all this going. The prevailing sentiment is that we will become a society in which a few amazing minds will render everyone else unemployable through technology that replaces jobs. Nice.

These tech geniuses—said to be benevolent—will make enormous sums of money and governments will be forced to tax them heavily to pay for the rest of us to sit around and consume. Next time you have a moment; search Google for “universal basic income” and you’ll learn more. You may not sleep again, but at least you’ll be informed.

This is why it’s great to see that leaders like Theo Epstein succeed by valuing what makes us human.

Sure, he has numbers crunchers looking at how players perform with two strikes, a man on base, in humid conditions on the road against southpaws who throw wicked curveballs. But Epstein also values character, chemistry and discipline.

From the Fortune piece:

“A few weeks before spring training of 2012, in the ballroom of a budget hotel in Mesa, Ariz., Theo Epstein stood before nearly every person connected with the baseball operations of the Chicago Cubs and told them how the Cubs were going to win the World Series.

Epstein devoted the first three days of the session to on-field strategy: hitting philosophy, pitching philosophy, defense, and baserunning. But the entire last day was devoted to character. The Cubs, Epstein insisted, would acquire only players with outstanding makeup. Even Epstein realized himself how far he had evolved since he put so much faith in numbers when he began as general manager of the Red Sox. Now character did not just matter. It was essential to Epstein’s blueprint to win the World Series.

There was a reason character loomed so large in Epstein’s thinking, a reason that helped explain why Epstein was spending spring training in Arizona with the Cubs and not in Florida with the Red Sox. Epstein’s devotion to a Moneyball ­approach—data-driven analysis that helped teams identify and accumulate players with little-noticed but crucial strengths—had succeeded inestimably in Boston, where he steered the team to six playoff appearances and two World Series titles in nine seasons as general manager, helping the team break its own 86-year-old championship drought along the way.

But character and chemistry were strengths that a “quant” approach couldn’t capture, and in 2011, in what turned out to be Epstein’s final season in Boston, their absence was painfully clear as the team underwent a late-season collapse. The more the team lost, the more it broke apart from within. Players ­feuded with one another. The egos that had created cracks in the clubhouse while they were winning caused deep fissures as they lost.”

This story resonated with me on a deep level.

We’ve all been part of winning organizations that soured under the weight of ego and hubris (fatal arrogance).

As Delray Beach was making its ascent, former City Manager David Harden would warn that the biggest challenge would be “surviving success.”

I have to admit, I didn’t understand that sentiment, until I saw it play out.

When businesses, organizations, agencies and cities reach a certain level of “success” there’s a tendency for one or more of the following afflictions to crop up: complacency, arrogance, egomania, fear.

The worst thing to assume is to think you’re bullet proof or that the cash register will always ring because it happens to be ringing now.

Despite our sometimes heated discussions—that always end amicably and usually with laughter—I have learned a lot from Fran Marincola, who owns Caffe Luna Rosa. Fran is part owner– with me and three others –of Four Story Media Group which publishes the Delray and Boca Newspaper. As he might put it, he owns enough to have a voice, but not enough to insist that something he suggests actually gets done. But despite his lack of voting power, he has influence. Why?

Because he makes sense and because he has succeeded in a very tough business over a long period of time.

Fran sweats the details and he’s constantly trying to get better. Paper or cloth for the tables, how much do the forks weigh (seriously), menu tweaks, where photos are hung in the place and on and on and on. No detail is too small, because Fran believes it all counts and it does. He’s the opposite of complacent and that’s why he’s successful.

I’m sure there are analytics and data out there that you can purchase to try and build a successful restaurant. But there’s just no substitute for judgment and experience. The human touch…

It has worked for the Cubs…it works for cities, schools, non-profits and for just about any sustainable business or organization you can find.

Even Google is going to learn that lesson.

Thanks to “programmatic” ad buying by automation, major companies saw their web ads placed on websites next to hate speech including sites promoting the Islamic State—embarrassing the companies and creating revenue for the hate and terrorist groups. It’s shocking and terrible.

So AT&T, Verizon, Johnson & Johnson and others said enough. Take our ads off You Tube and off these sites—we’re done with you Google, until you find humans who can fix  the problem.  Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc., will lose tens of millions of dollars as a result and will be forced to address the issue by hiring people—what a concept.

Let’s hope humanity spreads because it’s truly irreplaceable and needed now more than ever.

Said Epstein, “ If we can’t find the next technological breakthrough, well, maybe we can be better than anyone else with how we treat our players and how we connect with players and the relationships we develop and how we put them in positions to succeed. Maybe our environment will be the best in the game, maybe our vibe will be the best in the game, maybe our players will be the loosest, and maybe they’ll have the most fun, and maybe they’ll care the most.”

So where would you rather, play, work, live? A place that values and honors humanity or a cold, purely analytical environment?

 

 

More from the Fortune piece.

What Business Can Learn From the Cubs’ History-Making Win

 

  1. Hire for character

How employees treat one another or cope with adversity can be more important to your success than their sales numbers or skill sets.

  1. See data’s limits

A statistics-driven strategy won’t help you if all your competitors are using similar techniques with similar data. Do you truly have an analytical edge?

  1. Foster connections

Epstein credits the Cubs’ success in part to the years-long relationships among their core players. “People don’t like working in isolation,” he says.

 

 

 

 

Lynn’s MBA in Delray: Only The Beginning

A most welcome addition

Last night was an important one for Delray Beach.

Quietly, before a few guests, the trajectory of our downtown might have changed forever.

That’s a big statement. I may be wrong, but let me try and back it up.

After months of negotiations, Lynn University will launch an MBA in Delray program focusing on entrepreneurship and marketing at the Delray Chamber. The one-year program will be offered at night and tailored to working professionals and entrepreneurs.

The move was announced a few weeks ago, but it felt real last night when a contingent of Lynn staff led by President Kevin Ross and Business School Dean Dr. RT Good told a small gathering of local leaders and entrepreneurs why they chose Delray and what the program will entail.

Folks, we have to make this work. Why?  Because if it does it changes the game and enhances the brand that has been fostered by a slew of Delray Beach visionaries and stakeholders since the mid-80s.

Dr. Ross and Chamber President Karen Granger see the MBA in Delray as an innovative model that chambers and universities can replicate across the country. It enables chambers to get needed revenue, enhance value for their members and grow local economies, while enabling universities to reach into communities and tailor programs to meet local needs and trends.

Dr. Good and the Lynn team have been hard at work designing a “different” kind of curriculum that promises deeper relationships with faculty, classmates and local businesses while focusing on leadership, hands-on projects and case studies.

For the chamber it enables a deeper dive into the world of entrepreneurship, a focus and passion for President Granger who has quietly but persistently nurtured relationships with a growing number of promising local entrepreneurs. Many were there for the Lynn celebration including Brian Niles of Rooster, Eric Bucher of Call Sprout and Project Runway’s Amanda Perna, who runs “House of Perna,” an emerging fashion design brand.

Delray and Boca’s emerging foodie economy was represented as well with catering by fabulous Farmer’s Table restaurant, which I think has enormous potential. (Here’s where I should plug my two food/beverage related brands Tabanero and Celsius, but that would be indulgent no? Wink)

All of this is to say, that this partnership may signal that Delray’s downtown and indeed its economy is expanding beyond food and beverage—and that’s a good thing. A diversified economy is a more resilient and sustainable model.

Many years ago, Delray made a conscious choice to lead with food, beverage, culture and festivals to jumpstart its moribund, dull and dangerous downtown corridor.

It was a smart move, brilliantly executed by many, many important contributors and risk taking entrepreneurs.

And it worked, remarkably well.

We have a vibrant, valuable, cool, and attractive and revenue generating downtown that looks and feels good.

Our restaurant “row” generates crowds, creates jobs and helped to change how people see Delray Beach.

Our cultural and intellectual amenities: Old School Square, the Delray Beach Library, Spady Museum, Sandoway House, Delray Historical Society, Arts Garage and historic districts make us a distinct destination which drives property values, tax base, quality of life and tourism which is another critically important industry.

Festivals have also played and continue to play a major role. Which is why it was incredibly disappointing to see the debate about their value so mishandled. It’s an opportunity missed because so many cities are building their economies and brands around festivals. It’s something that should be revisited and expanded beyond the myopic debate around cost and inconvenience. I’m not saying that cost and resident convenience isn’t critically important because it is, but most of those issues can be solved with creative planning and by examining the revenue side of the equation and the intrinsic value created by events.

The Delray Marriott, Residence Inn, Seagate Hotel, Hyatt, Fairfield, Crane’s Beach House, Wright by the Sea, Parliament Inn, the historic Colony Hotel, Sundy House and other properties are extremely valuable assets that drive our economy and brand. They don’t stay viable and valuable—if we don’t have a vibrant local economy with many parts working.

The Delray ATP and the many junior events as well as our golf courses and sports facilities are also important assets that can be grown, nurtured, promoted and leveraged to keep our economy sustainable and the Delray value proposition higher than most other cities—especially small cities. We compete for investment and jobs. And we’ve built a powerhouse of a charming little city.

Cities that work have many moving parts that have to work together in concert to create lasting value.

Delray—imperfect as it is, challenged as it is—has done that. Value has been created. Quality of life and place has been created. It is our job and our responsibility to keep it going and to create a city of opportunity for all.

Through my 30 years here, my community involvement and my professional life—I get to meet and work with many talented people who aspire.

Kids from Atlantic High School and Village Academy who want to come back to Delray and make a life here, City staff who went into public service to make a difference, startup founders whom I encourage, informally advise and ask for help myself on my business challenges, educators who care, non-profit leaders who perform miracles, established business owners who volunteer and invest here, retirees who mentor, artists who amaze and parents who want to see their children achieve the American Dream in a world that is increasingly complicated and fraught.

They want a Better Delray—they’ve wanted that for a long time and they’ve made and are making a difference.

So yes the Lynn MBA in Delray is very big news.

I know President Ross. He’s a friend. He’s a visionary. He and his talented team make things happen. So this is just a start.

But it’s an important beginning. A unique and innovative university is working with our Chamber of Commerce in our downtown—and the potential is enormous.

In his remarks last night Dr. Ross noted that he recently began talking to his teenage daughter about life after college (she’s still in high school). Does she want to come back to Florida? Of course, she does.

Where does she want to live?

Delray.

She’s not alone. So take pride. Something very special was built here and the best is yet to come.

Welcome to Delray, Lynn University.

We’re thrilled beyond words.

We’ve wanted you here for a very long time.

Many people have worked very hard to catch your attention and create a place you and your students will want to be.