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Book Excerpt: Adventures in Local Politics

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Nobles.com

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Nobles.com

Editor’s Note: The following is an edited excerpt from the book “Adventures in Local Politics” written by YourDelrayBoca co-founder Jeff Perlman about his experiences in Delray Beach, first as a reporter and later as a city commissioner and mayor. We hope you enjoy. The book is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble.com and at www.dogearpublishing.net. To schedule a talk or a book signing, please contact us through the blog’s comments. A portion of all proceeds are donated to local charities.

 

“I would say leadership starts with complaining and dissatisfaction. But that’s half of it. The other half of leadership is complain and then make it better.” -Mark Pincus, CEO Zynga.

 

 

There can be no success in a city without good, strong leadership. It really is as simple and as complicated as that.

Good leadership can create value, leverage opportunity, inspire action and achieve results far beyond your wildest imagination. Consequently, bad leadership or no leadership is death to a city, business or organization.

Over the years, I have become a student of leadership. I have read books, taken seminars, read case studies and observed good and bad leaders.

Sometimes people mistake leadership for management; they are very different.

Most small and midsize cities are council-manager forms of government, with “weak” mayors and city councils setting priorities for professional city managers and their staffs to execute.

While this system has flaws, it can work, provided that elected officials exert strong leadership and insist on accountability.

Still, there is a clear distinction between leadership and management.

Leadership makes the hard decisions, sets priorities, identifies opportunities, has the courage to confront challenges and the will to follow through when the going gets rough—and the going always gets rough.

In observing leaders, I have come to the conclusion that there are two types of elected officials. There are those who feel being elected is a job to “have” and there are those who feel it is a job to do.

There is a fundamental difference; the former are content to be introduced at every chicken dinner in town, they are essentially in the role to cut ribbons and do whatever it takes to stay there. They are what I refer to as “transactional” officials, in office to cut deals, reward friends and survive. They tend to shun the difficult issues, defer all the tough calls and spend their terms playing dodge ball.

The leaders who make a difference are “transformational” –they seek office to pursue a vision, are willing to take risks and have a healthy –albeit not self-serving–desire to leave a legacy.

Truth be told, even transformational leaders have to make their fair share of transactions—that’s politics–but you’d be amazed at how many elected officials think the endgame is to be re-elected and nothing else.

I have always told candidates that the hard work begins once you’re elected and the job is a lot more than simply doing whatever you have to do to remain in office.

Still, transformational leaders are rarities and therefore should be appreciated and strongly supported. If you happen to be fortunate to get one on your town council or city commission, efforts should be made to surround that person with the resources he or she needs to do what needs to be done to move your community forward.

In most cases, great leadership can overcome weak or ineffectual management—although the experience is sure to inhibit the amount of progress and create frustration for the elected leader. Consequently, the ideal is to marry great leadership with great management, but unfortunately, too few communities hold their government officials accountable. The worst case scenario is a combination of bad leadership and incompetent management; that is simply impossible to overcome.

Part of the problem with finding and nurturing good leadership is that too few people know what it looks like.

Nobody is opposed to great leadership but few communities take the time to actually discuss what it takes to bring it about. Often we fail to monitor leaders and hold them accountable for performance and for promises. Too often, we “suffer” poor leadership and decide to just “wait them out”.

One of the best books on leadership I’ve seen discusses this problem in-depth. In “Why We Are So Bad at Picking Good Leaders” the authors outline seven character traits that great leaders possess.

The rub, so to speak, is that if leaders are missing any of the seven traits, they are doomed to either come up short or fail.

The traits are: integrity, vision, passion, emotional intelligence, empathy, courage and judgment.

That’s as good a list of traits as I’ve seen.

The foundation of all leadership is integrity. We’ve all seen brilliant people loaded with talent and gifts crash and burn because they lack integrity. Similarly, it is hard to lead successfully if you don’t have a burning passion for your city. That flame may burn bright or it may simmer, but it better burn.

When it comes to leading a city, courage also plays a big role.

The beauty of local government is that it is small enough to put your arms around but large enough to be interesting.

In most cities, a simple majority gets it done. In larger governments, ideas have to survive committees, legislative review and executive scrutiny and therefore rarely come through the other end intact.

In local government, if you have an idea and a simple majority on the council agrees, things can change pretty rapidly. In local government, there is room to experiment. For me, that part of city government felt very much like a few of the start-ups I have been involved in.

But the personal nature of local government also means you have to have a fair amount of courage to pursue meaningful progress.

Unlike, state legislatures which vote out of the sight of most of their constituents, in local government you vote down the street from where you live. Consequently, there is no place to hide. That’s a good thing.

Constituents—your neighbors—see you at the grocery store, pumping gas or when you’re out walking your dog. I liked that aspect of local government. As an elected official, it keeps you both honest and grounded.

There’s nothing quite as humbling as running into an irate constituent while you’re wearing ratty gym shorts and walking a Chihuahua named Randy.

Emotional intelligence and empathy go hand in hand. To be an effective leader you need to be able to empathize with the people who are impacted by your decisions. You also have to have the emotional intelligence to be able to read your audience and those who work alongside you. Different people respond to different styles—as a leader it is up to you to discern the most effective way of reaching and connecting with people.

By far, the biggest emotional reward for local leaders is the opportunity to engage with the community.

Every day there are opportunities to connect. It amazes me how few leaders take the time to develop strong ties to the people in their communities. In my experience, I found that being open and accessible paid tremendous dividends personally and politically.

While the personal benefits of making friends and getting to know people are evident, the political ones may not be as obvious—although they should be.

Nothing burns a supporter more than to work hard for a candidate, raise money, open your home for a campaign event, work a poll, wave a sign and canvass a neighborhood only to see your candidate get elected and then shut off communication.

It sounds like that would never happen. But truth be told, I see that very behavior more than I see the opposite. What do you think happens when that same candidate calls you for help during the next election cycle? Click. See you later.

It doesn’t cost much to reach out to supporters via email, a phone call or a quick cup of coffee and yet so many so-called leaders conveniently forget who put them into office.

The best elected officials are servant-leaders and they remember that.

Every.

Single.

Day.

Others get some power and feel that their constituents are there to serve them.

Suddenly, “Joe” insists on being called “Deputy Vice Mayor”—or a state rep refuses to acknowledge your presence unless you call him “leader” because he happened to ascend into the upper ranks of the legislature. It’s appalling—and it happens all the time.

Aside from the intrinsic benefits of being a decent and humble human being, there are real political rewards as well.

Earlier, I referenced how Delray brought on a visionary police chief in 1991. His name was Rick Overman.

Chief Overman was charismatic and brimming with ideas. When he walked into a room, you knew it. He oozed confidence and was exactly what the department needed.

Overman taught me an early lesson that would come in handy time and time again.

“In my job,” he used to say. “It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when; something bad is going to happen. So every day I try to build a reservoir of good will, because someday I know I will have to draw down on that reservoir. When you need it, you want to know it’s there.”

It was a lesson I took to heart and would be leaders would be wise to heed. In a position of authority, where you are called upon to make tough decisions it helps enormously to have strong relationships which enable you to explain votes and strategic directions that may be controversial. In local politics, just as in national politics, issues have winners and losers. Policies impact people, in fact, local government may impact the quality of life of residents more than any other level of government.

So engage, relate, learn, listen, care, and never stop communicating. There’s nothing worse than a politician who only reaches out during election time. Serve your constituents every single day.

One of the more interesting aspects of democracy is the somewhat random nature of how we choose leaders. A common refrain that we often hear is the need to run government more like a business.

On a lot of levels that makes sense, but how many businesses would entrust the CEO position and their entire slate of directors to the randomness of an election in which too often the choice is between lesser evils?

Given that we embrace democracy, perhaps we should work on building a culture in which we actually take the process of selecting candidates seriously.

In some cities, including my own, attempts to do this are sometimes greeted with charges of “grooming.”

While that is not the most endearing term, preparing prospects for leadership positions may be the most important single thing a community can do to ensure sustainable success.

Unfortunately, too many leadership programs fall short and are often nothing more than superficial tours of community programs and facilities. While visiting the courthouse and sewer plant is fine, they are not serious attempts at fostering leadership.

Communities that seek long-term, stable and effective leadership may want to consider a more formal program in which prospective leaders are assessed, evaluated and given in-depth information on what it takes to lead a city or an organization. It’s helpful for aspiring leaders to understand their strengths and weaknesses and to get a true a picture of what is expected of them if they decide to enter the arena.

Businesses large and small wouldn’t dare entrust their future to unproven people, why should cities?

So what would a community leadership development program look like?

I think it could call on past and current leaders to share their stories; the challenges they faced and how they handled issues and opportunities. It may also include the development of case studies which work well in business schools. Some communities scan the horizon and find cities that have solved similar problems. Visiting those cities and meeting the leaders who made a difference is extremely valuable.

Still, there are a number of factors to consider when choosing your leadership.

Aside from formal training, a community ought to consider an aspirant’s track record before handing them the keys to the budget and policy.

Have they served on city boards? Are they involved with local non-profits? Have they participated in community debates or did they just show up out of nowhere? Have they had success in business? If they’ve been involved on boards did they have a good attendance record? Did they do their homework and participate or did they simply get on a board and waste space?

It’s shocking how little scrutiny we give to prospective candidates.

And yet, once elected, we spend time lamenting how bad they are.

The list of traits—integrity, passion, emotional intelligence, empathy, vision, courage and judgment—outlined above is a great starting point to evaluate those who seek to lead your community.

Regardless of your community’s physical assets, wealth or beauty, without great leadership you will never achieve lasting success. Communities that are serious about creating opportunity and building something special cannot ignore this very basic law of cities.

P.S. this leadership law also applies to business, non-profit organizations, schools etc.

Great leadership creates opportunities and builds immense value. Bad leadership or lack of leadership is a killer.

 

On Doc’s, Real Estate & The Importance of Libraries

Doc'sRandom thoughts on Disparate Subjects…

Real estate prices in Delray Beach and Boca Raton can be mind boggling.
We’ve all seen the headlines regarding Doc’s, the Sundy House, the Green Owl and Huber’s Drugs.
Big prices. Huge bets being made by deep pocketed people.
These are iconic properties and as such important.
Change is also important and inevitable but it’s also critical that a city hold onto to its history, it’s look and it’s feel.
While I cannot begrudge property owners for selling their land for big prices I think there are two concerns that cities can address–they’re not easy challenges and the solutions are imperfect but worth considering.

Those concerns are affordability and  design.
Maintaining affordability in a sizzling market is not easy–market forces are strong and difficult to buck. But there are some strategies cities can deploy to ensure that mom and pop merchants can remain viable.
On the residential front tools such as density bonuses can be used to ensure at least some affordability.
Delray has also done yeoman’s work by creating and supporting a very effective Community Land Trust in which a non-profit entity buys land, develops property and places the land in a trust to ensure affordability in perpetuity. Homeowners own the homes but the land remains in the trust and increases in values are capped.
One wonders whether a similar approach can be taken to commercial property–an expensive proposition no doubt but it might be something to explore for culturally important properties.
Other tools include historic designations which would not cap appreciation of values but would control what can happen to a property if it is bought and redeveloped. If properties are not already designated historic, property owners often balk at seeking the designation because it hinders development. This is not a phenomenon limited to developers, we’ve seen single family neighborhoods rebel when the historic word is used.
I always felt CRA’s could be used to strategically acquire properties so that the city can control their disposition.
While there are some constraints and limitations (including the Sunshine law which makes it hard for CRA’s to move on land discreetly) there’s no doubt that CRA’s can and have bought important properties enabling cities to shape the future look, feel and use of land and districts.
I think an opportunity was missed to purchase the warehouses in the Artist’s Alley neighborhood. If the CRA had grabbed that strategic real estate to go along with their wise purchase of the Arts Warehouse there’s no doubt we could have had a sustainable arts district–our version of Wynwood which could have been placed in a trust and managed by another entity.
Instead, the battle between community desires and market forces will persist and we all know the win loss record on that front isn’t good. Delray’s track record is actually better than most cities in this regard as a result of visioning efforts and CRA investments. When you own properties you can control their destiny. The City Commission would be wise to tighten their relationship with the CRA, get on the same page and work together on these types of initiatives.
The other tools available to cities worried about gentrification are to develop design guidelines to stop or mitigate generic architecture and to encourage the development of other shopping districts so that as areas heat up, independents have a place to go.
Delray’s brave decision to narrow Federal Highway has converted that stretch from a highway to a neighborhood street opening up commercial possibilities. South of the avenue and other nooks and crannies may also offer opportunities now that Atlantic Avenue and Pineapple Grove’s prices have soared. Of course, with prices exceeding $1 million on acre on US 1 it won’t be easy.

Libraries are cool
We had an opportunity to attend the 10th annual Laughs With the Library event at the Marriott featuring the terrific Bobby Collins.
If you haven’t seen Bobby perform, put it on your bucket list. He’s a comedian’s comedian.
A large crowd turned out to support our library. That was heartening to see.
Lots of rumors are swirling around the library including making it a city department. That would be a mistake.
The Delray Library has a rich history and it’s location is ideal to serve the community. It also happens to be a beautiful place.
Is there a place for a library in the 21st Century? Yes, as a community hub, intellectual center, lifelong learning facility and a place for children and families to develop and indulge a love of books and reading. That’ll never go out of style.

Real estate buzz at Lynn

A few weeks ago, Lynn University President Kevin Ross convened a round table to discuss the creation of a real estate program at Lynn.
I was privileged to attend the small gathering and encouraged to start spreading the word. So I will. Gladly.
I’m a huge Lynn fan and a big admirer of Dr. Ross who is entrepreneurial and innovative. He’s a leader. And I like leaders.
The idea is not fully hatched yet but there’s a resolve and a commitment to create a boot camp program to teach skills to those passionate about real estate.
Executives from GL Homes, Kayne Anderson, Avison Young are at the table and there is a huge need to train people in all aspects of the profession.
Since growth and development are always at the top of the list in Boca and Delray it’s important to train a new generation in skills ranging from design, transaction, land use, resiliency, environmental sustainability, urban planning and more.
There’s also a screaming need to elevate the dialogue around these issues. Here’s predicting that Lynn will lead the way.

Mysteries Revealed: The Gateway

Unifying east and west

Unifying east and west

Editor’s Note: An occasional series in which we go beyond the headlines to provide some needed institutional memory.

Today’s mystery: the origins of the “gateway feature”

Way back in 2000-01, a group of concerned citizens met to discuss the future of downtown Delray Beach.

The goal was to create a Downtown Master Plan—which sounds sinister but really was nothing more than an open process to forge a common vision for how to support a sustainable year-round downtown.

Countless meetings were held. Experts were hired. Data was generated and then shared in an effort to build on work that was done in the 80s and 90s by visionary citizens, city planners and elected officials. While it was a fun process, the Master Plan was conceived in the wake of a bitter debate.

In 1998-99, the city went through a bruising battle over a project called “Worthing Place.” The CRA had aggregated land downtown in what was known as Block 77. Developers were invited to present concepts and a local team was chosen to build condos with ground floor retail or restaurant space. The project was six stories tall—60 feet, the city’s maximum height. And it was 93 units to the acre.

The developers promised to build parking for the project and a separate public parking garage on First Avenue, which would later be named the “Federspiel Garage” after a beloved local attorney—Bob Federspiel– who had died tragically in an accident in North Carolina.

The Worthing Place project led to years of expensive lawsuits, with the city prevailing each time. But what was supposed to be the first downtown mixed-use housing project had actually ended up being among the last built thanks to the delays caused by litigation. The “for sale” condos became high end rentals. Today, when I show visitors the project and tell them the story about how divisive the battle was, they can hardly believe me. Worthing Place has become a valuable residential property and its businesses including Salt 7, a charming market and the wonderful Park Tavern have become local hot spots creating lots of jobs. Opponents feared traffic and said the building would resemble a tenement filled with raucous residents. They were mistaken.

The Master Plan process was designed to avoid future feuds over downtown development. We were a tad naïve I suppose. But the process was inclusive and included lots of opportunities for the community to learn about urban design, how traffic behaves in a downtown and what we would need in terms of uses and densities in order to create a sustainable and complete downtown.

Our major funder for the plan was the wonderful MacArthur Foundation, which at the time was very prominent in Palm Beach County. The foundation was active in our northwest and southwest neighborhoods which around that time were also heavily involved in a master planning/visioning process.

It was decided that it made sense to develop synergies between the various planning efforts and one of the earliest and most important decisions we made was to include the West Atlantic gateway and streets to the north and south as part of our Downtown Master Plan.

This was an historic; some might say landmark decision, to redefine the geography of our downtown to extend from I-95 to the ocean. Historically, and rhetorically when we referred to downtown Delray it was always East Atlantic Avenue—from Swinton to A1A. As a result of the master plan, downtown’s borders would expand and we would try to erase the Swinton dividing line; a major goal of race relations which was a front burner effort at the time.

Once the decision was made to expand the downtown to the Interstate, we (the hundreds and hundreds of citizens who participated) decided that we needed to make a design statement to signal to visitors and residents alike that when they exited I-95 they were entering a very special place—downtown Delray Beach.

That’s an important distinction to make. And it needs to be said. Because over the years, the bean counters have failed to grasp that important nuance. We. Wanted. To. Make. A. Statement.

We thought it was important to do so. We thought it would change the look, feel and brand of our downtown gateway and I think it has. We also wanted to unify the east and the west.

Great cities and great businesses don’t become great by accident or because they declare themselves so. There’s a moment—or a series of moments—when communities say “go”. Let’s go for it. Let’s be special. Let’s be different. Let’s be great. And then they plan, strategize and execute. That’s what happened in Delray Beach and what hasn’t happened in so many cities. They never say go…instead they waffle, they wring their hands, they hedge or they simply pronounce but lose the courage to follow through. And make no mistake, it takes courage to follow through. There’s always opposition, always controversy and obstacles to overcome.

Delray made a decision to “go” way back in 1984 when Mayor Doak Campbell formed the Atlantic Avenue Task Force, they doubled down on that decision with Visions 2000, Visions 2005 and the Downtown Master Plan.

Now back to our story…

After trotting out various design schemes, including a building in the median (which was rejected by the Department of Transportation), it was decided to move ahead with a large public art installation to be mostly paid for by the CRA. Total cost: about $1.2 million, with about $980,000 coming from the CRA and the rest from a state grant.

A team of residents and city staff worked with an artist (Michelle Newman) and eventually a design was chosen.

But the project didn’t happen right away. A lot of other stuff did—like the beautification of Northwest/ Southwest Fifth Avenue, the addition of paver bricks, decorative lighting and landscaping from Swinton to 95 and more–about $60 million invested on the West Atlantic corridor from 2000 forward by our CRA.

Still, the gateway came a little later but only after the CRA and citizens went back to commissioners to make sure they were still OK with the project. They were repeatedly assured that the gateway project was an important one and so it was built.

You may like it (I do) or you may loathe it. That’s what happens with art…I remember when the Public Arts Advisory Board commissioned a large piece on South Federal Highway and people went ballistic. I’m talking about the red noodle like sculpture near Knowles Park. I think it’s Ok, others don’t like it. Art is meant to be discussed and that piece certainly sparked conversation.

But the larger point is, the gateway is a statement. It says welcome to downtown Delray and it also says that this city is willing to invest west of Swinton which it has, largely through the unsung efforts of its CRA in partnership with neighborhoods and groups such as WARC. And largely as a result of the master plan, West Atlantic visioning, the Southwest Plan and the West Settler’s Historic District initiative we are beginning to see returns on that investment in the form of private development and new businesses. This is how it works, folks. Cities say “go” and execute and investors know its safe to make bets on your town.

Are more sidewalks needed? Certainly. Nobody is arguing that point. But come on, look around and take some time to enjoy the investment that has been made—plazas, a water park, a library, Spady Museum and yes a gateway feature.

Great cities—and Delray Beach is a great city—invest and reinvest in themselves. The return on that investment is quality of life, quality of place, quality of community and the spurring of private investment, which the West Atlantic corridor is getting (Atlantic Grove, Fairfield Inn, the Equity Project).

So when I see a suit stand up and take political pot shots at the gateway and moan about how poor and broke we are ($30 million plus in reserves, double digit property value increases, at least a half billion in investment dying to come here) I chuckle. As my beloved late mom used to say “we should all be that broke.”

If only we didn’t spend on the gateway…

If only we didn’t have a library…

If only we didn’t build that tennis stadium and try to put something in the place…

If only we didn’t have our own fire department…

If only we didn’t have an Arts Garage or festivals or an Old School Square or a CRA.

If only we would just pick up the trash and make sure the toilets flush—then our “problems” would be solved but we wouldn’t be Delray would we?

No, we would not.

 

Unsung Heroes Took Back the Village

toby

“This is my badge. There are many like it but this one is mine. This badge is special. It represents justice. It represents commitment. It represents service. It represents pride and it represents sacrifice. I have worn this badge for many years. Today, I will wear this badge, my badge for the last time. I will receive a new badge. My new badge will have the word “Retired” engraved on it. I will carry my new badge with pride, but it will never fully replace this badge, my badge. God bless the men and women of the Delray Beach Police Department. I will miss you all.” Lt. Toby Rubin on his Facebook page.

Last Friday, my friend Toby Rubin retired from the Delray Beach Police Department.

My guess is that many of you don’t know his name. But you should. Because he and others like him are important contributors to Delray Beach.

Toby rose through the ranks from officer to lieutenant in a stellar 30 year career, but when history books are written most likely Toby’s name won’t be included.

That’s a shame, because men and women like Toby who serve in our Police Department and elsewhere in city government don’t get the credit they deserve for what they do day in and day out. They built this town.

Lt. Rubin didn’t get rich serving our city. He does have a decent pension to go along with aches and pains that come from a hard life spent protecting and serving our city.

Delray Beach is not an easy place to be a police officer. Or a firefighter. Or these days—a planner or a parks maintenance employee—pick your job.

You pick up a newspaper and you read about public pensions destroying municipal budgets. You open your email or visit social media to share good news and find a diatribe about government and government workers.

But I know a different story.

I saw a different side to the argument.

Oh, I won’t pretend that bad government employees don’t exist—they do. A few exist in the upper echelons—suits who manage to whine about problems but offer no fixes other than cut, cut, cut. Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. They always look down, backwards and elsewhere when they ought to be looking in a mirror to see waste up close.

But I saw the other side. I worked alongside people who got things done.

Delray Beach didn’t happen by accident. The downtown didn’t magically transform from blight and grime to vibrant and safe.

Neighborhoods didn’t just miraculously clean themselves up and your $120,000 house didn’t increase to $500,000 or in some cases to over $1 million because some self-important politician or self-anointed citizen watchdog remade your crime and drug infested village into a place where you can take a golf cart and visit 130 restaurants, attend festivals and see free Friday night concerts at Old School Square.

It took vision. And it took money.

It took guts. And it took years.

It took hard work. And it required collaboration, dialogue, passion, patience, optimism and team work.

And it took guys like Toby Rubin.

I used to ride with Toby in the late 80s and early 90s when he was a member the “Tact Team.”

The drug dealers called them the “jump out” crew because they rode in big black SUV’s through drug and crime infested neighborhoods and jumped out to arrest people selling narcotics on almost every corner.

We were mere blocks from the beach and the downtown, which was mostly dead back in those days. I rode with some legendary cops: Mike Swigert, Chuck Jeroloman, Don West, Alan Thompson, Jeff Rancour, the late Johnny Pun and a very young Jeff Goldman, who is now our chief.

I saw Delray through their eyes and many others in the department: Skip Brown, Will McCollum, Craig Hartmann, Michael Coleman, Ed Flynn, Dwayne Fernandes, Robyn Smith, John Evans, Robert Stevens, Tamijo Kayworth, Terrance Scott, John Battiloro, Bob Brand, Tom Whatley, Paul Pitti, Mark Woods, Paul Shersty, Rick Wentz, Jimmy Horrell, Casey Thume, Russ Mager, Geoff Williams, Scott Lunsford, Bobby Musco, Nicole Guerrero, Jeff Messer, John Palermo, Dave Eberhart, Brian Bollan, Scott Privitera, Vinny Mintus—the list goes on and on and on and it continues with excellent officers today.

Most of these names, the general public will never know. But they make the city safe. And without safety there is no community. There would be nothing to argue about, because iPic wouldn’t want to be here and neither would anybody else.

There is no investment, there is no appreciation of property values and there is no quality of life without people like Toby Rubin.

All of those people I mentioned and hundreds more cared about Delray and took great pride in what they were building here. They knew they working on something special—as does the parks worker, the planner, the people in utility billing and the really nice people in the City Clerk’s Office and throughout city government.

We have done a lot in this country to denigrate public servants and public service. It’s pathetic and it’s wrong.

We fixate on what it costs to have a Police Department and a Fire Department, to have a cultural center and a library. We begrudge our public workers when they get a pension and when they get a raise. We send angry emails when they screw up and they do. We all do. Want to see dysfunction? Spend some time in the private sector.

Yes, we need to demand good services delivered efficiently and professionally. Accountability is a good thing, but we also need to make room for gratitude and we ought to take some time to consider the benefits, not just their costs.

That’s actually a good approach to everything.

As Toby spends his first week in retirement, I’d like to wish him a long and healthy life. And I want to thank him and so many others for sticking a young reporter in his SUV and showing me and so many others what needed to be done to transform Delray into a place we can all take pride in.

 

 

The Art of The Possible

possible

It seems we spend a lot of time looking backwards in Delray Beach.
It’s almost as if we fear the future and want to slam the brakes on change.
You can’t do it.
Change is not only inevitable it’s desired. That’s not to mean that you don’t preserve what’s worthwhile–that doesn’t go without saying–in fact, it’s worth repeating over and over again.
So what’s worthwhile? What do we value? What should we fight for?
Glad you asked.
Our civic pride.
Our vibrancy and charm.
Our historic buildings and districts.
Our downtown.
Our cultural, intellectual and artistic amenities.
Our business community.
Our neighborhoods.
Our wonderful public safety departments.
Those who volunteer.
Those who are public servants.
Our beach.
Our parks.
Our schools.
I can go on.
Cities that work and succeed strengthen their assets.
Cities that work– fix problems and embrace accountability.
But there’s a difference between accountability and a “gotcha” mentality that destroys people, institutions and morale.
There’s a difference between accountability and bullying. Accountability works when it builds capacity. It works when  it teaches and when its constructive.

Bullying is destructive.

And it doesn’t last because you don’t get results via fear and intimidation. Oh maybe short term, but nothing lasting is built on a foundation of fear.
Cities are complex organisms. And a city such as Delray is a very complicated place.
This is a hard town to manage. A hard town to lead.
It’s active.
It’s ever changing.
It’s diverse.
It’s got history, pride, baggage, crime, drugs, homelessness, wealth, poverty, youth, age, commerce and tons of talent.
Delray also has unbridled potential.
We can be whatever we choose to be.
America’s most fun small town can be the place for artists, entrepreneurs, families, retirees, kids and millennials.
It already is in so many ways and it can be even better.
If we want it to be. Or it can be worse.
It’s our choice.
When I drive the streets of this city, I can’t help but feel pride.
If you don’t feel it, I feel sorry for you. I don’t mean that in a snarky way, I truly do feel remorse.
Because you are missing out on a very special place and an incredible success story.
Are we a perfect place?
No. We are not.
We can all list the litany of issues and kvetches. We can dwell on them too.
Or we can focus on what’s good, fix what needs fixing and move beyond our first world problems and enjoy where we are living. And dig in harder to fix the serious problems. Like homelessness, like drug addiction and gang violence. We can begin caring about kids being left behind and about creating opportunities for current and future residents.
We should plan for the future.
How can we transform Congress Avenue and make it Delray’s next great street?
How can we sustain the success of our downtown and extend it to areas  that are lagging?
How can we ensure that Delray Beach is desirable and accessible to young families and young professionals? How we can be a safe and fun place to retire and grow old?
A place that embraces business and recreation, art and culture, history and progress.
Delray thrives when the community comes together and works on big goals, visions and projects.
That’s what created the value we see if we allow ourselves to see it.
Delray drifts without aspiration and vision.
15 years ago bus loads of people from every neighborhood and walk of life–old and young–black and white, east and west, went to Atlanta Georgia and stood up before a national audience of peers and proudly talked about our city.  We talked about our schools and our efforts to fight crime and reclaim neighborhoods. We talked about our downtown and our beach and our history but mostly we talked about what we wanted to be. Our future. Our vision. Our aspirations.
And we were named an All America City. For a second time. The first city in Florida to achieve that honor.
After the event, we hugged and we celebrated and we got right back to work. And that is what it means to look forward and that is what it means to build community.
Delray works, when Delray aspires.

Nothing works when you focus on fear and pessimism.

Key Traits of Exceptional Leaders

leadershipimage

Harvard Business School just released an exhaustive 10 year study on leadership.

The study– which included interviews with 2,700 leaders and analytical data crunching courtesy of IBM’s Watson– came up with the following key traits of exceptional leaders:

They Know the Whole Business—exceptional executives and leaders have deep knowledge of how their organizations work and how the pieces fit together to create value and deliver results.

Great leaders understand the big picture and the different disciplines that make an enterprise hum. They strengthen the “seams” to minimize weaknesses and make sure silos don’t exist.

 

They are great decision-makers—Exemplary leaders have the ability to declare their views, engage others’ ideas, analyze data for insights, weigh alternatives, own the final call and communicate the decision clearly. No hand-wringing, no waffling, no blaming others. Because they are great decision-makers, they are also exceptional at setting priorities. They know what’s important and avoid overwhelming the system with competing goals. They tend to balance instinct with analytics; trusting their gut but getting and trusting the facts too.

 

They know the industry—they study their fields and understand the ever changing world they work in. They know they have competition and they mind the landscape and don’t make decisions in a vacuum. They have innate curiosity.

 

They form deep, trusting relationships—they meet the needs of key stakeholders, they communicate in compelling ways and reach beyond superficial transactions to form mutually beneficial relationships. Their legacy becomes a positive reputation for delivering results while genuinely caring for those they serve.

Of the four traits, relational failures often tripped up even those who scored high on the other three attributes.

The best executives develop trust and invest in developing their own emotional intelligence and actively seek feedback on how others experience them.

Do these traits correspond to political and community leadership? My guess is that they do.

Certainly, we want our mayors and council members to know the whole community, be great decision-makers, know the industry they are involved in (building competitive, sustainable and happy cities/communities) and we would all benefit if they form deep, trusting relationships with the people they serve.

So the next time you think about your elected leadership on the local, county, state and federal levels ask yourself if they have these traits. It’s hard on a federal level to develop close relationships—unless of course you write big checks (sigh), but on a local level it’s not too much to ask for…it’s the beauty of local government.

 

On Teaching, Walkability & The Future

 

Streets like this one in Denver, just feel good.

Streets like this one in Denver, just feel good.

I’ve always had a desire to teach.

I think it correlates with a strong yearning to learn.

My early career was in the newspaper field, where your job boils down to learning about subjects and then sharing (reporting) what you’ve learned with your readers.

Working at a community newspaper is a dream job—if you discount the long hours, low wages and dim prospects for the future. As a young man I did—because the job itself is fascinating.

You get to write. You get to satisfy your curiosity by researching things you’re interested in. You to get meet interesting people and cover fascinating subjects; no two days are the same.

I’ve always liked the excitement of deadlines, it focuses you and you have to produce, which is a cool way to work. When everybody around you is on a similar deadline, there’s an energy in the room that is hard to describe.

I would imagine that teaching has a similar adrenaline rush. If you’re in the flow and connecting with your audience there’s just nothing like it. My daughter is a brand new teacher in Tampa—I plan to talk to her about what she feels when she’s working with students.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that when a friend called and asked if I would speak to his urban planning class at FAU—I jumped at the chance.

Still, it’s nerve wracking to walk into a room full of strangers; most especially young people who are beginning to look even younger to me with every passing year.

Can you connect? Can you relate? Do I have anything to teach them? And what can I learn from all these young minds?

We talked about how cities evolve and transform– one of my favorite subjects.

I love to tell the Delray story, because I think we are a good case study and that past leaders and city staff used sound strategies for over 20 years to achieve success. Success, not perfection.

For example, we went from 35 percent vacancy and little going on downtown in the 80s to a glowing feature story in the Wall Street Journal last week.

http://www.wsj.com/article_email/a-sunny-escape-3-perfect-days-in-delray-beach-florida-1452796534-lMyQjAxMTE2NzExNjIxMzY0Wj

We talked a lot about Boca too.

But the best part is to hear from future planners, urban designers, developers and architects.

What do they see? What do they expect and want from cities? Here’s a few takeaways from an admittedly small sample, but the sentiments seem to match surveys I’ve seen.

Affordability—not just in housing but also reasonable costs for food and entertainment.

Mobility—The young aren’t car centric. Study after study show that millennials are delaying getting driver’s licenses, don’t feel a strong desire to own a car and appreciate and seek out walkable environments. They also believe in services such as Uber and Lyft and understand that driverless cars will change our urban environments.

Environmentally Sensitive and Realistic—They know that Florida is a popular place and that even if  “they want their own slice of heaven” i.e. a suburban home on ½ acre they know sprawl is bad for the environment and that we may need to grow vertically rather than sprawl to accommodate a growing populace.

Design Savvy—My small sample of future urban professionals were keen on good architecture and design. They appreciate art and culture, good looking buildings and a mix of uses.

They also talked about wanting their cities to be safe, diverse and chock full of amenities.

A few of the students have been interning in Delray. I hope that many end up staying here after they graduate FAU.

As for me, I kind of wish I was 20-something again, so I can experience it all again. The future is exciting indeed.

 

MLK Day: Quotes Sure to Motivate

mlkday

We’re  strong believers in the power of words.
We’re also firm believers in the power of leadership to facilitate transformational change.
In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day we offer some of our favorite quotes from one of our favorite leaders.
Enjoy, dream and more important put these thoughts into action:
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
 
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
 
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”
 
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
 
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
 
  “The time is always right to do what is right.”
   “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
 “Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a constant attitude.”
 “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
 “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

 “Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness.”

 
“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

 “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.”

 “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

The Big Short

Lessons for us all

Lessons for us all

We finally got around to seeing The Big Short.
It was not only a great movie: entertaining, funny in spots, creatively directed and wonderfully written, it’s an important movie as well.
When the credits rolled the movie hit you with stats about the damage the housing collapse took on America–$5 trillion in wealth erased, 8 million jobs lost, pensions and 401k plans devastated, families losing homes etc. It was gut wrenching to read and we in Florida lived it. We got hit and hit hard.

As the stats wash over you,  Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” blasts out of the speakers. A perfect song for a movie that essentially indicted our financial markets, banks, regulators and government as a giant fraud.
For a comedy, we left the theater feeling pretty lousy. Like the movie “Spotlight”– which chronicled sexual abuse in the church– you felt like screaming and crying. Yes, The Big Short is quite a movie.
Parts of the movie talked about how the housing crisis impacted South Florida with a few characters venturing down south to see first hand some of the craziness we all experienced as a result of  wild price increases and rampant speculation.
It’s a must see.
The world economy crashed and the results were devastating. In our community, we witnessed foreclosures and economic pain.
Not much changed though.

The banks were bailed out and many executives took the taxpayer money and gave themselves bonuses. Financial “reforms” enacted by Congress were flawed and then whittled away by lobbyists armed with special interest money. Exactly one banker went to jail. One.

But even if the movie surmises that we learned nothing from the experience, what are some of the lessons? And how can we protect ourselves and our communities from these devastating economic events fueled by fraud and foolishness?

2016 is certainly off to a strange start. Many of the assumptions we have based trillions of dollars of investments on seem to be questionable. Examples: China has an inexhaustible appetite for natural resources, home prices never go down, Saudi Arabia will never let the price of oil crash, Eurozone countries will never default on their debt.

As an optimist, I hate to be doom and gloom.

But my dad taught me a lesson in life and in business. It was a lesson I was very conscious of during my days as a policymaker in Delray Beach. He said every day–even when things were going well–you should wake up just a little bit scared. He warned against complacency and smugness. Even if you were succeeding, never take your eye off the ball.

If we apply that thinking to Delray Beach and Boca Raton, it means that we can feel good about what has been achieved: vibrant commercial centers, rising property values, wonderful and diverse amenities, culture, art, events, strong recreational opportunities, parks, beaches, tourism, good hospitals etc.

But we should never declare victory and take our eyes off the ball.

The housing crash resulted from a myriad of fraudulent beliefs and irrational behavior. But smart communities seek to become as resilient as possible. So you dig in and work hard to improve schools, create jobs, fight crime and blight and develop amenities that create value. You support assets like Old School Square and the Boca Museum, you bring the Festival of the Arts to Mizner Park and you work hard to land corporate headquarters and new investment. It does not mean you sacrifice standards or allow unfettered poor quality development, but it does mean you develop a vision and you have the political will to get things done.

Value creation is your primary responsibility as a policymaker–it helps you endure the inevitable downturns and fraud we experience in a turbulent and unpredictable world.

While we suffered real and enduring pain during the great recession, Boca survived and downtown Delray Beach weathered the storm without major vacancies. In fact, sales data from the Florida Department of Revenue said sales grew and far outpaced neighboring communities during the crisis. The central business  district survived because it was well-planned, the vision was sound, the value created was real. When it’s real, you’re the last to suffer and the first to recover.

It’s an election year, go see the movie. It’s a good one.

Mysteries Revealed: Why Do We Have A Stadium?

When it's rockin' it's good, when it's empty it's not so good.

When it’s rockin’ it’s good, when it’s empty it’s not so good.

Editor’s note: First in a series of posts that will reveal the stories and answer the burning question “what were they thinking?”  behind local mysteries including “the gateway feature”, special events and our favorite “conditional use.”

The Delray Beach Open was in the news last week.
News outlets all over the world reported that 5 of the top 30 players on the planet will be coming to Delray to play in the ATP event Feb. 12-21.  And the Sun-Sentinel reported that the city commission is challenging the legality of the tennis contract with the event’s promoter signed in October 2005 with the city.
Commissioners felt the need to hire outside counsel to review the deal even though it appears that perhaps two members of the commission had no idea that such a decision was made. They don’t remember voting and nobody can find a record of an agenda item. Ironic since the outside lawyer was tasked with opining on whether the city followed the proper process in 2005 in not bidding the contract.
So much for “process” I suppose.

At least when we approved the deal it was at a public meeting with 32 pages of back-up material available for public perusal.

I was mayor at the time. More on the process part later.

It’s my understanding that Delray is the smallest city in the world to host an ATP event.
It wasn’t my decision to build a stadium downtown. That was a decision made by a City Commission led by Mayor Tom Lynch. In my opinion, Mayor Lynch was as good as any mayor we’ve had in the nearly 30 years I have lived in Delray Beach.
As good as Mayor Lynch was, he’s not above criticism. Nobody is.
Over the years the public has questioned whether the tennis stadium was a good idea.
It’s certainly debatable and it’s healthy to debate because sometimes you might learn something that you can use to inform future decisions.
But in order to have a meaningful debate rather than a game of “gotcha” which does nothing but make bullies feel a little better you have to go deeper than platitudes and sweeping indictments of past decisions.
When the decision to build the tennis stadium and redo the old and blighted tennis center was made, Delray was not the Delray we live in today.
The downtown was promising, but not quite vibrant or sustainable. The West Atlantic corridor was plagued by crime, disinvestment and negative perceptions. There was no library, no Fairfield Inn, no Atlantic Grove, no Ziree, no Windy City Pizza. There was however, loitering and drug dealing and a drive through liquor store.

So when Mayor Lynch and his colleagues (which included a future mayor named Jay Alperin) decided against relocating the tennis center to suburbia and then made a deal to build a tennis stadium to host a Virginia Slims event it was a bold and dramatic decision. Mayor Lynch thought the decision changed how people thought of Delray. He believed it encouraged investment and drew visitors to a city that was ambitious and was trying to turn the corner and become a vibrant and prosperous place.
He believed that decision, along with the restoration of Old School Square among other decisions and investments, set the stage for Delray’s renaissance.
I know how he thought, because I covered his commission and later tried to build on his and others work when I was elected to the commission.
Note the words build on–it’s the opposite of reverse. Not that prior decisions are sacrosanct or that we didn’t reverse many things that were done by prior mayors and commission’s but we did so with the benefit of either knowing or trying to understand the rationale of the original policy.
The Virginia Slims event lasted 2 or three years before Kraft pulled out of women’s tennis. The event and it’s long term deal went away. We were left with a stadium without an event. Concerts were tried and mostly failed at the facility. Boxing failed too. An arena football team took a look and then went away.
The stadium was an issue on the campaign trail and in the various meetings with the community that we held regularly during my term in office. It was called a “white elephant” and severely underutilized. It was considered a costly drain too.
So the commission’s I served on made a decision.

Right or wrong we decided not to raze or sell the stadium. But we did decide to pursue events.
Mindful of the departure of the Slims we thought it was wise to try and lock in a tournament for a long term deal. We also agreed to try concerts again (that didn’t work), approved a deal to bring the Chris Evert Pro Celebrity Classic to the stadium and eagerly approved adding national junior events during “off season” to put heads in beds. That worked well.
We also pursued and won Davis Cup and Fed Cup ties which were highly successful.
We did these things not to ring city cash registers but to market our city (the deal included TV coverage and TV ads) and to help our downtown businesses grow.
Considering the hot summer and the hurricane season (we had a bunch during that era) we thought if we could have events from November through April it would suffice. We could breathe life into the white elephant and market our city.
You may think that makes sense or you may think it was the worst business deal around these parts since IBM shunned Bill Gates and something called Windows, but that’s the rest of the story as Paul Harvey might say.
If there is a desire to get rid of the event or to renegotiate it so be it.
If there is a desire to sell the stadium, tennis center and City Hall–yes City Hall have at it. Personally, I think those ideas are ridiculous.
But regardless, it’s helpful to understand the history, context and rationale of decisions so you can best plan for the future.
Again, I don’t think selling public assets to pay for recurring expenses is prudent. I can promise you future policy makers will be looking at that and scratching their heads if indeed any of these ‘out of the box’ concepts come to fruition.
I also don’t buy into the assessment of the current administration that we are broke. Spiritually and morale wise maybe–financially no way. With nearly $30 million in reserves and a growing tax base and people still willing to invest here despite a Byzantine and never ending approval “process” I’d say we are in decent shape. Not because of current policy and “leadership” but because of vision and leadership going back to the mid 80s that was able to build a pretty cool city with growing property values and a ton of amenities that has made future progress possible citywide including Congress Avenue. (But not if you shut down or take your eye off the downtown).
We may have made a bad business decision in 2005. I would happily debate the current mayor or any elected on that point and many others including the Byzantine never ending approval process, flawed LDRs and the  lack of transparency on the fire merger and the decision to hire outside legal counsel to look at the tennis contract. As I mentioned earlier,  I’m told two commissioners didn’t even know about it. I talked to one and he said he didn’t. I didn’t call the other.
So we have outside counsel investigating whether a contract was entered into in violation of a process without a process to hire outside counsel. Interesting.
As for the opinion that the contract should have been bid, I disagree.
Here’s the ordinance we worked off of. You decide. Or maybe a court will. Our commission didn’t build the tennis stadium, we did decide to try and put things in it.

CHAPTER 36. – ACQUISITION OF GOODS AND SERVICES AND DISPOSAL OF CITY PROPERTY[4]
Sec. 36.01. – APPLICABILITY; DEFINITIONS.

(4)

Specialty Goods and Services. Acquisitions of or contracts for specialty goods and services (including but not limited to performing artists, artwork, special events, entertainment, and food and beverage) may be made or entered into by the City Manager without utilizing a Sealed Competitive Method or the Written Quotations Method. Acquisitions of specialty goods and services, where the expenditure by the City is estimated to be twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000.00) or greater, shall be subject to approval by the City Commission.