They Rescue Us…

Emmett has been a welcome addition.

Wishing all who celebrate a Happy New Year! Wishing you a sweet year!

For Randy, Teddy, Casey, Sophie, Rusty, Snowball and Tina for rescuing us along the way.

There’s something special about dogs.

If you love dogs you know what I’m talking about.
If you don’t love dogs, well..,,if you don’t mind me saying,  you’re missing out on one of the world’s great pleasures.
Dogs are wonderful.
Dogs are magical.
Dogs are loving and sensitive souls who have a lot to teach us if we let them into our hearts.
We have a new “rescue” dog in our lives. His name is Emmett and he’s cute as a button, tough as nails and full of love.
He’s 12 pounds of personality with an underbite, pointy ears and expressive eyes. He doesn’t walk, he bounces.
As a result of his magical essence, our family is in love. We fell instantly. And it will be forever. Emmett has found his forever home.
Emmett came to us courtesy of Ellie’s Legacy Animal Foundation, a Maine based non-profit that rescues dogs in Texas.
Apparently, there are over 1 million strays in the Lone Star State. But Emmett’s story was a little different. His owners were murdered and while we don’t know the details, he was left alone for several days before he was rescued. He had some skin issues and suffered some trauma but he made it. The little guy has heart.
The non-profit transported Emmett and a few other rescues from Texas to Maine where my wife and stepson were waiting to welcome him to our family.
He made his way to Florida and for the past week or so he has been acclimating to our home in Delray where he has joined his golden retriever friends Gracie (our new year old puppy) and our grand dog Riley also a golden who is staying with us for a few weeks.
Watching this little guy play with the “golden girls” has been a joy. He’s doing great.
He has instantly fallen in love with our family, wrestles with the big dogs and eats like a champ.
He’s a little wary of me, but we are taking it slow and he’s warming up. I’m courting him and that’s OK.
He may be thinking it over, but I’m already in love.
  I have a feeling we are going to be lifelong buddies.
I really like this guy. I like his spirit.

Emmett is at home.

We’ve adopted a bunch of dogs over the years and have loved them all.
Dogs are an awful lot of work, but the rewards are many, varied and well worth it.
There are many local rescues and if you are so inclined I recommend you check them out.
It’s been said that rescue dogs actually rescue us. And I believe that’s true.
Out of a tragedy in Texas, a little guy has come into our lives and our hearts and our lives are a little fuller.
I want to tell Emmett that he’s safe, loved and we have his back—always. But somehow I think he knows. And I hope he knows what joy he has brought to our home.
They rescue us. They truly do.

Random Thoughts…

Random thoughts on the passing scene…

Last week, I shared that I was invited to be the inaugural speaker for the “Paw Power Hour” at Palm Beach State College’s Boca Raton campus.

What an honor, what a turnout, what a wonderful opportunity to interact with students and faculty.

We talked about leadership in difficult times, careers, education, entrepreneurship, and the challenges facing students (and educators) in a high-priced economy that is challenging for everyone.

Provost Van Williams is striving to build a special culture on the south campus and based on the people I met, it’s working.

I love the mission of state colleges and believe they perform an essential role in our society.

If you have a chance, visit the campus, sign up for a course and tell our legislators that we need to support the men and women who are educating our future workforce.

These types of institutions often fly under the radar, but places like Palm Beach State College are the backbone of our community.

I was grateful for the opportunity to learn and share a little of my story.

I was also thrilled to learn about the existence of the Kimmel Leadership Academy.

A group of 27 students recently went through the program thanks to a generous gift from the Virginia and Harvey Kimmel Family Foundation.

The Kimmel’s live in Delray. They are wonderful contributors and philanthropists.

The curriculum for the Kimmel Leadership Academy, based on the Social Change Model of Leadership, was developed by Dr. Kalisha Waldon, a professor at the PBSC Boca Raton campus. It emphasizes seven key values that individuals, groups and communities should strive for to create change through leadership.

The participants were picked from nearly 100 applicants. During the academy, students learned about team building, personal branding, understanding their values, etiquette, and other topics. Each student also received a $1,000 scholarship and were  recognized at a campus awards banquet.

This is the kind of effort we need to build our next generation of leaders.

PBSC is doing their part and it’s so exciting.

The Vital Role of Local News

I’ve long been passionate about the importance of local journalism.

So I’ve been pouring through new research released by the Democracy Fund that shows the power of local news done right.

Some of the takeaways to ponder:

  • Strong local journalism = more people turning out to vote. 

 

  • Weak local journalism = fewer people vote.

 

  • Thorough local journalism helps people be less biased when considering candidates for office.

 

  • Quality local journalism can counter divisive national narratives that contribute to polarization.

 

  • Every dollar spent on local news produces hundreds of dollars in public benefit by exposing corruption and monitoring government spending. 

 

  • People feel a stronger sense of community in places that have strong local journalism.

 

  • Local news keeps communities informed during times of upheaval, like disasters, protests, and pandemics — when people need critical information to engage their communities and leaders.
  • Important to remember: Local news isn’t inherently good for communities just because it’s local. It needs to be good local journalism.

I’ve long felt we’ve been underserved and ill-served by some of our local media—sorry guys. TV news does a good job with weather stories but lacks enterprise or investigative journalism and print has dried up.

The lack of a local water cooler—so to speak—gives rise to lots of misinformation on the Internet and social media that can be very harmful to a community.

In Delray, we have seen voter turnout crater. That’s not the sign of a healthy community. Local government matters and those who get elected can and do have an outsize impact on our quality of life.

Back in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, locals had a rich diet of local news: The Monday-Thursday papers, Boca/Delray News, Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel and even the Miami Herald (on big stories) covered all aspects of local government. People were informed and involved. It made a difference.

 

Which leads me to Friends of Delray.

For a long time, I stayed away. I was rooting for them and I supported the mission of bringing the community together, promoting transparency and good government, but I’ve seen prior efforts fizzle and quite frankly I’m exhausted. It’s time for a new generation of leadership to step up and right the ship.
Seeing a once independent and successful CRA taken over by politicians in the middle of the night and Old School Square evicted from the campus it created, loved and supported for 30 plus years takes the wind out your sails. Life is just too short.

But I like this group. We haven’t had this spirit here  in quite some time.  Their work is needed. so I will do my part.  I hope you will check them out and if you like what you see. maybe you can help too. They need the community behind them.

Their website, e-blasts, social media posts and now podcast/videos are not traditional journalism per se. There is a point of view, but from where I sit that point of view is to promote local non-profits, urge citizen involvement, strive for transparency in government and dialogue among neighbors. They seem very reasonable and we can sure use reason.

Check it out and make up your own mind. Here’s a link to their site which includes articles and a link to their newly launched podcast. https://www.friendsofdelray.us/

Goodbye and thank you Fed

He never did play the Delray Open.

Sigh.

But that’s about the only gap in Roger Federer’s resume.

The tennis legend announced his retirement last week thanks to age and a balky knee.

What a career!

What a gentleman!

Fed has been the best ambassador for his sport imaginable and leaves behind an unforgettable legacy and is a case study in grace and class.

So, whether you play tennis at Path Reef Park or Pickleball at Pompey Park you may want to channel your inner Federer and see where it leads.

He will be missed.

Reading List

I’m on a reading tear lately and I thought I would share some of the books that are well worth your time.

“Saved by a Song” by singer Mary Gauthier is an honest, emotional and raw autobiography of an artist I have grown to love and admire.

Music is so powerful and such a restorative force in our lives. Mary’s song “Mercy Now” should be an anthem for our time. It’s certainly an antidote for some of the poison and hatred in the air these days. She’s coming to the Broward Center in January and we got tickets. I can’t wait.

“Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott has long been on my radar. As someone who loves to write, I’ve been told that Lamott’s book was a must read. I finally got around to it and she delivered. A great treatise on the joy and difficulties of the writing life told by a sensitive soul.

“Like a Rolling Stone” by Jann Wenner is a tome and I just started it but can’t put it down. The founder of Rolling Stone magazine has met all of my heroes and he’s a terrific storyteller. What a life…

 

Until next week.

 

 

A Birthday To Savor

Scott Porten enjoying a past birthday and a cake made by Diane.

A good friend of mine sent me a nice text after last week’s blog.

It’s nice to hear from people who take the time out of their busy lives to spend a few minutes reading what you have to say.

My friend asked whether I write the blog in advance or the night before and the truth is I do both—it all depends on when and where the muse (or the news) strikes me.

He also said that he found inspiration in some of the tributes I have written to special people who have passed. All of this is good, and I am very thankful that my friend likes what I write, especially because he happens to be among the most well-read and curious people I’ve ever met. And I have met some curious and well- read people!

But it also struck me that I should write more about people before they pass on. We should show our admiration for those who enrich us while they are still here to appreciate us. In other words, if someone makes you happy tell them.

Which is a long-winded way of saying happy birthday to my friend Scott Porten.

I won’t say how old Scott is, but this birthday is a big one and it’s starts with an s. Hint: he’s not 70.

Inspired by our mutual friend Randy, I’m going to tell you about a very special person my family has come to know and love.

I met Scott 20 plus years ago when he was a young developer in a still redeveloping Delray Beach. Scott and his company did some landmark projects: The Estuary near Palm Trail and City Walk in Pineapple Grove are among the most memorable.

I admired both projects, not only for their quality and design but for the vision he exhibited.

Back in those days, Delray was not the no-brainer “sure thing” it would soon become, but a city trying to revitalize itself in the shadow of a successful neighbor—Boca Raton.

Scott’s two signature Delray projects showed faith in the future. The Estuary was in a part of town nobody wanted to touch in those days and City Walk was on a secondary street that was trying to forge an identity separate and distinct from Atlantic Avenue.

City Walk gave us Brule’ and Joseph’s and later Yama three excellent restaurants and several cool boutiques as well. The project featured beautiful residential units and replaced a coin-operated car wash in a part of Delray crying out for investment.

The building had a distinctive design and I think still looks good all these years later. I remember someone commenting at the time that the building didn’t have a pool or other traditional amenities and Scott saying that the street itself would be an amenity. That was a bold statement. But he was right.

I think Pineapple Grove may be my favorite street in all of Delray Beach—it seems to be a perfect blend of vibrant without being overwhelming, which come to think of it, describes my friend Scott.

Over the years, Scott and I have grown very close. He’s the kind of friend I’d call in the middle of the night not only because you can take his advice to the bank but also because he’s a night owl and he’ll take my call.

Scott is honest, intense (but in a good way), a devoted husband and father, a proud son and an all-around good guy. He has a terrific sense of humor, is scary smart and is fun to talk to about a wide array of subjects. And I mean a wide array: from politics and prostates to real estate and relationships, Scott can hold his own with just about anyone including our mutual friend Randy who is such a whirlwind of activity, learning and adventures that I would get tired typing up his itinerary for a given month. (If it’s Tuesday he must be mastering the guitar or sailing the Greek Isles).

They say you are a product of the five people you hang out with the most and if that’s true, I have a decent shot at a good life because Scott is easily in the top five.

They also say that you make the strongest friendships in childhood when you have the time and space to hang out. Many of you know that I still enjoy the friends I made as a kid growing up in Long Island. But I’ve been truly blessed to make such good friends in middle age. Scott is at the top of that list.

I enjoy people who care about things deeply…who are passionate about what they are passionate about.

Scott and I share a love for business, real estate, Delray Beach, local organizations, sports, and music. We also love restaurants that have great bars where you can sit and debate the day’s events.

We enjoy and practice the art of conversation and like to talk about our lives, children, past adventures and future hopes and aspirations. Dare I say it, but we also like to talk about how we feel about things. The old stereotype is men don’t like to “emote” or share. But guess what? Real men do—within reason of course— because we are not above calling each other out or poking fun at our weaknesses. Friends are also adept at making sure we keep our feet on the ground. Scott is good at keeping our circle anchored.

I admire so much about him but especially his desire to take care of people. He’s sincere, caring and consistently goes the extra mile. He does so many things so well.
He’s also a convener and has lunch clubs, happy hour groups and breakfast clubs that serve to keep disparate groups of friends together.

About the best thing I can say is that Scott Porten is a mensch, which is the highest compliment you can pay someone. A mensch is a person of integrity and honor. According to the great American humorist Leo Rosten, a mensch is “someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character.”

That’s my friend to a T.

Happy birthday Scott and a tip of the hat to the legendary Randy Smith for the inspiration to write about our buddy.

Leadership In Difficult Times

 

A few years back, I was invited to speak to “Creative Mornings”, a wonderful group that gathers each month to hear a speaker tackle a subject shared with chapters across the world.
I was assigned the word “genius” which, in all honesty, has never been used in a sentence relating to me.

Miraculously, the speech went well. I was fortunate to be in front of a hometown crowd at The Arts Garage and we had a good time.

This week, I’m heading south to speak about “Leadership in Difficult Times” at an event called “PAW Power Hour” at Palm Beach State College and I feel challenged once more to deliver on a subject that’s hard to discuss.

The invite came from Provost Van Williams who I got to know while mayor of Delray Beach when we embarked on an ambitious race relations initiative.

We contracted with a wonderful man named Sam Mathis to help us navigate a topic that has bedeviled our nation since its founding. Sam reached out to Van who was working in Tallahassee at the time and along with a committed group of citizens we launched a dialogue designed to bring the community closer together.

Ours was no “check the box” effort.

We really tried to make a difference.

We tried to increase understanding, we tried to improve communication. We endeavored to listen. The effort was sincere and I think we made some progress.

But we were also embarking on a journey with no end and that’s the beauty and pathos of civic life.

You can make progress, but you’re never done.

That’s  beautiful because the whole point is to keep going, keep pushing forward, keep trying to make a difference.
But this kind of work can be tiring too. If you’re not checking a box, not going through the motions, it can take a lot out of you.

We asked people to be honest.

We asked them to be real and that can take you to some very interesting places. Some of those places are dark as we confront our fears and biases—and we all have them. And some of those places are beautiful too.

When people ask me about the best and worst parts of public service, I have a ready answer.

I was mayor when a 15-year-old boy was shot and killed outside a school dance by a rookie police officer. That’s a bottom so low you can’t ever fathom being able to catch your breath again.

Yes, I have led in difficult times.

The antidote to hard times is always love and empathy. You can’t lead unless you love your community and feel empathy for others.

The high point are the relationships you build along the way, the people who touch you with their goodness, care, and concern. If we listen closely, and if we pay attention, we learn that there are people in this world who see you for what you are or can be. They light a fire inside you that burns brighter than any fire that threatens to engulf you.

So that’s how to lead in difficult times—with your heart. You have to know that hard times often lead to the greatest times in your life. You have to feel that in your bones.

Challenges build strong people—they forge great leaders.

And that’s what I will share this week with my friends at Palm Beach State College.

A Toast to Serena

By the time you’re reading this, gallons of ink will have been used to describe the incredible legacy being left by Serena Williams.

Serena— so famous that everyone knows her by her first name– is stepping away from the game she has redefined during a 27-year career that’s historic in so many ways.

Serena’s not retiring, she’s “evolving”, an evocative word she used in an essay she wrote to let the tennis world know that she was moving on. I like the word evolving. Because if we are healthy, that’s what we’re constantly doing. We leave one phase behind and continue to grow.

More qualified writers than I can describe Serena’s cultural impact, but I wanted to focus a bit on her experience in Delray Beach.

A part of the Serena (and Venus) story takes place right here in our hometown.

Movies and documentaries  have been made about the Williams sisters growing up on the courts of Compton, California but  they also spent a pivotal part of their early years in Delray Beach, playing with local coach Rick Macci at the Laver’s Resort on Linton Boulevard when they were 10 and 11 respectively.

According to press reports, the sisters trained six hours a day, six days a week for four years in Delray. That time in the Florida sun proved to be a crucial factor in their growth as players. As a newspaper reporter back in the day, I remember visiting the facility to do a story on a prodigy named John Roddick while his younger brother Andy played on an adjacent court. I remember seeing two signs: “Enjoy the Battle”  and “To Get A No. 1 Seeding You Keep Fighting Unless It’s Broken or Bleeding.”

Yes, we have a place in tennis history.

No less an authority than the New York Times describes Delray Beach as a tennis “mecca” and indeed we have seen players ranging from Jennifer Capriati and Andy Roddick to Vince Spadea and Kevin Anderson live and train here.

But as big as those names are in the tennis world, Serena and Venus were by far the most influential—so far.

In a NYT magazine profile last month, local phenom Coco Gauff talked about Serena’s influence on her game and life. The Gauff’s came home to Delray to train at the Delray Beach Tennis Center because the city is indeed a tennis mecca and offers the weather, facilities and coaching opportunities that are hard to match.

There’s no doubt that Serena and Venus influenced a generation of tennis players mesmerized by their strength, power, personalities, fashion, and social activism.

As Black female athletes they blazed a trail that will yield benefits for generations to come.

I had a chance to meet and interact with both Serena and Venus when they headlined a star-packed American Fed Cup team in 2005. The team included three former world number ones: Venus, Serena and Lindsay Davenport as well as Corina Morariu, one of the best doubles players of all-time who grew up in Boca Raton.

Hosting the Fed Cup was a thrill, and the town was electric. We had a dinner at Mar A Lago (yep) where we were able to mingle with the players and enjoy the international sportsmanship on display.

Serena was friendly, but at least on that night, Venus was the more outgoing of the two.

I took my then teenage daughter Samantha with me, and she and Venus hit it off. It was surreal to see them off to the side chatting while Venus styled Sam’s long hair.

C. Ron Allen, Serena and some blogger.

While in town, the team visited some schools and donated a practice wall to Pine Grove Elementary School. The kids were positively awe struck at the site of the Williams sisters and all of us who were there thought “wow, these kids will never forget this moment.”

There have been many other Delray sightings and involvement through the years.

Both Venus and Serena have attended matches at the Delray Beach Open, including this year when a masked Serena sat with her sister to watch their friend Grigor Dimitrov play under the lights.

As she evolves, Serena is telling associates that she will dive deeper into the business world where she already has a bunch of investments/businesses.

It will be fascinating to see the next chapter.

As an athlete, Serena reminds me of Kobe Bryant, whose famous “Mamba” mentality made him a brutal competitor on and off the court. With Kobe’s tragic ending, we never got to see how far that competitive spirit would have taken him in the business world.

With any luck, we will enjoy Serena and Venus’ next chapters.

Tennis will be forced to move on beyond these legends but with Coco ascending it appears that Delray’s place in the sport is still very much on the rise.

This past weekend, Delray was top of mind in the tennis world. Coco advanced to the quarterfinals and looks poised to make a title run. Former Delray Open champ Frances Tiafoe beat 22 time Grand Slam Winner Rafael Nadal in an epic nationally televised match. After his landmark win, Tiafoe was interviewed on the stadium court by another former Delray Champ  James Blake.

Watching Serena bow out and Coco rise, I couldn’t help but think that somewhere in our 16 square miles there’s a young girl or boy dreaming about following in their footsteps.

 

Odds and Ends…

Congratulations to new Police Chief Russ Mager who was sworn in last week. A 26-year veteran of the department, Russ has worked his way through the ranks and recently served as assistant chief. He’s a good man and we wish him well in his new position.

Here’s a little trivia for you. Chief Mager is the 17th chief in the city’s history. W.M Croft was the first. R.C. Croft was the longest serving chief holding the position from 1943 through 1972. That’s from FDR to Nixon. Amazing.

 

Thank You Janet….

C. Ron Allen and Janet Meeks greet students on the first day of school at Carver Middle.

“Many a flower is born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness on the desert air.” — From the poem “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Gray.

I came across that line in something I read recently.

I can’t put my finger on what I was reading but the phrase stirred something in me, so I wrote it down.

And when I revisited my note, it made me wonder: what does it mean to be a flower born to be ‘unseen’?

As I thought about the phrase, I felt it related to beauty or value that doesn’t get recognized or appreciated.

To be honest, I’m not one for poetry unless of course you are talking about song lyrics which have always fascinated me.

“Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice

In the church where a wedding has been

Lives in a dream

Waits at the window, wearing the face

That she keeps in a jar by the door

Who is it for?”

Now that’s poetry….

But something about this particular Thomas Gray poem resonated. So, I looked it up and I learned that it’s about the universality of death and how our inevitable end serves as a leveling force that brings all people, rich or poor, to the same final fate.

I know. I know. You didn’t bargain for something this heavy on Monday morning. But please bear with me, we get sunnier as this goes on.

Thomas Gray wrote the poem after the death of a friend. It’s meant to be a tribute to the common man and is considered Gray’s masterpiece.

Pretty impressive stuff.

Wouldn’t it be nice to create something that others call your masterpiece?

Regardless, perhaps the beauty of poetry (or a song lyric)  is  that the reader gets to assign their own meaning to the words on the page.

For instance, the Bob Dylan classic “Lay, Lady, Lay” was said to be written about or for Barbra Streisand. Isn’t that wild? Who knew?
But as much as I appreciate Ms. Streisand, when I hear the song, I don’t think about her. And I don’t think about death when I read “Elegy.” To me, the poem speaks to undiscovered or underappreciated beauty.

Not to get all philosophical on this Monday morning, but that’s a concept that reverberates!

So, let’s think about the unsung heroes and heroines in our lives and communities.

Let’s make sure they are not “unseen,” let’s recognize them, let’s thank them, and let’s appreciate them. Now, while we still can.

I’ve been thinking about those extraordinary and sometimes unsung people because I’m on a committee planning a special Delray Chamber gala set for spring 2023. Never too early to mark your calendars!

Details are still being worked out but there’s a consensus that we would like the event to honor some of the special people who made a difference—many of them quietly.

The big shots get the glory, but the folks in the trenches make it happen. That’s true in business and it’s true in communities.

These special people should not go unseen. Their stories need to be told, remembered, and shared so that future generations may know.

I believe in the old proverb—when eating fruit, remember who planted the tree.

One of those special people who made a huge difference was honored Aug. 25 at the Delray Chamber’s Annual Education Breakfast. Janet Meeks, Delray’s long time Education Coordinator, is retiring. She’s a special person and should not go ‘unseen’ as the poet would say.

I couldn’t make the breakfast, but I sent some brief remarks. Below is an expanded version of what I sent.

 

I am sorry I can’t be with you to celebrate the start of another school year and the end of a remarkable career.

I was there at the beginning in 2001, when Janet Meeks invited me, a new commissioner, to lunch at the old Annex restaurant in Pineapple Grove to discuss an idea. Janet wanted to become the education coordinator for the City of Delray Beach.

In typical style, Janet laid out the facts about why the city needed to dedicate someone full-time to education in Delray Beach even though it was the School Board not the city that was responsible for local schools.

I was sold, instantly.

Not only on the need for our city to have someone who could help us improve our schools, but I was sold on Janet, the person. She’s special—hard working, dedicated and data driven. She has a heart of gold and a ton of vision.

The mayor and commission at the time were richly rewarded for supporting Janet’s initiative. Subsequent Mayors and commissioners have also benefited from Janet’s hard work and her unique ability to see the big picture: there are public servants and then there are public servants. Janet has always gone the extra mile. Janet Meeks has made a difference.

During my time in office, we decided to move Atlantic High School so we could build a new and larger facility to bring our children back home and add career academies.

We also started the Principal For a Day program to bring business and civic leaders into our schools, we championed the modernization of Spady Elementary School, created the Eagle Nest construction program, worked with community partners to add  Beacon Programs at Village Academy and the Achievement Center, developed a new Teen Center, saw the opening of a new Boys and Girls Club, provided afterschool and summer programs to stop the “summer slide” in learning and launched the Get Caught Reading program which gave books to children. We also launched citizen academies to build relationships with our stakeholders. That was just our term in office….she’s done a whole lot more.

Janet spearheaded it all….and then some. In short, she has been an amazing asset for this city.

Over the years, we’ve become good friends, so I’m excited for the next chapter. Janet leaves a legacy of achievement…she created this job and set the bar high.  Those of us lucky enough to work with her will always love and appreciate our remarkable friend. Good luck Janet…thanks for asking me to lunch all those years ago. You hit it out of the park my friend and a generation of Delray children are grateful for your care and concern.

Vision Endures, Politics Fade

The majestic Back Cove Trail in Portland, ME.

In my book “Adventures in Local Politics” I write about the power of transformational leadership.I’m talking about the kind of leadership that makes an enduring difference, the kind that transcends petty politics, personality conflicts and feuds that serve no one.

That kind of leadership is rare these days.

But needed now more than ever and in every walk of life—government, academia, health care, business, education and the non-profit world.We know these types of leaders when they arrive. They make us feel safe, cared for and excited about the future. They are inspirational visionaries but they are also about getting things done. Ideas are great, but implementation is what really counts. You have to get things done.

The importance  of transformational leadership hit me recently on a long walk on the Back Cove Trail in Portland, Maine.The trail is 3.25 miles long around a picturesque lake brimming with breathtaking views. It’s a simple concept really. Just a trail around a large body of water.But the trail delivers so much more than a dirt path…. the trail speaks to a vision and it embodies the values of a city and it’s long ago mayor—James Phinney Baxter.

The trail and a ring of connecting parks was the brainchild of Mayor Baxter who envisioned an “emerald necklace” around his city.  The Back Cove Trail connects to other open spaces including the magnificent Evergreen Cemetery which is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a wonderful place to soak up history amidst statuary that forces you to slow down and learn about the lives of those who came before us.

Across from the cemetery sits Mayor Baxter Woods, with its mighty white ash trees, shaded vistas and cool pines. The land was gifted to Portland by Mayor Baxter who was quite wealthy in addition to being civic minded which brings us back to the Back Cove Trail.

Mayor Baxter had a vision for a walking trail and public access around the lake and that required private landowners dedicating some property to make it happen.In 1894, Mayor Baxter took Portland City Council members to Boston’s Back Bay Fens to see the restoration efforts by the landscape architects Olmsted, Olmsted, and Eliot.He said, “We may see …what Boston has done in transforming similar vile places into beauty spots.”Baxter hired the Olmsted firm to create a plan but there was opposition.There’s always opposition.But Mayor Baxter pushed ahead.

He convinced landowners to donate a 100 foot strip of land along the shore.  Opponents weren’t impressed. They thought the plan was overly extravagant. This isn’t surprising, there are always people who fight ambition and vision. If they are in charge, they can choke the life out of a place. It’s one thing to discuss design, it’s another to say “don’t do anything, we’re done.”

Friends, we are never done. The future is always watching and waiting. Good leaders, the ones who make a difference, serve the present and try to serve the future as well. They strive to do big and important things. Bad leaders (an oxymoron) get caught up in the nonsense. They major in the minor. Mayor Baxter was not that kind of guy.

More often than not, transformational leaders pay a price. They are OK with that because they believe in their vision.

Baxter lost his bid for re-election and his plan was stalled until he was re-elected. After 23 years, yes 23 years, Back Cove Boulevard opened in 1917 with Baxter riding in the first car along his dream vista. The road was eventually renamed Baxter Boulevard.

Today, it’s a showstopper enjoyed by more than 350,000 walkers, runners and bicyclists a year. In a word, it’s stunning and provides value beyond anything we can measure. After all, how do you measure vision? Beauty? Access to the magic of nature?

What’s important to note was that Mayor Baxter was willing to risk his seat for an important idea. How many politicians are willing to do that?

It’s also important to note that he was later restored to office. I wonder if it’s because voters came around and saw the wisdom in his “emerald” vision.

Today, because of that big idea,  thousands  benefit by using that trail to exercise, sightsee and get inspiration for paintings, photographs and in my case—to write this blog.I’ve seen a few transformational leaders in my time— people whose courage, ability and work ethic enable them to do enduring things.

Locally, I think former Mayor Tom Lynch qualifies, so does Mayor David Schmidt and I was always impressed with what Mayor Nancy Graham did for West Palm Beach.Frances Bourque, who founded Old School Square, qualifies and so do Chiefs Kerry Koen and Rick Overman whose leadership left lasting marks on our fire and police departments.Lynn University President Kevin Ross and Boca Lead founder Bill Mitchell are two other leaders who have transformed their parts of the world.  There are more and we’ll get to them in future blogs but you get the idea.

My book encourages transformational thinking because it’s the only kind of thinking that moves the needle and we need to move the needle. Everywhere you look there are needs and opportunities.I work with a transformational business leader and I’ve witnessed first hand what than can mean for people and industries.Carl DeSantis founded Rexall Sundown back in the day and he and his team (he always shares credit) transformed the vitamin and nutrition space.Then he discovered a small beverage company on 4th Avenue in downtown Delray that recently received a $550 million investment from Pepsi that made headlines all over the world.Carl’s steadfast belief in Celsius enabled the success that has transformed the energy drink space and created a whole lot of shareholder wealth.

Sometimes visions get derailed—for good or temporarily.

Mayor Woods was defeated, came back and completed his vision of an emerald necklace.

Right now, Frances Bourque and those who love Old School Square are wandering the desert waiting for good leadership to return to Delray Beach. But guess what, her vision endures. Those buildings were saved and they will benefit this community once again. So dream big my friends. Support those who have a positive vision.We owe it to the future. Because sometimes–if we are fortunate and if we insist on making the world better— those visions endure.

The emerald necklace endures.

The Best Way To Predict The Future Is to Create It

This can contains years of hard work (still tastes great).

On Aug. 1, a dream came true for a company that I love.

Celsius, born in Delray Beach and based in Boca Raton, announced a long-term strategic deal with Pepsico that will take the brand global, pump $550 million into the company and give Pepsi an 8.5 percent ownership stake in what is now a company valued at  nearly $8 billion.

It was an amazing moment—years and years (and tears and fears)—in the making.

And that’s how it goes.

That’s the entrepreneurial journey—if it works out.

Of course, nothing is guaranteed except…

  •  Lots of hard work.
  •  Risk, that can seem crazy at times.
  • Oh, and whole lot of twists and turns.

Celsius experienced it all and then some.

I’ve had a front row seat on the Celsius ride for more than a decade now and it has been fascinating.

I worked for the company as COO in the lean years when we dreamed big, reached for the stars, made some progress, and took some beatings. It was a thrill.

I had the experience of a lifetime working alongside a team of amazing people who believed Celsius was going to be the next big thing at a time when you couldn’t find it on a shelf if you employed a team of blood hounds.

The company grew when I was there—we landed the big accounts, rang the bell on NASDAQ, taped our first TV commercial and signed a celebrity spokesman (Mario Lopez, he was terrific and believed in the brand).

But it wasn’t our time—and so we lost some of those big accounts and got delisted from NASDAQ when our stock price failed to meet their threshold. Ups and downs. But we never stopped believing.

Not. For. One. Second.

Why?

Because we knew we had something special.

And because the man who became the company’s biggest investor (and cheerleader) and saw big things for the brand never stopped believing in Celsius’ potential. This man had boundless faith and we had faith in his talent for predicting what will work in the marketplace.

That man is Carl DeSantis. He’s a visionary.

In full disclosure, I work as an executive for Carl’s family office here in Delray Beach. Carl is a friend, a mentor, a partner and a positive force in my life and the lives of countless others. He means the world to me and my family and a whole lot of other people who have been fortunate to work with (never for) Carl or Mr. D during his long career.

Carl was the founder and chairman of Rexall Sundown, a huge vitamin manufacturer based in Boca. He sold that company in 2000 for $1.8 billion and immediately went back to work forming CDS International Holdings which has been involved in an array of businesses over the years ranging from Celsius and Tabanero hot sauce to restaurants, office buildings, hotels, a South African preserve, a men’s clothing line and real estate. Carl is an interesting man with broad interests—and a keen eye. We’ve learned to listen to what he’s seeing— if that makes sense.

He’s also generous, kind, a tad mischievous, down to earth and a little shy. If you know him, you love him.

CDS has been very supportive of Celsius through the ups and downs. We had faith because faith is contagious, and Carl spread the gospel.

What happened with Pepsi was a dream come true…or was it a prediction? All I know is that for years at every meeting—even when there was bad news— Carl would say with absolute certainty that one day “one of the big boys are going to call” to get involved with what Celsius CEO John Fieldly calls a “disruptive force in the energy drink market.”

That’s what Celsius is….disruptive and unique—and that was always the promise and the potential. Brick by brick,  year after year, you keep pushing until the market says “we see you” among the blizzard of brands vying for their attention and loyalty.

Our friend Carl saw the potential right away…and the lesson here is “ya gotta believe!”

Mets fans will get that reference.

But whether it’s baseball or beverages, a local shop or a vision for your town you have to believe. Especially when the going gets rough and the going always gets rough.

When the dark days came to Celsius, Carl used to say “dig in, we’re going win.”

The team learned a lot, tried a lot of different things and kept plugging away. Celsius never gave up.

Victory, while never guaranteed, is sweeter when you’ve overcome adversity.

Celsius overcame a slew of adversity. That little company, that started in a warehouse like office on 4th Avenue, saw it all—and made it through the maze—for now.

Because that is the other lesson. Success, much like failure, is hardly ever final.

Yes, the company is flying and now they have the global might of Pepsi behind them. But they have to transition successfully to the new partnership, they have to execute and they have to stand up to the competition which never lays down.

Cities are the same way…once you succeed, you can’t get complacent. You must wake up a little bit scared and stay focused. Success is never final. You are never done.

That’s not a bad thing or a curse, it’s a blessing that enables you to grow and innovate.

We, as fans, investors, friends, and supporters of Celsius, can’t wait to see what’s next.

Knowing the team as well as we do, we’re bullish that the best is yet to come.

Note:
We lost a local icon last week when former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Whelchel passed away.

My friend Blake who knew her well said it best: “An amazing woman and true public servant. It was a privilege to stand with her through thick and thin.

Loyal yet tough, Mayor Susan Whelchel brought out the best in us, and in return gave us her all. She was my friend. I am heartbroken, and will miss her.”

We all will. She was special. We need more people like Susan Whelchel in the public arena. It was a privilege to know her.

 

A Year Of Darkness

There’s a darkness in the center of town.

Anniversaries are funny things.

We mark the dates we like to celebrate—weddings, first dates, the opening of businesses. But we also mark the dates we’re troubled by—the loss of a loved one, the break up of a relationship, hurricanes etc.

For many in our community, 8/10 has become a date they will remember.

On August 10, 2021, the Delray Beach City Commission voted 3-2 to sever their relationship with Old School Square and terminate a 32 year history with the organization that created and largely funded that magical place on the corner of Atlantic and Swinton that catalyzed the rebirth of our downtown and became the creative hub of our  community.

A year later, the theater and museum remain dark despite sssurances from the commission majority and the City Manager that there would be a “seemless” transition with more and better cultural opportunities.

Instead, we’ve been left with expensive litigation, embarrassing headlines for the city and big bills ahead for taxpayers to get the place up and running again.

Over the past year, we have witnessed oodles of accusations against the volunteers and donors who lovingly supported Old School Square and worked on behalf of our community for decades.

Some of those volunteers and donors have been so poorly treated that they have vowed to never serve again. Others are steadfast in their resolve to not be bullied and have vowed to continue their efforts to bring a modicum of common sense back to a town that once was a beacon for other cities to admire and follow.

But divisive politics and a nonstop turnstile of staff at City Hall have left us with a lot of damage  and dysfunction.

Everywhere you go these days, people ask “what happened to Delray? “

We used to hear: “I wish our town got along as well as your town does.”

That’s a big swing in sentiment.

So why does it matter?

After all, the downtown is teeming with visitors, property values continue to soar and tourists are still flocking to “America’s Most Fun Small City.”

Indeed, all of those things are true. And I would argue that’s a testament to the good work that began in the late 80s with the Atlantic Avenue Task Force, Visions 2000, the Decade of Excellence, the Downtown Master Plan and other efforts large and small ranging from the Community Land Trust, the Cultural Plan, Southwest Plan and an important and groundbreaking initiative to improve race relations. There was a lot of good work done in this town. The success we’ve experienced was not an accident. It was planned and made possible by a generation of volunteers who cared passionately about working together to buld a better community.

At the center of it all was Old School Square.

Not only was the project a catalyst for downtown revitalization and civic renewal, but it was a place to gather, dream, talk things over and soak up the arts with a slew of memorable performances and exhibitions lovingly curated and made possible by local leaders who dreamt of making this a special place —and succeeded.

So this anniversary is a sad one.

Because we have lost so much. And I contend that the success mentioned before is endangered by a political culture that prizes personal retribution over doing what’s best for the community.

A month or so ago,  the city went back to the old playbook and held a charrette, or gathering, to determine what should happen at Old School Square.

Charrettes are great and there is a rich history of successful ones that made a profound difference in our town.

But the spirit of a charrette is to allow stakeholders to dream unencumbered and this one violated that basic and fundamental tenet. Attendees were told to focus on  “what” should happen at Old School Square not “who” should run the place.

That struck many as unfair.

But the city didn’t want to be embarrassed because the optics would have been bad if the stakeholders said they liked what they had. Besides, a majority of the commission had already decided that they wanted the Boca Museum and two local artists to be in charge only to see that idea fizzle out.

Lo and behold, the outcome of the charrette proved quite interesting and predictable really. The stakeholders who attended—many stayed away because they didn’t trust the process—said they wanted largely what they had before with the organization that was booted from the premises.

Many of us were not surprised because while Old School Square was by no means perfect or all that it could be, they were doing a whole lot right and there was no public clamor for a change.

So why was the group booted from the place they created? Why was there a sense of urgency to get rid of a group that provided 75-80 percent of the funding to support things like free concerts, art exhibits, theater productions and classes?

The answer to those questions can be found in one word: Politics (with a capital p).

Pure and simple.

The board, the donors and the volunteers pissed off a few people who had the power to break the place.

Why?

What did these people do that was so heinous?

Well, they didn’t support the right candidates as deemed by the powers that be.

And that’s why we hear the refrain that whoever inherits those buildings should be apolitical or perhaps from another community entirely. Really?

We should ask involved citizens to not have an opinion? We should ask another community to come in and run cultural programs in our town?

So I wonder.

I wonder if the board, donors, volunteers and supporters of Old School Square had supported the so-called “right candidates” if there would be a clamor to make non profit board members apolitical or if there would be this need to bring in Boca to run our community’s beating heart.

I doubt it.

Granted, non-profits should not be political.

But individuals who choose to volunteer shouldn’t have to disenfranchise themselves to serve. Old School Square was not political. But the people involved do have opinions and they are entitled to be citizens. Instead of doing what you can to “make those people go away” perhaps the powers that be ought to look in the mirror and ask why a large segment of community leaders and volunteers are unhappy with their politics. Maybe, they should even talk to those who disagree with them. I know that’s a radical concept, but some dialogue might have saved the taxpayers millions of dollars because that’s what it is going to take to fix this mess.

For the past year, the board, donors, volunteers and supporters of Old School Square have been excused of being “political”, “double dipping” (whatever that is) and even worse. But all they’ve been doing is fighting for something they believe in. Bullies don’t like that. They like to dish it out, they don’t like it when you push back.

There have been no conversations to solve this expensive problem, no efforts to settle the litigation, establish dialogue or work things out.

Instead, we’ve seen a once effective CRA weaponized by politics and used as a cudgel to strike back at those who have dared to stand up for what they believe in. The latest is the CRA effort to get the Small Business Administration to investigate PPP funds used to get Old School Square through a horrible  and unforeseen pandemic.

All of this matters because all of this comes with a cost.

It will take millions of taxpayer dollars to bring Old  School Square back on line. Millions of dollars to make the darkened Crest Theatre function again and get the museum up and running. PS those millions were already raised and being deployed when the plug was pulled.

The generous donor who paid to improve the Cornell Museum, renovate the Crest Theater and add a long coveted commercial kitchen so the organization could host more and better community events pulled her funds and recently spoke before the commission to ask what happened and why those beloved buildings are still dark a year later.

I wonder if other donors were watching and thinking maybe they ought to invest elsewhere. Yes, there is a hidden cost to this brand of politics.

A year ago, I wrote two emails to our latest City Manager Terrance Moore.

The first was to welcome him to our city and wish him well. I wished Mr. Moore success because we’ve had 9, 10 or a hundred (I forget)  City Managers come and go (many humiliated and two with lawsuits) since David Harden retired in 2012 after 22 years in the job.

We need a good manager. We need one to succeed and build a staff that can effectively serve our community.

I got a nice reply back from Mr. Moore at the time.

My second email was a cautionary one after the August 10 decision. I felt that the Manager’s messaging was political and that it was dangerous because managers need to serve both sides of the divide. I also felt,and still do, that he does not grasp the enormity of the mistake that was made and the monumental task it will be to bring back Old School Square.

Those who know would have cautioned Mr. Moore that the transition would not be seemless and that there are many moving parts to consider and understand that he simply doesn’t get. How can he? He’s brand new to our community.

I don’t fault Mr. Moore for the decision.  He didn’t make it. But I do fault him for not speaking truth to power and for failing to talk to a wide swath of the community on this issue to gain a better understanding of the importance of Old School Square.

The lesson here, as we mark a sad anniversary, is that before you break something you really need to be confident you can put it back together again.

I’ve seen a lot of things broken in recent years by people who weren’t around when things got fixed.

Cities are delicate organisms—resilient only to a point. Pull a thread here and there and you may get lucky. But pull the wrong thread and a place can unravel.

The sad lesson is something that can take 30 plus years to build can be broken in one night by one vote. And it wasn’t even on the agenda…so you , the ones who pay the bills, didn’t get a chance to say stop.

 

Both Sides Now

What do you see in those clouds?

“Rows and floes of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall

I really don’t know clouds at all.”

Those lyrics from the Joni Mitchell classic were in my head these last few weeks when I spent some time exploring idyllic small towns in Maine. I’m not really sure why, I haven’t heard the song in years but there it was as I found myself in Kennebunkport which is impossibly beautiful, Boothbay Harbor which teems with charm, Bath which bills itself as Maine’s coolest little city (and just may be), Brunswick with the bucolic Bowdoin College and Cape Elizabeth whose beauty defies description.

In a word, Maine is enchanting, and I find myself falling in love with a place all over again  and realizing that “place” as a concept means a lot to me.

Of course, people are paramount  (with golden retrievers a close second) but place is up there in importance —at least for me.

I’ve been here for a month and that’s enough time to see a few nooks and crannies and to think “hey, this place feels good.” I can see myself spending time here. It’s a good place.  And place is important.

I’m coming back to Delray this week and that’s good too. I’ve never done anything like this before —working remotely so far away from home—but post Covid I’m ready to live life and ready to shake it up a little. I’m ready to indulge some dreams.

If not now, when?

After all, I love it when friends pursue their passions.

My childhood friend  Joe is a nationally ranked “one wheeler” in his age group and loves the sport. He lights up when he talks about his experiences on trails and hanging with the one wheel community.

Another buddy  Ben just came back from a  bike trip in Europe—50 miles a day —and while the mere thought of that makes me sore, Ben would and could do 100 miles a day if he could. He’s always been an adventurer.

While I was looking at clouds on Casco Bay my brother from another mother Scott was coaching baseball and recently took his champion Virginia based team to a major tournament in Tallahassee. They didn’t win, but they are still champs and I’m certain Scott is a great coach just like his dad was; they had a passion for baseball and people too.  That’s an unbeatable combination.

Me, I like to write and explore  places and topics  that interest me.

I came to Maine to fulfill a vow I made to myself when I had a serious case of Covid that landed me in the ICU two years ago.

It’s time to start living—time to see the other side of those clouds that Joni sings about.

Those clouds can get in the way or they can be anything you want them to be.  Two years ago they rained on me pretty hard leaving me alone with my thoughts, hopes, fears and dreams.

I realize I’m privileged to have this experience and fortunate to work for a company that values quality of life and family.

I spend my days grateful for so many things; the beauty that surrounds me, the love I get to enjoy with my wife, family and friends and the simple pleasure of being able to breathe freely again.

This time of year I relive my Covid experience and remember when I could barely draw a breath. Yes, I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now.

Most of us have by the time we hit a certain age. Because while life is precious and beautiful, there’s just no escaping the tough times.  Nobody goes through this life unscathed.

Which brings me back to the concept of place.

Here I enjoy the woods, the rocky coast, the pristine Casco Bay, the architecture and the history.  I also enjoy the kindness.  People here are very nice even through we’re “from away” and even though I’m driving a Subaru with Florida plates.  (P.S. every other car here is a Subaru it’s uncanny).

But as I get ready to return to Delray, my home now for 35 years, I look forward to those Florida sunsets, the magnificent skies and even the cloud bursts that mark our endless summer months. I love Florida and value my now 35 years in the ever changing Sunshine State.

But I do wish more would love her too.

One thing I’ve noticed in Maine is a fierce sense of civic pride.

Mainers love this place, Portlanders really love Portland and in nearby Biddeford they are planning some really special things and they are excited to tell the world.

That’s the vibe everywhere we wandered.

When I visited a store in Kennebunkport the young proprietor told me that many of her friends were returning home to do “cool things.” That’s how it should be, I thought to myself. That’s what you want to hear about a place.

And I thought, you know, we’re kind of tough on Boca and Delray aren’t we?

We complain…a lot.

Too much this and too much that and yes there are serious issues. But…you know what? We live in a magical and cool place. We really do.

Joni was on to something. Maybe we need to look harder to see both sides now.