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Impact 100

It was a great night at Prime Cigar in Boca.

A group of men is seeking to replicate the success of Impact 100 for Women and it’s off to a strong start under the leadership of Chuck Halberg and the stewardship of the Community Foundation.

The concept is simple: 100 (or more) men donate $1,000 (plus a modest administrative fee for the foundation’s services) and the money is donated to an area non-profit to benefit children.

I joined.

I hope you will too.

Our community is counting on us. Contact me through this site and I will help get you connected.

Heroin: It’s On The Locals

heroin1

America is experiencing a horrendous opiate addiction crisis.

But aside from a few brief mentions at the conventions, the presidential race is almost devoid of any discussion of the issue. And this week’s debate mentioned nothing about the crisis.

Meanwhile, cities across the country are being stressed to the max by heroin and opiate addiction. Delray Beach is one of those cities.

And aside from municipal budgets being strained, there’s the human side of the issue, with lives being ruined and or lost and front line personnel in law enforcement, EMS and health professions feeling the daily pressure as they try desperately to save people and make an impact.

Before we can “Make America Great Again” or be “Better Together” we had better take a long, hard look at what’s happening on the streets of our cities and towns. It is clear that solutions are not coming from Washington—which blew a promised deadline for a joint letter from HUD and the Justice Department—the political class seems more focused on fighting than fixing. So any solutions or even chance of making things better will have to come from local government. Addiction is a helluva problem and it’s getting worse.

You don’t have to look much further than Delray Beach, which continues to report record numbers of overdoses and heroin related calls for service.

As of two weeks ago, there have been over 1,000 doses of Narcan (a drug that reverses overdoses) administered by our Fire Department. The Police Department has given out another 83 doses of the costly drug. Grants for Narcan have dried up and prices are soaring. In fact, there is a price-gouging investigation that has been launched, according to officials.

The Delray PD has responded to 360 drug related calls as of a few weeks ago, more than West Palm Beach, which is a bigger city (290 calls). You can bet those numbers have gone up.

Boca is not immune either, no city is. In the first 7 months of 2016, Boca Fire administered 77 doses of Narcan.

So folks, we have a problem.

We are not alone.

We are not unique.

But this is a huge issue and according to city officials tasked with following the crisis, the number of homes being used to house people with addictions are growing. Sadly, while there are many excellent providers doing great and much needed work, there is a virtual cottage industry of bad operators in our community who are exploiting people for profits and doing far more harm than good.

Code Enforcement, our police department and the Fire Department are on the case—but the problem is complex, growing and multi-layered. We are nowhere near turning the tide.

Fortunately, there are some bright spots.

Our Police Department, led by Chief Jeff Goldman, is aggressively working on the issue from a holistic perspective. Aside from deploying investigative and enforcement resources, Chief Goldman is hiring a licensed clinical social worker to help the department understand and work more effectively with an increasingly challenging population; those in the throes of addiction. He is also closing in on a memorandum of understanding between the department and FAU, which would give the department an intern that would work on these issues.

Another bright spot is the work of the Delray Drug Task Force under the leadership of Suzanne Spencer.

The Task Force has become a valuable clearinghouse for information and collaboration. At the table: local law enforcement, fire officials, local prosecutors, representatives from Congresswoman Lois Frankel’s office, responsible providers and business leaders ranging from Plastridge Insurance to Ocean Properties. It’s impressive.

On the pro-active side of the challenge, Spencer is taking the message of sobriety into local schools. The effort, called “Living Skills in the Schools” should touch 18,000-20,000 children this year.

Another bright spot is the passionate work being done by retired police Lt. Marc Woods, who now works for the city on enforcement issues relating to housing. A bright and resourceful guy, Mr. Woods brings a ton of experience to the issue.

The long-awaited joint letter from the Justice Department and HUD is also imminent, but sadly past its deadline which is typical of Washington dysfunction these days.

Speaking of dysfunction, while Congress “approved” a plan to fight heroin recently it has failed to fund the effort—and you wonder why people are angry at the establishment politicians in D.C. Ugh…

Meanwhile, while prescriptions for opiates have quadrupled nationally in the past four years, we learn that manufacturers of the drugs have spent nearly $900 million on lobbying efforts to keep the pills pumping.

Nine.

Hundred.

Million. Dollars.

Wow.

So clearly, this will be on the locals, unless of course Washington wakes up, which isn’t likely.

We can tell you one thing for sure; nobody on the front lines can afford to wait. They are knee deep in dealing with the crisis.

It would sure be nice if they had a little help.

A Bright Light Lost

Jose Fernandez played with a Little Leaguers enthusiasm.

Jose Fernandez played with a Little Leaguers enthusiasm.

Yes, we know there’s no crying in baseball.
But yesterday and today the tears are flowing.
Jose Fernandez, the 24-year-old Marlins superstar pitcher was killed in a boating accident off Miami Beach. And just like that a bright talent was lost–forever.
Fernandez was more than a baseball player to Marlins fans of all ages. He was an inspiration. He fled Cuba at age 15 and saved his mother from drowning during the dangerous trek. He made it to America on his fourth try after being jailed and shot at–the lure of freedom so great that he was willing to risk his life repeatedly.
Later, when asked if he feared facing a great hitter, he shook his head. After being shot at what could a hitter possibly do to him.
He went to high school in Tampa and emerged as a rare talent. The Marlins snagged him in the first round of the draft and gave him a $2 million singing bonus. He rocketed to the majors and had immediate success. Two-time All Star–strikeouts galore. A preternatural talent with Hall of Fame written all over him. His passion for the game made him an enormously popular teammate. South Florida loved him. He was special and he was ours. And now he’s gone.
My son broke the news to me Sunday morning. It was a shock and he was very distraught.
“He’s my age,” he said and implicit in that  comment is that Jose Fernandez was too young to die and  also acknowledgement that yes tragedies can happen–we are all so fragile, tomorrow is never guaranteed and even when you are on top of the world you can lose it all in a flash.
It’s a helluva lesson.

Yes, we know all that intellectually but emotionally it’s hard to wrap our minds around unexpected tragedy.
The permanence of it and the unfairness.
My son is a lifelong Marlins fan. He’s a native Floridian and this is his team. He loves them as much as I love the Yankees and the Mets (yes, I grew up a fan of both).

So I started to follow the Marlins. It was something I could share with my son.
We’d talk about the team and its players and go to some games. In fact, my Father’s Day gift this year were really great seats to see Jose pitch against the Mets. It was a great day and he mowed down the Mets lineup with strikeout after strikeout.
Jose Fernandez was my son’s favorite player. So this hits hard.
I flashed back to when Thurman Munson was lost in August 1979 and how it felt surreal.
I was not yet 15 and Munson was one of my favorite players. The team captain and seemingly indestructible.
It hit me hard.
A year later, in 1980, all of my friends were devastated by the murder of John Lennon. That too hit hard. How could these icons, seemingly larger than life, be gone?
A small contingent of us went to a vigil in Central Park just to be with others who were feeling the same sense of loss.
Most of us never get to personally meet the athletes that we admire or the rock legends whose music shapes our lives but we feel a connection and so we mourn.
When people die young we are left to wonder what they would have accomplished. How many Cy Young Awards would Jose have won?
Would a few more good years from Thurman Munson have put him in the Hall of Fame?
Would John Lennon, gone at 40, and just back in the game after five years away from the studio, have written another song like “Imagine.”
We will never know.
It’s trite (but true) to say we should be thankful for each day. It’s cliched (but important to hug our loved ones and reconcile with those we need to reach out to). But today, right now. It’s just feels lousy and unfair.
We lost Jose Fernandez. He was a bright light. And now he’s gone.

A Call For Servant Leadership

Sums it up, right?

Sums it up, right?

“I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure, which is: Try to please everybody.” – Herbert Swope

Last week, the Delray Chamber of Commerce wrapped up a four week session on civic engagement and leadership.

The 8 hour program was designed to share information with those who aspire to serve on city boards, take leadership roles in local organizations and or run for political office.

I attended three of the sessions and had the privilege of speaking at the last class. I found the participants to be attentive and passionate about Delray. The discussions were terrific and I think those involved found it to be a valuable experience. (Special kudos to Chamber President Karen Granger and Chamber COO Todd L’Herrou for their leadership regarding the program).

I’m one of those people who fervently believe in the transformative power of leadership.

I just don’t think it’s possible to succeed in any endeavor without leadership and I strongly believe that just about every challenge we face can either be solved or made infinitely better through strong leadership. Conversely, bad or corrosive leadership makes progress darn near impossible.

Leadership is the foundation for success and yet we don’t spend a whole lot of time teaching what it looks like and just as importantly what it feels like because great leadership evokes a certain feeling in a community, business, school or non-profit.

While we don’t seem to focus on leadership development, we do spend a lot of time lamenting the lack of leadership or the poor leadership we are often forced to endure. While good leaders create value, corrosive leadership is costly both in a financial sense and in emotional terms.

I wanted to share snippets of the last class because we are heading toward elections both national and local (in March) and it’s important to choose wisely. If we are well led, the sky is the limit, if we are poorly served we end up compounding our problems and missing out on opportunities. Here are some thoughts that were shared last week:

“When we talk about leadership here in Delray and nationally we never talk about love…but we should… because love is essential to leadership. If you want to be a good leader, you better love your city and you better love people…if you don’t, you won’t make it…you won’t resonate..and we need more leaders who resonate..

Connection is essential to leadership, empathy and passion for your city is just not negotiable…the best leaders touch your heart, they inspire you, they instill pride in the mission and they make you feel supported, appreciated, nurtured and yes loved…Now, I get that some of you will think that is sappy….and that’s Ok….but I would argue that over time people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how they made you feel. Leaders inflate, they don’t deflate…

If you make those you serve feel supported and appreciated you will be able to accomplish anything in your city, your business or your organization. But if you disrespect people, if you bully them, lie to them, fail to connect and fail to appreciate and involve them….you will spin your wheels and you will not be remembered fondly….your time in office will come and it will go…and you will have wasted what I consider to be a unique privilege and honor…to take care of your community, to move it forward and leave it better than you found it.

So I had a simple matrix for success…because being a commissioner or a mayor or a CEO or a board chair…is as complicated as the day is long….but if you want to simplify a complex job…the formula to determine success is pretty simple…

First, it is a job to do, not a job to have.

 To be effective, you have to be willing to risk your position to do what you believe to be the right thing…the commission’s  I served on and the people I worked with and for…were ambitious people. We wanted to make a difference…we wanted to deliver on the people’s vision….and we wanted to tackle or attempt to tackle what we called the big rocks…race relations….civic engagement, a master plan for the downtown.. we wanted to invest in our poorest neighborhoods and we wanted to take the good work done by prior commission’s on education and other important subjects and go even further…I think we did.

We moved the big rocks….but we didn’t solve every problem and we didn’t declare victory on ANY issue….even when Atlantic Avenue became a nationally renowned street, even when we moved the high school, dealt effectively with hurricanes and kept the community intact and safe in the wake of a racially charged shooting…We didn’t declare victory because in community building— in the world of cities and in the world of business— you are never done. And if you are complacent, you will pay a high price. Complacency is a killer.

So…if you have a vision it becomes easier to make the tough calls…because you have something larger than your personal preferences or political ambitions to link too….your citizen driven vision is your true north.

But even if you have hundreds of stakeholders who show up to forge that vision –you have thousands of citizens who don’t show up— and as soon as change is proposed you will be guaranteed to hear from them…and it’s usually not because they are thrilled with the change…

At that point, you have a choice…do you risk it? Do you do your job or do you cave ….or just as bad…. do you play dodgeball and kick the can down the road?…

Remember, It’s a job to do, not to have….so I would argue that you go for it, you stay true to the vision because that is more important than your next election..

My other success gauge is also very simple… I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

I believe this secret is the key to being a successful local elected official.

Ready. Here it is: if you support, encourage and help those who work, invest and volunteer for your city you will succeed. You will get things done and you will be appreciated by the people who make your city work. If you make those who work, invest and volunteer unhappy and or cater to the complainers you will fail and in many cases the complainers will turn on you as well.

Pretty simple eh?

But you’d be surprised (or maybe you won’t) by how often this pretty basic formula is violated.

Fearful of losing their seat or willing to say or do whatever gets them applause from the loudest voices, we often see elected officials make bad decisions to gain favor with the loudest voices in the community while abandoning the most important voices which are often not the loudest, just the smartest.

Now that does not mean you don’t listen to everyone…especially the critics. They may have something to teach you and you need to listen.

But…chances are the best advice is going to come from those in the trenches….the ones who are hard at work in your city.

Most of those folks, may never come to a meeting, they are trusting you to do the right thing….that’s your job and they should be able to live their lives without having to sit through 6 hour meetings…many times the mayors and commissioners I have known would have called on these people to get their input well before a crucial vote…so while it’s always nice to see friendly faces…your vote should not depend on a nose count at the meeting, it should depend on your judgment on what is right for Delray Beach…not what’s right for you or the optics of the night, but what’s good for the long term health of the city.

 

My goal when I completed my term was to have the support and respect of those who were hard at work building and improving this community: the volunteers, the folks serving on city advisory boards, the ones who showed up at charrettes, who run businesses, invest here, give to local charities, work with our kids, lead their neighborhood associations and yes work for our city….that was my team and I saw my job as to help them succeed and to allow them to aspire…”

 

We gave some examples of people who are passionate about the community and how it’s important to nurture that passion.

“Because without love there’s no commitment: we commit to, we fight for and we protect and cherish what we love….your goal as leaders is to find people who love Delray, they are not hard to find if you open your eyes…because if you find them and you serve them…you cannot fail…because they will do wonders for the community.”

Tone matters too in leadership. Civility will never go out of style.

“You can be constructive or destructive…that’s your choice on every issue and with every encounter…This is what I think works….I’ve seen it work. Many mayors led with compassion and strength—all in their own unique way.

It is all about people…we often times forget that…we need to connect, we need to care for each other and we need to find a way to compromise and respect one another…if you do that you succeed as a leader and we all win…you’ll leave a better city….”

We ended the evening with a call to action: stay informed, get involved and find a way to serve and give back. True leadership is servant leadership.

“I’ll finish with 7 traits that I believe are necessary to be successful in leadership…you need all 7, because if you are missing any you won’t succeed.

They are: Integrity, vision, passion, emotional intelligence, a thirst for knowledge, courage (because you will be tested) and judgment. Think about that list, which one can you do without?”

I hope the chamber continues to provide these types of programs. They are important for our community and for our future.

Leadership matters.

 

 

And in the End..

8daysWe went to see the Ron Howard documentary Eight Days a Week over the weekend.
I’ve been a Beatles fan since childhood even though I was only six when the band broke up in 1970.
While the film, which chronicles The Beatles “touring years” (1963-1966), was available for streaming on Hulu we made the trek to Fort Lauderdale to watch it on the big screen at Cinema Paradiso, a converted church that is home to a non profit film club now known as Savor Films.
We even ran into a few Delray folks, who are also Beatles fanatics.
Watching the movie with other people is a communal experience and you could feel the emotion and energy radiating in the theater. Yes, The Beatles are still magical.
And it’s fun to think of why that is so.

Sure the music is incredible. It not only has held up for 50 plus years, if it’s possible it seems to get better with age.
Yes, the band also had amazing chemistry but there’s something deeper at play here.
I’m not sure it can ever be captured or completely diagnosed but one factor in the band’s enduring popularity are the feelings The Beatles are able to elicit. The music just makes you happy and conjures up all sorts of warm memories.
And because we seem to be in a somewhat dark place these days in America and elsewhere, the music elicits a few tears as well as we remember a better, more hopeful time.
The documentary emphasized the friendship and loyalty between John, Paul, George and Ringo. They were “mates”, protective of one another and fiercely loyal to the enterprise.
Until they weren’t and that’s when things went awry.
It was simple in the beginning, Paul relates and then it grew complicated before falling apart.
And perhaps there’s a lesson in that.
The need to be loyal.

The importance of friendship.

The power of passion and the enduring magic of community.

There’s also a poignant lesson to process.  Even the greatest things in life don’t last. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end.
Eight Days A Week captures the beginning of Beatlemania–a phenomenon never seen before or since. It’s a must see. If you love The Beatles you will be moved.
We were. We were also appreciative of the magic.
These four ‘cheeky’ lads from Liverpool  changed everything. They changed the world…for the better. What a concept.

Housing is the Killer App

Housing is a hot button issue

Housing is a hot button issue

I saw a poll last month and the numbers were clear: affordable housing is a priority in the hearts and minds of American voters.

Nearly 60 percent said that housing affordability was a key issue, and 74 percent said that they would be more likely to support a candidate who made housing affordability a focus of their campaign and a priority in government. Predictably, the issue weighed most heavily with the groups both major party candidates are seeking to win over: millennials (ages 18 to 35), those earning less than $50,000 a year, and those with children living at home.

We are the parents of four millennials; one of whom lives at home, two rent and one is off at college and living off campus in rental housing. So this issue is meaningful to this baby boomer and millions of baby boomers across the land who would like to see their kids move out—(even though we love them dearly).

In hot spots across the country, affordable housing is rapidly becoming a burning issue.

A planning commissioner in super expensive Palo Alto, California recently saw her resignation letter go viral when she lamented the high cost of housing in that tech hot bed which has prompted her to relocate. According to the Palo Alto Forward, the median home price in that city is $2 million. San Jose recently became the first MSA to surpass a $1 million median home price.

Civic leaders in Austin, Texas, another tech hot spot, sees an opportunity to better compete for companies and young talent with Silicon Valley: the high cost of housing.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent Austin, based blog: “The bureaucratic ordeal in getting a new software development project started at a large company is legendary, but pales in comparison to getting a land development project off the ground in Silicon Valley.

The Valley and San Francisco have their own versions of Microsoft Millionaires: Housing Millionaires. Folks who had the good fortune to own a house in San Francisco years ago and became lucky as their asset skyrocketed in value. Many of these folks have, understandably, become less concerned with making San Francisco a place where a new generation can make their fortune and more interested in protecting what they have. Despite (or perhaps because of) its reputation for innovation, San Francisco’s local politics is dominated more by discussions of the past than the future. Like a company that refuses to release new products out of fear of harming their current cash cow, the city has become extraordinarily conservative in its approach to new development. New developments must first prove that they will harm no existing residents in any way, rather than merely proving they will provide a benefit to new residents.

The results are catastrophic: San Francisco and Silicon Valley are failing at one of the core competencies of any city: providing housing. Tech workers spend enormous fractions of their income to live in poorly maintained homes in the Mission, while those outside tech frequently live far outside the city and commute long distances on congested roads. New housing for tech workers is protested as are buses to transport workers from homes in San Francisco to jobs in Silicon Valley. The city and the region understand that they are in an intractable mess of antagonistic politics, but still cannot do anything to extricate itself. San Francisco and the Silicon Valley are ripe for disruption.”

 

The conclusion: Housing is Austin’s killer app: specifically, walkable, bike friendly, transit-accessible, relatively affordable housing.

It’s an interesting observation and the author concludes by saying that business needs to be deeply engaged in public policy to ensure that local governments facilitate the construction of new units to keep up with the demands and needs of a new generation of workers and families.

Closer to home, the issue of workforce or affordable housing has ebbed and flowed with the strength or weakness of the market. I used to be on the board of the Affordable Housing Coalition of Palm Beach County formed during the previous boom. At the time, the issue was front burner but when the market crashed so did the profile of the issue.

Today, it’s back again.

According to a recent Harvard report, 11.4 million households pay more than half their income for housing, and the number of those who spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing has reached 21.3 million. And affordable housing isn’t just a problem for the working poor. In that recent poll, 47 percent said they have personally struggled to pay their rent or mortgage in the past 12 months, or know someone who has been in that situation.

“There are serious structural inequities in our country and within the housing market that can only be remedied with the private and public sector working together,” says Angela Boyd, managing director of Make Room, a national campaign focused on rising rents in America. (Funders of the effort include the Ford and MacArthur foundations). “About 90 percent of the rental housing market being built right now is for luxury, and a whole segment of the population is being overlooked — recent college grads with high debt, senior citizens with fixed incomes, working-class families. If there isn’t some sort of subsidy to fill the gap, some sort of policy that changes the equations, you will never be able to build decent apartments that people can afford based on the wages being earned right now.”

But even young college grads fortunate enough to earn a good wage are struggling to find housing that doesn’t consume the budget, especially if they have college loans to repay, a car payment, insurance etc., as many do.

And for starting teachers—my daughter for example—the issue is even more acute.

Locally, Delray historically has been active on this issue.

About 11 years ago, we formed one of the area’s first Community Land Trusts, passed a workforce ordinance (imperfect but used as a model by some other cities) and approved some projects that featured workforce housing including Bexley Park and Atlantic Grove (10 units).

While this isn’t a popular idea in some circles, it’s hard to achieve affordable housing without density. When land is expensive and densities are kept low, you just can’t add the product needed to address the issue. The Strong Towns movement also argues that this kind of development cannot be sustained financially because the cost of servicing sprawl outstrips the taxes it generates.

In Delray, the Congress Avenue Task Force, saw workforce housing as one of the key elements to jumpstarting the corridor and ensuring the city’s financial future. By creating a compact, mixed-use, transit oriented environment with amenities and affordable apartments, Congress has an ability to thrive by attracting millennials and others who would also work on the corridor.

It’s a long way from happening, but progress starts with a vision and if the right policies are in place, private investors will make it happen. There is certainly a need.

But cities, including Boca and Delray, also ought to look at the eastern cores to see if there is a policy tool to incent the creation of units for young professionals. Not only will they enjoy the amenities of living downtown, they will support local businesses year round. If we want to maintain the mom and pop establishments in an expensive environment, we have to do what we can to bring people downtown especially during the slower summer months.

The problem is a knotty one for cities, but there are policy tools available to create more opportunities for new households and young families. Like the Austin blogger notes, it may also prove to be a smart economic development tool. Housing may indeed be the killer app and lack of it may kill you too.

Fifteen Years Gone: 9/11’s Local Perspective

Proudly worn by volunteers

Proudly worn by volunteers

Sept. 11, 2001 was the shock.
Sept, 12, 2001 was the start of the realization that our lives, our country and our world would be forever different. Over the coming weeks, 15 years ago, we would discover just how different our world would be.
Anthrax came to Boca Raton when a man died opening a letter.
We discovered that at least seven and possibly nine of the 19 terrorists were living in Delray Beach. Another three were living in Boynton.
They were at our library. They lived in the Hamlet, went to a local gym, were seen poolside at Laver’s and filled a prescription for cipro at Huber’s Drugs. One of our officers, Tom Quinlan, responded to a call about a dog bite and later learned that the bite victim was ringleader Mohammed Atta.
I worked in a building a few yards from the AMI headquarters in Boca at the time of the anthrax scare which came a week after the attacks. Bob Stevens, who worked for the National Enquirer, was the first victim of anthrax when he opened a letter containing deadly spores.
It was a surreal scene. Nobody wanted open their mail.
At the time, our Fire Chief Kerry Koen had encouraged city commissioners to ride on fire trucks and hand out treats to children on Halloween. The year before the event was a smashing success. Children throughout  Delray Beach were excited to see the big red engines.
But in 2001, the event was a little different and as soon as it got dark, the department started getting calls from people who thought the sugar that spilled from lanterns holding candy was anthrax and the same engines that elicited cheers and laughter were now called to investigate whether there was a deadly toxin in our city.
But Delray Beach was a strong community back then. You don’t really know that until you’re tested.

A few months prior, the city had won a second all America city award becoming the first city in Florida to do so.
At that time, the civic fabric was strong and there was unity. And Delray had a knack for turning challenges into opportunities. The City had confidence. There was just a feeling that whatever was thrown our way, collectively we would figure it out.

Dealing with the aftermath of 9/11 was a huge challenge. But we had a great mayor at the time, David Schmidt. He was an attorney, soft spoken, polite and professional. But he was also resolute, very smart and exhibited strength in a way that was calming. I sat next to him on the dais and I liked him. But watching him closely– seeing how he handled different situations –turned me into an admirer. David handled adversity with dignity and strength. We were blessed to have him as our mayor during that trying time.
As a community we gathered at Old School Square and at the Community Center to pray and to mourn and to just be together with our neighbors. We sent some personnel to ground zero including Russ Accardi a high ranking member of our fire department.
It was in these difficult moments that we found strength in each other. And that is community. It’s heart. It’s love. It’s caring and I think –because we are Americans –it’s also about taking action–doing something to make things better.
And so Skip Brown, a police officer, and himself a wounded Vietnam veteran, formed the nation’s first Homefront Security volunteer program.
At the time, we had well over 1,000 active volunteers at our police department. Many more at our Fire Department too. From this pool of dedicated citizens, largely retirees, Skip formed a special unit and tasked them with patrolling our public assets: water plant, sewer plant, city hall, library, parks, Old School Square Etc.
They wore sharp uniforms that included a beret. They looked amazing. Many –maybe most –were veterans, many were World War II veterans–well into their 70s but very much representative of the “greatest generation.”
They really were different.

Selfless. Tough but kind. Service oriented. Resilient. Wired to give back, to serve and protect, as our Police and firefighters are.
We took great comfort in seeing these men and women around town. They were trained to report suspicious items and their presence lifted our spirits when we needed them lifted.
I lost a childhood friend on Sept. 11. His name was Michael Boyle and he was a firefighter, like his dad. He was off that day campaigning with his best friend for a city council candidate. But when they heard the call, they heeded it and rushed to the scene to be with their brothers and sisters. Mike was never seen again. He was 37 years old.
Last year, my wife and I went to the new 9/11 museum. Since opening in 2014, 7 million have visited. More than 28 million people have visited the memorial in downtown Manhattan. We found Michael’s name along a reflecting pond. One of 343 firefighters lost that day.
This weekend as we marked the 15th anniversary of the attack, I read a bunch of articles and saw a great documentary on Flight 93 on PBS. In two of the stories I read, one about Marisa Di Nardo, the other about Welles Crowther, a 24 year old who lost his life going back up the stairs to bring others back to safety there were parts of the story that noted that both had premonitions, Marisa about her death and Welles that he would be part of “something big.” And I wondered if my childhood friend Michael experienced something similar. I’m not sure we will ever know. Or if it really matters, or maybe it matters a lot. Maybe we are supposed to listen to that inner voice or feelings.
There’s a sculpture inside our main fire station on West Atlantic that honors the 343 firefighters lost that day. It was dedicated in the wake of the tragic day. Last week, on Facebook, my friend Skip now retired in Alabama, posted pictures of his Homefront volunteers. Some are gone now. But I remember them and so do others. They comforted a community that needed to be comforted. President Bush, Governor Bush, Mayor Guiliani  and others acknowledged their work with visits and words of praise. Media from all over the world covered their service. And that’s all great stuff. But the larger message is one of community. One of love, service, commitment and courage; about rising to the occasion when the rain comes.
We find ways to cope, both individually and as a community when tragedy strikes. We find solace in family, friends, religion, country and community. And that’s what I’m reflecting on this 15th anniversary.

We Can Do Better

My goodness, politics is depressing.

We’re a hyperlocal blog, so we won’t weigh in one the presidential race.

But we will opine on the local stuff which sometimes includes state politics.

I was recently engrossed in a particularly interesting issue of Florida Trend magazine which detailed the amazing scientific breakthroughs and research being done throughout the Sunshine State.

Story after story of remarkable advances in cancer research, biochemistry, cyber security, energy–you name it.

FAU was front and center with great pieces on the new director of The Brain Institute and stories about great work being done in areas ranging from oceanography to aging. (Just in time for us my friends).

And then we hit the politics section of the magazine. Ugh.

A piece about Florida’s ridiculous primary rules (I read it twice and can’t quite grasp it, but understand it’s ripe for manipulation and therefore is being manipulated surprise, surprise). And a piece about some imbecile state legislator seeking to circumvent term limit rules and extend his time in office another 8 years. Double ugh.

I’m not one of those anti-government people and not someone who thinks politics is always distasteful.

I believe in public service and I think politics can be a noble calling.

I also believe in good government and I have seen it in action.

Delray Beach had it for a long while and made progress as a result. I’ve always admired Boca’s efficiency and how their local government has been able to keep a big and growing city clean and beautiful.

I’ve also admired a great many local elected officials over the years (And have thought more than a few were real, serious and almost mind blowing clunkers).

Good government delivers needed or desired services effectively and efficiently. It’s ethical, transparent, accessible, customer focused, innovative and humane. If it’s clicking and working well, it can set a community apart.  But if it’s broken, it can screw it up horribly.

I believe good government facilitates and is aspirational. It should help where needed and get out of the way when that’s needed. But it’s clear that across America, something is wrong with our politics and you can’t have good government if your politics are dysfunctional, mean, visionless, disparaging and petty.

We can do better. We have to do better.

All across America that is our challenge. And like every other great challenge, the answer can always be found with people. We need to attract our best and brightest to politics–I think it’s clear we are not. At least not in the numbers necessary to solve our greatest challenges or even recognize our greatest opportunities.

We need more engagement. More leadership training. More civics and more knowledgeable citizens. If we fail–we’re toast.

Odds & Ends & A Delray Heroine Retires

Beautiful Quebec City

Beautiful Quebec City

In Praise of Quebec City and BVT

We’re back from a week of rest and relaxation in Quebec City and Burlington, Vermont.
Both are terrific cities.
Quebec City is magnifique–physically beautiful and very European in look, feel and scale.
While historic and oozing charm, Quebec City is also a dynamic and energetic place filled with street performers, artists, musicians, innovative food concepts and public art.
If you haven’t been, put it on your list. You will not be disappointed. You will be delighted.
Burlington is also a beautiful city with a rich history.
While its Vermont’s largest city, it’s smaller than Delray and Boca. Much smaller with just over 40,000 people.
Bernie Sanders got his political start in BVT becoming mayor with a 10 vote win back in the day.
When you drive into town after exiting a very scenic ride on Interstate 89 you run smack dab into the campus of the University of Vermont which is spectacular. Drive a few minutes and you come to the top of a hill overlooking picturesque Lake Champlain which serves as a backdrop to the city.
Burlington’s walkable downtown is charming and vibrant and features a pedestrian mall along Church Street, one of the few pedestrian malls that has worked (other examples are Lincoln Road and Charlottesville). It has one glaring flaw– not fatal mind you– but odd and that is an indoor mall anchored by a Macy’s. It doesn’t quite fit and seemed mostly dead while we were there. People preferred to be outside where like Quebec they enjoyed cafe dining, street musicians and the joy of just watching the world go by.
Burlington and surrounding cities –we visited Woodstock, Waterbury–(home of Ben & Jerry’s), Stowe, Shelburne, Queechee Gorge and Winooski–(known as Burlington’s Brooklyn) are teeming with incredible restaurants, creameries, cider mills, vineyards, distilleries and a slew of breweries. It’s beyond cool. And Lake Champlain—just wondrous.
It’s a sophisticated little place.
Relevant lessons for Delray and Boca: don’t design downtowns for cars, design for people. Both Quebec and Burlington favor the pedestrian and celebrate sidewalk dining, activity, festivals, pop up retail and localism. Local food, local beers, local wines, local artists, local farms, you get the picture.
Arts, culture, tourism are important economic drivers. They are celebrated.
The sense of place, history and the cool vibe is leveraged to create other industries. Burlington has a downtown incubator which was recently featured in the New York Times which is doing what it can to capture the entrepreneurial talent in the area and at UVM.
Breweries, distilleries and the local food scene are also encouraged with news articles, festivals, tastings and the like. We saw this in both Quebec and Burlington.
It’s really wonderful to have a university close to the heart of your city. It’s not only nice to see young people, but the college is a remarkable resource and source of intellectual energy.
Finally, both cities have a feeling of civic pride. They know they are special places, people seem proud of their cities and everyone you run into is eager to recommend sites, restaurants and things to do.
Civic pride is a killer app.
The Passionate Mayor
Over the weekend PBS ran a documentary about former NYC Mayor Ed Koch.
It was fascinating as was Mayor Koch. Alternately loved and despised, Koch was a larger than life figure and to a generation of New Yorkers he will always be the mayor.
He strived for relevancy and public engagement well into his mid 80s. It was both poignant and inspiring to see.
Love him or loathe him, one thing that was apparent was Koch’s love of his city. He reveled in New York.
That passion, that fire, I think is essential if you are going to be a mayor that matters.
If you don’t like people, loathe your downtown, use the office as a resting stop until you can get another seat or generally refuse to push, prod, coax, market or move your city forward you simple won’t succeed.
Short story about Koch.
I saw him once in Central Park and he was swamped by people. Many years later, I received a call to have breakfast with him at the Green Owl. It was 2004 and Koch–a lifelong Democrat who had never voted for a Republican– had jumped party lines to support George W. Bush over John Kerry in the presidential race. The campaign sent Koch to Florida and he was making the rounds. I declined the invite because I wasn’t interested in being a political prop, but I sure did wish there was a “no agenda” opportunity to meet Mayor Koch. It would have been fascinating.
Thanks Dr. Hunter
Last but most certainly not least we would like to wish a happy and healthy and productive retirement to Lynda Hunter who retired last week from the Delray Public Library.
Dr.  Hunter was the Children’s Librarian for forty years and positively impacted the lives of thousands of Delray Beach children through her love of reading.
A few of those kids were my very own.
Lynda and I worked closely together along with Janet Meeks and Lula Butler to create the Mayor’s Literacy Initiative which included everything from introducing books to summer camp programs to ice cream parties in our PJs.
Lynda was also there when we moved the library from US 1 to West Atlantic Avenue–which wasn’t without controversy but was the right thing to do. She helped to plan the new and vastly improved children’s section at the larger facility which bears her name along with philanthropist Virginia Kimmel who was so taken by Dr. Hunter’s passion that she felt compelled to get involved. Lynda is that kind of person. Inspirational.
Lynda’s heartfelt dedication to children and reading leaves a lasting legacy.
She sparked a love of books and reading on generations of young people who will surely pass it on to their children. That’s what the great ones do: they leave a legacy, they touch people and shape them, they leave us better for having met them on our journey.
Lynda is one of the  great ones. And lucky for us, she’s not done. She will continue to spread the love of reading which sees as an answer to what ails our society.
Thanks Lynda…what a legacy.

We couldn't find a picture of Lynda Hunter, but we found this from a reading event. Only she could get me to wear moose pjs...

We couldn’t find a picture of Lynda Hunter, but we found this from a reading event. Only she could get me to wear moose pjs…

 

History Must Be Used & Experienced

 

Vin Nolan has experience and can sing karaoke.

Vin Nolan has experience and can sing karaoke.

Editor’s Note: We are taking a break and will be back after Labor Day. Thanks for reading and for your feedback. Be safe and keep an eye on the tropics.

Last week, we wrote about the launch of a civic boot camp at the Delray Chamber of Commerce.

The four week class is designed to engage and inform people who are interested in running for public office or serving on a board.

This is the first time the chamber has done such a class. This effort is different than Leadership Delray, because it is more focused on politics and public policy.

Since it is designed by the chamber, the content of the class is notably and unapologetically “pro-business” and emphasizes the importance of economic development. Tonight, former Delray Economic Development Director Vin Nolan will be the guest speaker.

Vin has what they call in the biz “chops.”

He’s a certified economic developer with lots of real world experience. He is currently heading up efforts at the Small Business Development Center at Palm Beach State College and also has background as an elected official in Connecticut. So he brings a broad range of experience and understanding to the process. He knows what works and he knows what doesn’t.

I’ve learned a lot from Vin about economic development and one key concept sticks out: the need to take advantage of good business cycles and the importance of doing what you can to minimize the damage from down economies. Imagine economic development as climbing a mountain. In good times you can reach decent heights, but inevitably the cycle ends and you slip a little. The key, Vin has taught me, is not to allow yourself to plummet off a cliff. There’s no guarantee you’ll be able to make the climb again.

Probably, the best way to hedge against a free fall is to land investments during good times that build on the strengths of your community and create lasting value.

I think Delray Beach and Boca Raton have done a good job with that in years past. It was proven during the great recession when despite deep and considerable pain—foreclosures, job loss, a dead real estate market—the cities survived relatively intact. Atlantic Avenue may not have seen much in the way of new business, but it didn’t suffer vacancy or desolation either. The same can be said for Mizner Park and downtown Boca’s eastern “spine.” Good planning, solid vision and bold implementation got us through the historic downturn. We survived.

I think that’s a good indication that our community has created value and some degree of economic resiliency. But that strength—which would be the envy of many cities nationwide—does not mean we can afford to grow complacent or smug. After all, success is never final. We must always be thinking about ways to solidify our gains and add new sources of investment and healthy growth to our cities.

When those in leadership positions fail to understand that dynamic, they risk our success. In other words, you can screw up a good thing.

Last week’s kick-off also featured an inspiring speech by the great Frances Bourque, the visionary behind Old School Square. Frances shared her journey with the class, most of who are relatively new to Delray and probably didn’t know that the cultural center was once a blighted, abandoned school surrounded by a chain link fence in the heart of the downtown.

Frances is such a powerful speaker it’s hard not to get swept up in her passion for the arts, history and community. But out of a thousand lessons she can impart, one rang especially true for me after listening to her talk last week: in order for history to be appreciated and loved, it needs to be experienced and used.

So…Frances told the group that while historic sites need to be maintained they also need to embrace the public by providing access. They need to be used and enjoyed in order to be loved and protected. And that’s the mission of Old School Square; to be a gathering place for the community. Listening to Frances tell the story, reminds us all of how fortunate we are to have a facility such as Old School Square and to have had visionaries like Frances who saw what that old abandoned school could be.

These types of lessons and information are so vital and they need to be shared in order for a community to keep progressing. In the end, we are all stewards (if we choose to be) and our responsibility is to leave a place better than we found it. Sometimes that means the place will be different, that’s inevitable. But it’s always helpful to glean lessons from the past, because they do inform your future if you are willing to listen and learn.

A Word About Congress Avenue

Found this in my inbox this morning from Jim Smith, chairman of SAFE, Safety as Floridians Expect, and a member of the Congress Avenue Task Force.

Thank you Christina Morrison and SAFE Director of Community Outreach Director Carol Anderson for your comments supporting the Delray Congress Avenue Task Team recommendations.

 In case you missed it, during the City Commission Meeting, Christina said that the Commission should approve the Task Force’s recommendations, not just “accept and file” If you’ll recall, “accept and file” was the same action taken by a different City Commission re the 2010 Vision report that effectively buried the report in a City file cabinet. (Editor’s note: many of the same commissioners were around to “accept and file” that visions report or participated in the charrette which led to the report).

 Carol Anderson made a similar comment of support.

 There may have been other public comments supporting the task force that I missed. So, if any of you supported, I apologize for not hearing it.

 Here’s what Carol Anderson said:

 Regarding Item 7G, the Congress Ave task force report:

The Commission should not just “accept and file” but should endorse the vision by “adopting and approving” all the task force’s recommendations and direct staff to draft both a new Master Plan and the LDRs to implement it. The manager can report back and recommend contracted expertise if staff can’t handle this.

I had the privilege of chairing the Task Force that delivered what we thought was a very solid report in February outlining a series of recommendations to jumpstart economic activity and transform Congress Avenue from an underperforming corridor into “Delray’s next great street.”

More than 30 people volunteered for close to a year to craft a new updated plan building on an existing vision developed over a decade ago in reaction to the loss of Office Depot, which left a 40 acre hole in Delray.

The Task Force experience was awesome and the work they produced was excellent. One of our key recommendations was not to let the report sit and gather dust, but to immediately begin implementing the recommendations to take advantage of the economic cycle and to get traction for the updated vision. Specifically, we recommended that the Task Force morph into an implementation group, like was done in the early 2000s to ensure that the Downtown Master Plan would be more than just an exercise in talking.

In other words, here’s the report, get moving, get things done.

Once you start to see progress, you build momentum. You send a message to the private sector that you are serious about progress, not just flapping your gums.

So it’s disappointing to see that six months later, the report is being “filed and accepted”—whatever that means. I sure hope we didn’t waste the valuable time of the volunteers. I’ve heard that the city is issuing an RFP and budgeting big bucks for an outside firm to write the master plan.

Like Ms. Anderson said: why not save the money and get your Planning Department to do it? Again, this effort is not creating something entirely new. We are talking about building on zoning and codes already adopted over a decade ago. Why not update the LDR’s with the new thinking of the task force, clean up the language that no longer makes sense and get moving?

It will save money and time. The Task Force did the heavy lifting—pro bono out of a love for Delray and a belief in the vision. Let our planners do the rest and then let’s start marketing the corridor.