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Tails And Dogs And Nietzsche Too

Blazing interpretations

Blazing interpretations

“Tragedy is when I cut my finger,” said Mel Brooks. “Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”

“To err is human, to blame shows management potential”—Anonymous.


Was it Nietzsche who said there are no facts, only interpretations? It’s been 30 years since my philosophy class in college so I don’t remember much, but here is my interpretation of an important topic: City/CRA relations.

After nearly two years of trying to figure out what to do with the Delray CRA—arguably the most accomplished in the state—it seems that there might be a détente between the city and the agency.

By détente—I mean an uneasy peace. Because when one entity is all powerful and shows a fundamental gratitude gap it’s hard to rest easy if you are the weaker player. In this case, the big bad CRA– with all its money, awards, track record of achievement and vision– is far weaker than the city—even if the city is wheezing, which it is. (My interpretation).

I am not an unbiased observer of this drama. My wife ran the agency for many years and I have been a fan of the CRA since moving to Delray in the 80s. If you feel this disclosure disqualifies my opinion or interpretation—jump off here because I’d like to share some thoughts.

If I had to make a list of the things I like most about Delray—and I am passionate about this city—I would be hard pressed to name something that our CRA hasn’t at least touched. From our downtown and Old School Square to our library and our attractive streetscape the CRA has played an integral role in creating value and quality of life in our community.

So if you love Delray it makes sense that you would appreciate the role the CRA has played over the past 30 years in helping transform Delray from blighted to pretty special—not perfect but pretty damn good. Now I get that there are people who don’t like what happened here and their views are legitimate and understandable. But I would bet that most people like or even love Delray Beach.  Regardless, our CRA has been a big player in the city’s evolution for 30 years.

When he was first elected, Mayor Glickstein referred to the CRA as the “New York Yankees”—and as a Yankee fan I interpreted that as a compliment. After all, no franchise has won more World Series than the Bronx Bombers.

But to some, the Yankees are the Darth Vader of sports, the evil empire loaded with big bucks and an ability to land prized free agent talent with the stroke of a check. Maybe to some– the Delray CRA by virtue of its large budget and sizable impact –is seen as a threat or a competitor.

I have heard senior city staff and a few elected officials complain about all the money the CRA has and I even watched a comical/sad financial presentation that laid out a dire budget picture for the city, despite rising property values, healthy reserves, untapped revenue opportunities and a strong bond rating.

But of course, the clouds turn into a sunny day if (only) we didn’t have a CRA that sucked up all the money that could flow into the city’s coffers—because we all know how wisely and efficiently the city spends money (see consultants and outside attorneys). The city is certainly smarter and more efficient than the CRA right?

Well, not exactly. And that’s not on a knock on my city.

I love my city. I truly do. In fact, I love it enough to criticize it.

I think City Hall is struggling right now. And I think it has been struggling for a while.

It doesn’t bring me joy to write that sentence. But pretending that all is well doesn’t make it so.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t outstanding people at all levels who work for our city—because there are and many of them have shared with me their frustration. I believe them. And I believe in them. Always have, always will.

It also doesn’t mean that everything is broken—because it’s not. But there are issues my friends. There is tension, instability, silos and a fundamental disconnect between the city and some key volunteer leadership in this town.

There are long time stakeholders and many newcomers who feel estranged from their city government. There are many who feel that there is a lack of alignment and true dialogue with key institutions, a lack of transparency surrounding some key decisions and perhaps different goals and visions.

I’m sure that sentence will rub some the wrong way. That’s Ok; I’m willing to state what others are whispering or talking about behind closed doors. We can pretend or we can be real. There is no currency in pretense but there is opportunity in candor. Opportunity to heal; opportunity to empathize, opportunity to compromise and find solutions.

Let’s stick with the example of the CRA for a little while longer.

Over the past two years the CRA spent money on consultants and studies to justify its existence—despite 30 years of accomplishment that should be plain for all to see.

  • A vibrant, nationally renowned downtown
  • A thriving Pineapple Grove district
  • Investment south of the avenue
  • More than $60 million invested on the West Atlantic Corridor and the northwest and southwest neighborhoods
  • A  beautified Federal Highway (landscaping needs to be looked at for better sightlines) but it looks and feels better.
  • A Community Land Trust and other housing initiatives that have upgraded neighborhoods and given families a decent place to live.
  • A beautified Northwest and Southwest 5th Avenue

Private investment ranging from Atlantic Grove and the Fairfield Inn to the proposed iPic and Uptown Delray projects.

And the list goes on and on and on.

Getting rid of the CRA or messing around with its boundaries would risk $6.5 to $7 million of county money that flows to Delray every year; funds that would go elsewhere if we didn’t have a CRA. We could have saved both time and money on consultants and studies if we had just understood that pretty basic fact.

Since its inception in 1985, just about every mayor and city commissioner viewed the CRA as a partner, a teammate. They saw the CRA’s success as a point of civic pride. They saw their money as another wallet in the same pair of pants. After all, the CRA doesn’t collect TIF monies and spend it in Boynton or Boca —nope they spend it in our city. Now, you may not like or agree with where or how the money was spent. But it wasn’t spent in a vacuum. It was spent in service to a vision, a citizen driven vision.

For most of its tenure, the CRA has worked to implement a plan—crafted by their board and in service to community driven plans adopted by the city. Therefore, the agency was considered a valuable tool—not a competitor starving the city for money and glory, but rather a partner and a trusted one at that.

But that somehow changed and that’s sad in more ways that I can enumerate. So I guess I am glad to see that CRA Director Jeff Costello and City Manager Don Cooper have figured out a way to pay for the CRA to pay for more city projects and expenses—just like they always have, maybe even more so going forward.

But I was puzzled when I read in the online Boca Magazine that the Manager felt that past spending was “piecemeal”—I’m not sure what that means exactly. But it intimates that maybe the CRA was just spending “willy nilly”—after all some synonyms for piecemeal are fragmented, spasmodic, disconnected and haphazard.

Maybe the manager misspoke because the spending was anything but. Now again,  you may not like what the money was spent on—the gateway feature, Old School Square, the Eagles Nest project with Atlantic High, Carolyn Holder Court (an affordable senior housing project) or the tennis tournament. But others liked those projects and most of them came out of community plans or public input; including the tennis tournament. The radical thinking was if you have a stadium you ought to put something in it.

Just because you weren’t around doesn’t mean the projects were piecemeal.

The same piece quoted the Mayor on the long term relationship between the City and CRA. Here’s what he reportedly said: “the CRA tail had been wagging the city dog. Now, the city is guiding the CRA.”

Guiding or dictating, I guess it’s all semantics or optics. Not sure which.

But I happen to disagree with the tail wagging analogy.

Since its inception the city and citizens have guided the CRA—but it’s been a partnership, a collaboration and a successful one at that.

As mentioned before, the CRA is a tool and has been used effectively to fund and implement citizen driven visions and plans. But it’s also been a quasi- independent agency—with smart board members who focus solely on redevelopment. As such, they sometimes have an independent idea and that’s usually a good thing.

The city can always object, call a foul or walk across the street and ask questions if they see something they don’t like or understand. It’s a relationship—relationships require communication and good relationships require agreement on goals and objectives. They also require mutual trust and respect. It’s also OK to disagree here and there.

This relationship –starting under Mayor Campbell –has worked pretty well. Take a look around, we’ve come a long way.

It’s been peaceful, not piece meal.

And wagging tails aside, it’s been a great tale indeed. At least that’s my interpretation.

A Reminder

matthewBefore we in Florida turn the page on Hurricane Matthew there are a few lessons to learn or relearn.
We were fortunate–this time.
But only has to look at Haiti and North Carolina to see how dangerous nature can be and how a storm can alter a community or a nation forever.
I had the unique experience of being mayor the last time we were hit by a major hurricane.
So I had a bird’s eye view of our city’s response to a series of storms that did hit us in 2004 and 2005. Wilma was the worst. But the others took a toll as well.
People lost roofs and homes, power and their patience. Business was disrupted and many communities were left with an immense amount of debris and residents desperately in need of food, water, ice and prescription medications.
It was a major challenge. And I was incredibly impressed with our city’s response.

We were ready. And city staff did a great getting the city back on its feet.
Our fire and police departments were stretched to the max but performed magnificently–keeping neighborhoods safe, responding to emergencies and quickly assessing damage in every nook and cranny of the city.
Our Parks, Public Works. Code Enforcement and Environmental Services departments rose to the occasion: clearing roads, removing debris, ensuring that lift stations worked and managing critical infrastructure.
The city manager and department heads working out of the Emergency Operations Center at the Fire Department showed poise and exhibited exemplary team work.
They were ready and it showed.
Training, table top exercises and policies in our Comprehensive Plan that addressed natural disasters enabled our city to get back on its feet.
I feel the need to revisit the past because of statements made at last week’s commission workshop which included a debrief of the storm. At the meeting, the mayor repeated several times that the city never had a “coherent” emergency plan in place until now. He’s wrong.
We did. And it needs to be said because it’s disrespectful to past managers, chiefs and rank and file staff to suggest we didn’t.
Personnel did not panic or run around cluelessly. They performed professionally, indeed heroically in many cases.
How do I know? Because I was there –for all of the storms. The current mayor was not.
If there is a better plan in place today hallelujah and congratulations. There should be a better plan in place today than in 2004-05 or in 1992 when Andrew threatened us before heading south. We are supposed to learn from experience and apply new knowledge to challenges.

But it is not necessary to disparage in order to progress. I felt the need to say that after hearing from a few retirees who let me know about the comments. They didn’t like them because they are professionals and they took pride in protecting our city. And guess what? They did. Very well I might add. Extremely well.
We caught a break this time. Eleven years ago we didn’t. And staff worked around the clock to get us back on our feet. It wasn’t easy. It was hot and it was stressful.  But they knew what they were doing. We were proud of their efforts, very proud and residents were grateful. I hope that was a coherent response.

Ok, onward and upward.
Now –11 years of experience and know how later–I’m not surprised that we remain prepared. If buildings need to be built or improved just do it. It’s a good investment.
FPL is also better prepared as result of a decade of investment and technology and local businesses seem to have also heeded the call with generators and planning which enabled them to restock shelves and replenish gas supplies quickly.
It seems like many homeowners have also stepped up adding better shutters and buying generators.
Many people didn’t heed the call to evacuate. Endangering themselves and first responders.
Many people struggled with decade old shutters (guilty) because they weren’t used or maintained over the years.
And I ran across a few people who seemed oddly disappointed that the storm missed us.
They complained about how hard they worked to get ready  only to see the storm pass us by.
We won’t always be lucky. I hope we realize that.
So prepare anyway.
And take comfort that we’ve met the challenge before and we will again.

We Stand For What We Tolerate


Politics on the national level has become a cesspool.

Not a locker room—a cesspool: defined as a foul and putrid place.

Mean, disrespectful, devoid of truth and full of anger, vitriol and hatred.

And once the invective is spread into the atmosphere and billions of dollars are spent, guess what? Not much happens.

Very few problems are solved.

Very few opportunities are seized.

And that, my friends is where the source of anger and frustration resides.

Washington long ago lost the plot. The whole concept of helping people and building a great nation has been overwhelmed by obstruction, intransigence and an inability to get anything done.

It has become a cycle of pathology and it’s boiling over and threatening the greatest nation in the history of the world.

You’d think with all the Ivy League degrees and privileged pedigrees that run around Washington that the political class might just figure things out.

The Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump—all are reactions to problems left unaddressed and political dysfunction. People are angry and they have every right to be.

I no longer have small children, but I don’t think I would have let them watch the debate last week if I did.

This is not a slam on Trump or on Hillary—because their candidacies are merely symptoms. There would be no room for a brash maverick to come to our rescue if Congress was taking care of business. And if you think Hillary is a horrible human being–fine– but then shouldn’t we wonder why our best and our brightest aren’t attracted to politics anymore?

Why has politics become a dirty word? Why has compromise become a sign of weakness? Why is civility and respect no longer demanded or respected of people who seek the highest office in the land? Or any office for that matter?

Shouldn’t politics be a form of public service? After all, the definition of politics is: “the theory and practice of government, especially the activities associated with governing, with obtaining legislative or executive power, or with forming and running organizations connected with government.”

Therefore, a good politician is someone skilled in the practice of government; someone who can get results hopefully those that help our nation. We need more good politicians. The ones we have are lousy.

But we have demonized the word politician and yet we scratch our head when demons seek power.

Our politics have become so toxic that they actually cause stress and anxiety.

Time magazine and The Atlantic recently devoted entire pieces to the topic recently.

From The Atlantic:

Stephen Holland has practiced clinical psychology for more than a quarter century. He has done so in Washington, D.C., for more than two decades. He has never seen an election like this one.

“I’d say probably two-thirds to three-quarters of our patients are mentioning their feelings about the election in session,” he said.

So it is, perhaps, with every election. Robert Leahy, director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, said that therapist appointments anecdotally rise every election season. But 2016 seems to be something else entirely. “

Wouldn’t it be nice if elections were inspiring rather than dreadful?

This is the first election that my son, a recent college graduate, has focused on intensely. What he has seen scares him and he’s worried about his future as a result. My take: it may get so bad that we will have no choice but to fix Washington. But it seems we are still in the throes of a hissy fit and so solutions won’t happen until it gets so bad we won’t be able to stand it anymore.

Meanwhile, I think the best place to innovate and solve problems is at the local level.

So counties and cities that have their act together can make positive things happen in areas of importance to people: education, job creation, quality of place, public safety, transportation the environment etc.

This week, the Knight Foundation opened up its latest funding round called the “Knight Challenge for Cities” seeking to provide grants to cities that concentrate on the three areas the foundation sees as essential drivers for success: attracting and keeping talent, expanding economic opportunity, and creating a culture of civic engagement.

It’s an interesting list and one backed by studies done by the foundation and other researchers. But the nature of those drivers is distinctly local.

So there is great hope for cities—but that’s accompanied by a big ‘if.’

Local politics is not immune from the cesspool and toxicity. And on a local level– where you bump into combatants at Publix and downtown—it can get personal and nasty in a hurry.

I have been following local politics for 30 years. I remember when local campaigns got by on shoe string budgets and when volunteers filled envelopes with mail pieces that actually contained ideas and position statements.

I keep a pile of recent campaign mail on a credenza near my desk. I don’t look at it every day, but it’s there as a reminder for me and for visitors who sometimes drop by to talk local politics.

If you didn’t know anything about Delray and were just handed the pile you would think the city was war torn Beirut not a municipal success story that went from blighted to national recognition.

But in recent cycles big bucks have been spent trashing candidates and the city itself.

Years ago, every negative candidate who ran against the city and against progress, got whupped.

These days it’s a race to the bottom with voters (who are vanishing despite a growing population) forced to choose between negative candidates. Ugh.

And shame on the candidates for signing off on that crap.

But most of all, shame on us for tolerating it.

Want better candidates and better debates—demand it.

Hold elected officials accountable and support those who have ideas, experience and passion for the community. You may actually find a few if you create a culture that would encourage those types of people to run.

I hear from scores of people unhappy with the local political scene. They should be, because it’s sorely lacking.

But there are plenty of really good people around who would make fine elected officials; they just aren’t running because of the toxicity. The best and brightest don’t need it—they have other ways to spend their valuable time.

But when you get a gem, someone brave enough to enter the arena with ideas, compassion, vision, courage, kindness and strength make sure you support and protect them. Stand up to the negativity and the trolls and you might just see a better culture take shape and with it more quality candidates.

Sadly, we may not be able to fix Washington all that easily. But we can always fix the home front, but only if we choose to do so.







Strategy + Team=Success


I’m a big fan of Fred Wilson.

He’s a highly regarded NYC based venture capitalist who writes a fascinating blog on investing and technology.

This time of year, he’s spending his time in board meetings planning for the upcoming year.

When you are involved in a successful enterprise, board meetings are exciting. It’s fun to talk about growth and expanding market share. But when you are in struggling enterprise, board meetings can be very challenging and often stressful.

Wilson believes the keys to success are having a strategy and building a winning team. Here’s what he has to say:

“You have to get the strategy right and you have to have a team that can execute it without your day to day involvement. The CEOs that I work with that are struggling are usually running into issues with their team and/or their strategy. And the CEOs that I work with that are doing great generally have gotten the strategy set and have built a strong executive team underneath them.

This sounds so simple. But it is not.

Most of the companies I work with didn’t really start out with a strategy. They started out with an idea that turned into a great product that found a fit with a market. And they jumped on that and used it to build a company. Most of them wake up at some point and realize that a single product in a single market is not a strategy and they need to come up with a plan to get a lot bigger and build a sustainable and defensible business. I like to think that this is one place where a good investor group can help. If we are doing our job, we push our portfolio companies to work on their long term strategy and refine it to the point where it makes sense and is executable. But an investor group cannot give a company a strategy. It has to come from the founder/CEO and a small group of senior leaders. The smaller the group that is working on strategy, the better. Strategy is not something that can be done by committee.

The second thing, building an executive team that can execute the plan without day to day involvement of the CEO, is even harder. Most of the companies I work with go through a lot of hiring mistakes on the way to building this team. Some hire too junior. Some hire too senior. Some hire bad cultural fits. Some hire people that are nothing but cultural fit. And an investor or investor group can help with this but I believe that founders/CEOs need to learn how to do this themselves and make these mistakes. The best thing an investor group can do is to help a founder/CEO to understand when they have the wrong person in the job. Or help them understand that more quickly.

These are both areas where experience is huge. The CEOs I work with who have done the job multiple times get these two things right much more quickly. But even they can take a year or two to get these right. First time CEOs often take three or four years to get these things right. But sticking with founders who are first time CEOs through this process is usually worth it because they have a connection to the initial vision and mission that a hired CEO has a hard time replicating. There is not a good rule of thumb on this issue (who should run the company). Facts and circumstances on the ground will generally determine how that should go.


My final point on this is that once you have the strategy and team locked down, you should step back and let the machine do its thing. I like to say that CEOs should do only three things; recruit and retain the team, build and evolve the long term strategy and communicate it effectively and broadly in the organization and externally, and make sure the company doesn’t run out of money. When those are the only things you are doing, you are doing the job right. Very few CEOs get to focus on only these three things all of the time. Things break and you have to fix them. But when the machine is working and you can step back and watch it hum, it is a thing of beauty.”


This blog likes to focus on cities and there is a real parallel between what Wilson is talking about and building a successful community. And there are some differences.

First, strategy can be substituted for a community vision and while for business Wilson recommends a small group be involved in crafting strategy, in a city it helps if you have as many stakeholders involved as possible. It’s the job of elected leadership to prioritize, hone and drive the vision and it’s the job of city staff to implement in a timely and efficient manner.

But cities get in trouble when there is no strategy, vision or plan. And they get in trouble when egotistical leaders decide to keep their own counsel and cut themselves off from input or debate.

They also get in trouble when they decide to micromanage and delve into the day to day operations of the city. If you find that you are doing this, you need to stop. If you find that you need to do this because your staff can’t or won’t execute, you need to get new staff. But elected officials need to stay in their policymaking box (which is plenty big) and allow staff to do their jobs. Ideally, you should try to create a culture of experimentation and innovation not fear.

If staff can feel confident enough to think outside the box and solve problems legally, ethically and efficiently you will succeed. If they feel bullied, micromanaged and or afraid to make a mistake you have created a culture that will fail to solve problems or seize opportunities. Your best talent will flee, you will not be able to attract top tier talent and you will turn lemonade into a lemon.

I happen to believe in outcomes over process. That does not mean that process is not important or that you shouldn’t have a process. But it does mean that outcomes are more important— as long as you act legally, ethically and morally.

It shouldn’t take three weeks to type a basic building permit. It shouldn’t take a year to approve a mixed use development. It shouldn’t require an act of Congress or a deity to get a parking agreement and or a developer agreement. If it does, you got a problem.

Strategy and team; you need them both. One doesn’t work without the other. And if you are deficient with either or both, you have major problems and you cannot succeed.



Keepers of the Flame

Jan Gehl--cities for people

Jan Gehl–cities for people

Jan Gehl is an award winning Danish architect who has worked on high profile projects all over the world.

Recently, he visited the Harvard Design School to discuss the role of politics and leadership in driving improvement in cities.

In his experience, he believes “the personal factor is very strong in bringing about transformative urban changes”.

Gehl’s new book New City Spaces talks about nine cities that have really turned things around, and in nearly all of the cases, it started with some centrally placed person or torchbearer who had a vision. It might have been the mayor of Curitiba, the longstanding director of urban design in Melbourne, or the mayor in Strasbourg. In Copenhagen, the city architect, city engineer, and mayor worked together, and in Portland it was more or less the Greens winning the election in 1968 that brought significant change, according to Gehl.

“It (transformative changes) could come from the bottom or above, but very seldom did it grow out of the day-to-day administration of the cities. It was often a force from the outside, or a new officer or a new politician.”

Interesting and I have no doubt that Gehl is correct in his diagnosis of the cities he has studied.

But I would argue that another model—outside the hero mayor or architect narrative—is citizen driven planning or visioning. Delray used this transformational model effectively from the late 80s until the mid 2000s for plans relating to the downtown, neighborhoods, culture, education and parks.

It works.

In many cases, change is driven by a threat or by conditions that are so poor, they drive people to organize and push for reform. In Delray’s case, the threat was a plan by the Florida Department of Transportation to widen Atlantic Avenue to facilitate hurricane evacuation and a downtown that was vacant, dark and dead. While this may not be the best week to argue against the evacuation idea, it was widely believed that if FDOT was successful we would have lost our downtown forever. Instead of being a narrow, pedestrian friendly street promoting slow traffic, the avenue would have been a highway—good for evacuation– bad for urbanism.

I’m hoping the new effort relating to the city’s update of its Comprehensive Plan is more like an old school visioning exercise than a top down exercise designed to check a box for the sake of optics because community visioning is critically important and so is the Comp Plan.

Gehl is correct when he notes that transformation rarely grows out of day- to -day administration.

Same goes for business.

When you’re leading or running a city or a business, you really have two considerations: the day to day and the future. You have to consider both or you are doomed to failure or disruption.

So yes when a citizen calls to complain about a tree branch you need to respond. But, you also should be thinking about your tree canopy and whether you have planned your open spaces well enough. Leadership requires taking care of the present and planning for the future.

In a council-manager form of government, in which the mayor’s position is supposed to be strictly policymaking and part-time (the part-time part is a fallacy, trust me), you can’t wait for a hero with a vision to come to the rescue. It’s up to the citizens to take responsibility, but leadership is critical. The best leaders seek input, constantly engage, try their best to raise the level of conversation and once adopted become the chief evangelists and defenders of the vision. Staff implements, leaders drive the vision.

And believe me; the vision will need defending and driving because change is never easy nor universally accepted especially if your vision is ambitious and not boring or incremental.

Every city aspires to be a great place to live, work and play—but the devil as they say is in the details. Vibrancy requires activity and public spaces may need to be activated and that may mean noise and people.

Change while often resisted is also inevitable. So you can count on your vision being challenged on a regular basis. The best leaders are guardians of the flame. If they resist the urge to cave when the critics emerge and trust in the people’s vision your plan will gain traction and soar. But if they capitulate—the vision will die and along with it any chance of meaningful change. Oh and you’ll lose the trust of citizens who helped to forge the vision and counted on you—the elected leader—to ensure it moves forward.

That’s a high price to pay. Many cities do. And they are the ones who are either left behind or caught and passed by other cities.

What’s at stake? Quality of life, quality of place, property values and whether or not you can provide opportunities for all.

In other words…just about everything.

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


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.



Million. Dollars.


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.