Connections Make or Break Communities

This column is devoted to volunteers and the Delray Beach Police Department.
We are lucky to have both.
A generation ago, in a city that seems far, far away from the Delray of today, the Police Department made voluntarism a major objective.
It changed everything.
Back in the 80s, the perception of the PD might have been the biggest issue in town.
That changed with the advent of “community policing” a philosophy that sought to engage the community in crime fighting by asking officers to get out of their patrol cars and get to know the neighborhoods. In turn, residents and business owners also had a role. They were asked to work with the department. Public safety is best achieved in partnership. When there is trust, communication, honesty, collaboration and relationships progress is virtually guaranteed. When those elements are missing you are inviting trouble.

So this story is about two people who embody both sides of the coin.
One was a volunteer and the other is a sworn officer and a real good one at that.
Charles Goldberg died Jan. 14.  He was in his 90s, had moved out of Delray to be near his children but I kept in touch with him on Facebook.
I will tell you that keeping in touch with wonderful people across the years and miles is a lot better use of social media than whining about petty local politics.
But I digress.
I absolutely adored Charlie.
So did everyone.
He always had a smile. He always had a kind word. He was a lovely, kind and happy man.
And he was wired to volunteer.
There really is a  lot of truth to the notion of a “greatest generation.”
After 9/11–after it was discovered that many of the terrorists were living in Delray we were frightened. Next door in Boca, there was anthrax. It was a remarkably tense time.
Officer Skip Brown, our volunteer coordinator at the time, came up with a brilliant idea. Let’s protect the Homefront by creating a force that would patrol sensitive and valuable public assets like the water plant, City Hall, the library and other potential targets.
Many, if not most of the Homefront security patrol were World War II veterans. Skip designed sharp uniforms with berets and provided training.
Charlie was an instant volunteer and an instant star.
For years he patrolled–serving as eyes and ears with other wonderful volunteers.
When I was elected mayor he would visit me in my office on the second floor of City Hall and he always greeted me with a smile, a kind word and a promise: “I have your back young man. Don’t worry about a thing.”
And so he did.
There are smiles and then there are smiles. And friends, Charlie’s smile belonged in the Hall of Fame.
Thinking of him will always make me smile–and knowing that I won’t see that smile on Facebook anymore brought a tear to my eye as I wrote this.
I adored him.
More importantly, he adored us. And he served us. Very very well.

It was gratifying to see the volunteer tradition continue this week as I saw Scott Westall recognized for his tireless efforts. Scott is a terrific guy (and his wife is pretty terrific too). It makes you proud to live here.

Which brings me to my friend Gary Ferreri.
I had the privilege to attend the PD’s quarterly awards ceremony this week which featured an array of awards and promotions and even recognition of two newly sworn officers.
I wish these ceremonies were televised because they’re great. And taxpayers would benefit by seeing and hearing about their officers.
Among the awards given were lifesaving recognition to officers who helped save a woman who stabbed herself multiple times in the neck and chest and an officer who jumped into Lake Ida to save a face down motionless 81 year old man who fell in and almost drowned while fishing. All in a day’s work…
We saw a deserving John Crane-Baker promoted to captain and then watched as Detective Ferreri was promoted to sergeant in front of many many adoring friends, family and fans.
Gary is a good guy. I’ve been watching him for a while now and I’m impressed.
He’s a natural leader, smart, dedicated and devoted to the community, his department and his fellow officers.
I enjoy watching promising leaders grow and it’s gratifying to see someone you believe make a difference and be rewarded.
When I think of the best officers I have known over the years, they come in a variety of styles. There’s tough and gruff with a big heart, there’s smart and strategic and there’s in between.
But what they all have in common is authenticity. They aren’t fake. They are passionate about their work and the communities they serve.
Gary has passion in abundance.  For his job, for his community, for his fellow officers.
He has a feel for people which is why he connects to the community and why so many came to see him get his sergeants stripes.
Connection. That’s what it’s about.
Relationships, trust, respect, communication and consideration.
As Maya Angelou once said: long after they’ve forgotten what you’ve done, they’ll remember how you made them feel.
Gary knows how to connect. And that’s why he will enjoy an impactful career.
He’s real. And that’s everything.

Realizing The Dream

mlkday

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Today, we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King believed that America could be a beacon for every other nation on Earth. The United States could extend opportunity to everyone regardless of their skin color or identity.
He believed that America would reach its potential if we created a society where people were judged not on the basis of the color of their skin but on the content of their character.

It’s a powerful idea and an enduring one.
Dr. King wished for and worked toward a post racial society. He gave his life in pursuit of his ideals.
Rep. John Lewis gave his blood.

The  Atlanta area Congressman was in the news over the weekend when he questioned the legitimacy of the presidential election and was in turn criticized for being all talk and no action. This blog does not wade into national politics but suffice it to say that spilling your blood for a cause qualifies as action.
Regardless of where you stand politically, race is never far from the American conversation. And so as we mark MLK Day 2017 and remember the remarkable life, words and achievements of Dr. King we also must acknowledge that living in a post racial society remains elusive.

New York Times arts critic Wesley Morris says we are actually living in a “most racial society”.
In discussing the incredible artistry of playwright August Wilson Morris writes:  “We’re living in an identity first culture and a time in which those identities are being pitted against one another for political sport.”
Indeed.
I have lived in Delray Beach for nearly 30 years and race is a major factor in the history, present and future of our city.
It lies at the heart of the failure of our commission to abide by our charter and appoint a replacement for a departing commissioner and it figures prominently in discussions relating to development, jobs, public spending, policing,  elections and representation in our community.
While we are a diverse community and while we rightly celebrate that fact, we remain extremely segregated in our churches, neighborhoods, friendships, sports leagues and community organizations.
It was the first thing I noticed moving here from New York in 1987–because it is stark and unavoidable.
When I served as mayor, I pushed a race relations initiative that had its triumphs and its failures because I sensed a desire for unity and because I was convinced that conversations and dialogue might bring people closer together. When people get together and look each other in the eye (as neighbors seldom do these days) they quickly realize that they share more in common than they might otherwise believe. They aspire on behalf of their children, they worry about their jobs and finances. They just want to get home safe.

We used to hold “study circles” to foster dialogue and community dinners too–where neighborhoods that ordinarily wouldn’t interact got together to eat and talk. These were simple things, but to this day,  a decade or more later I still run into people who enjoyed those dinners and long for the interaction. In a world where we hide behind screens and keyboards and pass judgment on people we don’t know, these simple human activities are more valuable than ever and in danger of being lost as we segregate ourselves with groups and people who look and think like us.
On the spectrum of Dr. King’s vision of a post racial society and today’s “most” racial society I fall decidedly on the side of MLK.
But while dialogue is essential and important, action is critical.
I have seen lots of progress in many areas over the past 30 years and some areas where we are plain stuck.
Tens of millions of dollars have been invested in neighborhoods once ignored. Attempts have been made and are being made to bring jobs and investment to areas of town that have experienced blight and flight.
Much of that investment has been made as a result of citizen visions and political leadership. That’s action. And we ought to be proud of it. Not many cities can match our record.
But more needs to be done, should be done and I believe will be done.
But the progress will be sustained  only if we tear down barriers that divide us.
I’m not referring to branding and identity efforts which seek to enhance pride and marketability.
But rather attitudes that define investment as a zero sum game or people who seek to pit one group against the other to serve their narrow and selfish needs. Be wary of people who label, divide, bully–especially those who claim to speak for the majority. They most often do not.
MLK’s life was also devoted to economic empowerment and opportunity.
Part of “the dream” was to see our children thrive in a society that offered abundant opportunities for all.
I have longed believed that once the capital investment was made in streets, parks and housing we could focus on the immense human capital that exists in Delray Beach.
Initiatives that focus on health, education, entrepreneurship, technology, leadership and the local economy are available to us and can and should involve the private sector.
The potential is limitless. The opportunities are boundless.
We live in a small city that I call America in 16 square miles.

We’re a fascinating blend. We have come a long way. We have proven that progress is possible.
I remain a believer.

That the best is yet to come. That the dream is not only possible but that it’s more desirable and relevant than ever.
It’s up to us to turn the dream into reality. We know how to do it.

A Bountiful Harvest

harvest_logo-220We finally had a chance to visit Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar a few weeks back.

Over the weekend, we went back and happily saw many people we knew and one we recognized, former tennis champion Jim Courier.

Harvest is the new restaurant at Delray Place and it’s been on my to do list ever since I met the GM at the Chamber’s holiday party.
She seemed nice and she handed me a voucher for a free flatbread. She had me at flatbread.
Still, it took a couple of weeks to make it to Harvest.
It was worth the wait.
The restaurant is beautiful and warm with fireplaces and dark wood.
The menu is full of healthy low calorie choices sourced from local farms and producers like Old School Bakery, Heritage Farms, Saltwater Brewery and Barrel of Monks.
Delray Place elicits a lot of comments among people I know.
There’s not enough parking…
It’s weird looking…
It’s a great looking …
I love Trader Joe’s…
What’s up with Trader Joe’s…
You get the picture.
But here’s what I thought as we walked around after dinner and read a sign for a new business called “Local Greens”: how cool is this?
I also had this thought. I’ve lived here nearly 30 years and never before have we had so many great places to visit.
So many great local businesses here and in Boca too.
Top notch restaurants, great hotels, nice shops, terrific grocery store options, really cool arts venues and nice parks and recreational facilities. It wasn’t always this way.
Which brings me back to Harvest.
As a noun, harvest means the time of year when crops are ripe and ready to be gathered. The picked crop is also called a harvest: a bumper crop is a plentiful harvest, and a poor harvest is when things didn’t grow as well as expected.
I think we grew up to be a nice place. I would label it a bumper crop. 
We can focus on what we don’t have –which I tell my kids is a recipe for unhappiness– or we can appreciate the gifts we’ve been given or those that we’ve earned. 
Gratitude is so important. 
We have an awful lot to be thankful for.

To Walk In Their Shoes

policememorial

Imagine this job description.
You wake up, get dressed, say goodbye to your family and you’re really not sure you will make it home without getting in a fight, encountering the most dangerous people imaginable, getting sued, videotaped or even shot and killed.
Many people respect what you do, but others despise you just because of your uniform.
You work holidays, weekends, midnight shifts… your every move and action scrutinized. Make a mistake (or even if you don’t) and people might get hurt or killed.
The clothes you wear to work can be uncomfortable, bulky and hot.  People can’t help but stare wherever you go. You can’t have a quiet lunch or walk into a store without drawing attention–sometimes welcome, sometimes not.
You do this for a grand a week before taxes, on average. And over the years you might get injured or watch your body break down from the nature of the work. Emotionally you also pay a price. Your gig is stressful, you see things most people never have to see.
You do get to retire in 20 or 30 years, when you’re relatively young and you do get a pension in most cases. But then again you find that many begrudge your pension and you’ll find that in most cases you will have to find work because while a pension is a good thing for most it’s not enough to make ends meet.
You are a police officer.
 And some days are worse than others. Yesterday was one of the bad days. A very bad day.
Two officers were lost in Orlando Monday.
Words can’t describe how horrible that is.
They were doing their jobs and now they’re gone.
An Orlando police sergeant was shot and killed after approaching a suspect wanted for questioning in the murder of his pregnant ex-girlfriend, and a second law enforcement officer was killed in a motorcycle crash while responding to a massive manhunt for the suspect.
Master Sgt. Debra Clayton, 42, was killed outside a Wal-Mart and Orange County Sheriff’s Office Deputy First Class Norman Lewis was killed in a crash while responding to a manhunt for the suspect.
Sgt Clayton was only 42 years old. She was a highly respected officer, a mentor to kids, a wife and a mother. It’s a huge loss.
Deputy Lewis was only 35, with 11 years on the job. He was a former UCF football player; described as a gentle giant by colleagues. He was struck by a van while on his motorcycle responding to the manhunt.
I’ve known many officers, most of them from Delray Beach. I’ve ridden with them, interviewed them, negotiated with them, been friends with them and admired them.
I’ve seen them work some miracles in neighborhoods and make our city safe for investment. It wasn’t always so. Delray was a risky bet.
Truth is, there would have been no Delray rebirth without our Police Department. 
But for all they’ve done their job just doesn’t get easier. In fact, it gets more and more complex. And dangerous too.
The crime and violence persists, so does the abuse they witness– physical abuse and drug abuse. They have a very hard job.  And their bad days–and yesterday was a horrible day–are simply beyond description. 
Pray for their safety. And for ours. 

Cash 4 Canines

A while back, we had lunch with JJ Ramberg.

If that name sounds familiar it’s because she’s the long time  host of MSNBC’s Your Business (my favorite show).

JJ is a founder and managing director of a cool company called GoodShop which allows you to shop and support your favorite causes. It’s an amazing company. Check it out at www.goodshop.com. There’s also an app that’s easy to use.

We’re going to focus on local Florida causes. Here’s the latest “shopfunding” campaign which supports a cause close to our hearts: rescues.

Please consider helping this great cause, which serves Florida’s east coast and has roots in Delray.
This week’s cause: Cash 4 Canines
Last July , Jennifer Sorrentino had a moment when she knew she had made the right decision to launch Cash 4 Canines. She looked into the eyes of an 11 year old German Shepherd named Sasha who was one day away from being euthanized. For 11 years Sasha been in good shape other than some arthritis. Within two weeks, Jennifer and her co-founder Tracy had found Sascha a loving forever home in the Melbourne Beach area of Florida.
Just one month later they saved yet another dog who was just hours away from being euthanized. They were told that Dr. House (who they renamed to Jake) was five years old and had a broken leg. Upon saving Jake, they took him to Affiliate Veterinary Specialists in Daytona Beach where they learned he was just 10 months old. The next morning the vets performed surgery to repair Jake’s leg and after an eight week recovery, he was adopted by a loving family in Cocoa Beach.
Jennifer and Tracy work tirelessly to help Jane, Sascha and other animals who without their care would not be with us today. Cash 4 Canines supplies all the food and the funds for all the medical care.
This week, we are highlighting the work they do. Please help these animals in need by joining their shopfunding campaign on Goodshop. Here are some of the stores offering deals and donating a portion of what you spend back to help Cash 4 Canines:
Horchow coupons — Find everything you need for your home and 4% will go back to the cause.
LL Bean deals – Get your outdoor gear and 2% will go back to the cause
Snapfish promo codes – Print out your holiday photos and up to 7% will go to Cash 4 Canines.

The Past Can Inform Our Future If…

 

Park Avenue in Winter Park.

Park Avenue in Winter Park.

In October 2014 I had the privilege of participating in a Urban Land Institute panel focusing on Winter Park.
ULI’s TAP program (Technical Assistance Program) brings outside help to communities seeking advice on how to seize an opportunity or address a vexing issue in their city.
It was a great honor to be chosen to participate, because I have long admired Winter Park and I’m a big fan of Bob Rhodes, who is a legend in Florida.

Bob was Chair for the Winter Park TAP and shortly after the exercise he was honored with a much deserved lifetime achievement award from Leadership Florida.

Led by Bob, the panel produced a document aimed at framing some issues that Winter Park was facing relating to downtown development and offering them some solutions to consider.
So it was interesting for me to return to the city two years later to see what was happening downtown.
We spent a day strolling, dining and shopping on Park Avenue over the holiday break.
It was a beautiful day and the street was bustling.
Park Avenue has a similar scale to Atlantic Avenue, mostly two and three story buildings. Winter Park has some distinct architecture and it’s streetscape is immaculate.
Gorgeous planters, attractive signage, cool little side streets and a lineal park that runs alongside Park Ave gives the city remarkable charm.
While Atlantic Avenue is restaurant heavy, Park Avenue is dominated by retail.
There are a fair amount of chain stores and franchises ranging from Gap for Kids and Restoration Hardware to Starbucks and Burger Fi.
But there’s also a decent number of independents—the feel is decidedly upscale but not pretentious.
It’s a vibrant street and just feels good.
What makes Winter Park interesting is it’s able to succeed as a counter to much larger Orlando which sits (looms) next door.
Orlando’s downtown has come a long way in recent years under the leadership of Mayor Buddy Dyer.

As a result, Orlando is now much more than just theme parks and vacation villas.
Still, Winter Park still feels like an oasis in Central Florida.

The city wants to keep that charm and I think it will. ULI was brought to the city as a result of a strong desire for Winter Park to remain special in a sea of sameness, sprawl and traffic.

We also visited Celebration which is known for its new urban layout and variety of architectural elevations.
Now 20 years old, Celebration looks better with a little age on it. A former Leadership Florida classmate was one of the developers of the landmark project–which has received a huge amount of press over the years– so I had some insight into the thinking that Disney was trying to achieve in Celebration. The goal was to replicate some of the best features of American town planning before cookie cutter design began to proliferate. Critics called it a “Stepford” community, almost too perfect to feel warm and authentic.
I remember visiting some years ago and it felt much more faux than it does today. It has aged well and even my kids–not usually attuned to such things–noticed how different the neighborhoods were in terms of design.
Celebration and Winter Park stick out in a region that is suffering from an acute case of sprawl with all of its attendant illnesses including choking traffic and soulless sameness.
I wish there were more places like Winter Park and our own Delray Beach.
I sense that there’s a large market of people who want a walkable lifestyle, distinct architecture, interesting shopping choices and good local restaurants. Throw in attractive open spaces and large doses of culture and educational opportunities and you have a recipe for enduring success. You also have a recipe for high housing costs, which price many people who would enjoy and contribute to these places out of the market. One answer is density–done well of course–which adds supply and is also better for the environment. But the “D” word is often a third rail in local politics and public officials unwilling to do the hard work of engaging the community in an education effort often abandon the types of development patterns that people long for and create value well beyond a bottom line.
Will cities like Winter Park and Delray change?
No doubt.
But as long as they keep their “bones” and scale intact they will continue to succeed.
We just need more communities to follow their lead. And more public officials willing to push for quality of design rather than simply judging projects based on numbers.

Community in an Age of Screens

We're a dot, but that dot means a lot.

We’re a dot, but that dot means a lot.

Maybe it was just the holidays.

I hope not.

But there seems to be a feeling in the air–a desire to reconnect, a hunger for progress and a passion for community taking root in Delray Beach again.

Everywhere I roam–the breakfast places, the Chamber, Old School Square, the Coffee District, downtown, holiday parties and in my email inbox–I’m hearing from people who are tired of feeling tired, angry at feeling angry and itching to feel productive again.

They want to build. They want to grow and prosper. They want to lead. They want to feel connected to something other than a smartphone screen.

They don’t want to simply see things happen, they want to make things happen.

We’ve been waiting a long time for this. Is it real or a mirage?

I guess we will see.

2016 for many people was not a very good year.

We lost a lot of icons–Ali, Bowie, Prince, John Glenn, George Michael on Christmas Day, Carrie Fisher and her mother just after Christmas.

The presidential election was brutal.

There’s opiate addiction, division, violence, racism, terrorism and hacking. I was hacked myself—as was a young man I mentor (and he mentors me). He ended up as part of an international news story, but that’s a tale for another day.

A writer I admire wrote this on Christmas Day. His name is Bob Lefsetz and he writes mostly about music, but also about life.

“I don’t know why we hate each other so much. I don’t know why certain people believe they have the answers. I don’t know why society has become so coarse.

But I do know at the end of the day we’re just people, here for a very short time. And what makes us feel best is to be part of a community.

Choose yours. Just be sure to join; to belong.  Because people will surprise you. When you’re down and out they’ll lend a hand. They’ll listen to you.”

Well we are about to find out.

There’s an election in March.

Two seats are up for grabs on a City Commission that is divided and angry with one another.

Already 8 candidates and maybe more are lining up.

This ought to be fun.

There are two ways this can play out.

We can have a somewhat civilized election focused on ideas or we can roll around in the gutter for a few months.

The last few election cycles have not been high water in marks in terms of political discourse.

You’d have thought we were living in war torn Libya based on the negativity; not a nice city with rising home values, a thriving downtown and amazing assets.

That’s not to say that there aren’t problems.

Opiate addiction, property crime and unsavory sober home operators are among the complex issues facing Delray.

A lack of middle class housing options, schools that continue to struggle and very high commercial rents are also challenges that deserve our attention.

Let’s see if any of these are addressed in the upcoming election.

All of the challenges we face require community to either overcome or improve. Nobody has all the answers—even if some pretend they do—but there’s no denying that cities, businesses and organizations function better when people work together. Dismiss that simple premise as sentimental claptrap, but it’s also true. A unified, focused and sustained community effort can and has made all the difference in this city.

The other “issues” we face and talk about are manufactured: i.e. self-imposed.  We choose function or dysfunction.

For example:

Civility is a choice.

Micromanaging  is a choice.

Being able to compromise is a choice.

Majoring in the minor is a choice.

Address those and you’ll be able to quickly stop the attrition at City Hall and begin to establish stability.

Whether we progress or decline is a choice.

If you want to see an iPic downtown you can make it happen.

If you want to settle a lawsuit–you can.

It’s really not that hard. Unless of course, you make it so. I’m afraid, that we have made it so.

****************************************************************************

A quick word about recent elections and endorsements.

A reader recently questioned my judgment in recent election cycles. That’s fair game. But before you draw a sweeping conclusion it’s helpful to know all of the facts as well as the context of the times.

But first a little background on what I’ve learned in observing local government for 30 plus years.

Truth is, being an elected official is the equivalent of an MRI. It reveals who you really are.

All of us have strengths and weaknesses and being an elected official will reveal both. There is no hiding in public office.

Hopefully your strengths outweigh your weaknesses and hopefully you can work on those weaknesses because public service provides a unique opportunity for personal growth and yes service to others, which sometimes gets lost.

The reader said she agreed with many of my views but felt that my endorsements in recent cycles contradicted my writing.

I appreciate the comment because it allows me to clear the air. (Wishful thinking?).

The only elected official currently serving that I have endorsed is the mayor, during his first run for office. I was off the team early after one group meeting and a few personal attempts to discuss areas of differences that didn’t go very far. These things happen—and while they are not happy occasions– life goes on.

In the last mayoral election, I voted for other items on the ballot, but I didn’t vote for either mayoral candidate even though I know both men and have considered them friends over the years. I was disappointed in the campaigns that both waged and have said so in this space several times and in personal conversations.

I feel they mischaracterized the state of our city, its history, its achievements and its character.

In prior years, I proudly endorsed Fred Fetzer, whom I served with against a candidate who I never heard of before (and never have seen since) and Gary Eliopoulos who is a close friend and deeply experienced in all things Delray. He’s also really funny and trust me when I say that we need humor in government.

I also endorsed another former colleague Pat Archer in her attempt at a comeback and my neighbor and friend Bruce Bastian who lacked a long local resume but whose calm demeanor and maturity would have been welcomed today. I watched my friend get unfairly labeled—in my opinion– but  I also understand that entering the kitchen means you sign up for the heat.

Ideally, we are able to choose candidates that have long track records of community involvement. Those are the candidates who know our city best and those we know best. Or we think we know….heavy sigh.

As I have mentioned earlier, there’s something about a commission seat that reveals layers we may not have seen before–some good, some not so good. And so sometimes we miss on the people we think we know. I wish I had better radar, because life would be far less painful. And I have questioned my judgment many times in an attempt to be better and to learn.

Why?

Because these things matter and they are important. And so when you tell friends that you are behind a candidate and that you believe in them, it’s a significant limb you are choosing to walk out on. It’s also a risk, because sometimes you are wrong. Sometimes the candidates don’t turn out to be who you thought or hoped they would be. And sometimes, you have to look in the mirror and say you missed. And sometimes you get fooled.

Not to minimize or skirt the issue, but I have learned that mistakes are seldom fatal and that success is never final.

My view is pretty basic. I’m a long term player. I don’t try and pick winners. I try and help the candidates I feel (emphasis on feel not know) will move the city forward.  I have backed people I knew would lose but they were– in my opinion anyway– the better candidate.

I’ve made some bad picks too, but as soon as I see someone veer off the rails into behavior I think will hurt Delray, I point it out.

It has cost me some relationships. No doubt about it.

Sometimes speaking your mind gets you banished—you wander the desert so to speak. But I’ve also learned that the truth is a stubborn thing, it tends to get in the way of rumors, misinformation and lies. In my book, I wrote about being the subject of criticism. As someone who likes to be liked, it was a hard lesson to learn. But I learned that while nobody has all the answers or is always right, if you know who you are and have the right motivations—for example the community’s interests over self-interest—the criticism– (if false)  doesn’t stick over time and your true friends see the real you and stick by you because they know who you are.

I don’t mean that to be flippant because losing a relationship is never pleasant. It hurts. But I’m not the type who can stand by silently or sanction behavior just because of a personal relationship.

Ultimately that is not being a friend–a nuance missed by a few folks.

I’d rather be on the outside than pretend just to go along to get along. You pay a short term price for that sometimes. But never a long term one.

I’ve learned that the politicos come and go, but those who are doing the real work in the community stay—if we’re lucky.

I’d rather support their work than pretend or grade on a curve. In business, the adage is to fail fast and move on. If you can’t agree, try and fix it, but if that’s impossible there’s no sense pretending. I don’t think that’s being a real friend or a good citizen. I aspire to be both.

There are political insiders who think they know me when they don’t. Some of my biggest critics are people I’ve never had a conversation with and couldn’t pick out of a line-up. Others do know me and we just don’t see eye to eye.

Some see things that aren’t there and they think I’m “behind” people I’m not.

That goes with the territory I suppose.

But if I support someone you’ll know it. I tend to talk and write–and then talk and write some more. And now that I co-own a newspaper—well… we buy ink by the barrel.

If I think you’re good for Delray I will say so. If I think your bad for the city I love I will say so as well. It’s not personal, even if I don’t like you or even if I think you’re wonderful.

It’s about Delray.

It has been for 30 years now.

 

A New Year; Let’s Make it a Good One

2017 Calender on the red cubes

A new year.
A new set of possibilities.
As we turn the page on ’16, a year many are happy to see pass let’s endeavor to start fresh and dream big.
In that spirit here are some predictions and wishes:
-America begins to turn the tide on its opiate addiction. Maybe this is the year when doctors stop over prescribing pains meds. Maybe this is the year that government gives prosecutors, cities and regulators the tools they need to hold irresponsible sober home operators accountable. Maybe this is the year we appreciate responsible providers who are trying to save lives.
-Perhaps 2017 will see the formal adoption of the Congress Avenue Task Force’s vision and catalytic development on the old Office Depot site as well as near Saltwater Brewery.
-We’re rooting for new FAU football coach Lane Kiffin to build a winning program in Boca. Kiffin is a bold hire with baggage, but he’s got a pedigree that’s intriguing to say the least.
-Boca continues to reel in companies, grow new ones and build its downtown. It’s economic development office shows what’s possible– even with a small team. We predict more of the same in ’17.
-We see The South Florida Garlic Festival thriving at its new venue at John Prince Park attracting foodies and taking advantage of the “glamping” trend.
-We’re hopeful to see iPic open in ’17 and predict it will function well and enhance Delray’s downtown.
-We predict that Impact 100 for Men will have a successful launch and attract more donations as a result.
-We believe ’17 will be the year when Old School Square and President Rob Steele will soar. With sometimes contentious lease negotiations with the city in the rear view mirror, the organization can concentrate on growing and fulfilling its historic and important mission.
-We predict big things for the Via Mizner project anchored by the Mandarin Hotel. It’s a landmark project. Make no mistake.
-We hope that plans to revitalize 20th Street in Boca gain traction in the New Year.
-14 years ago a new “central park” was envisioned where a surface parking lot once existed near Old School Square. Let’s hope ’17 is the year that the park takes shape.
-Let’s also hope ’17 is the year that stability returns to Delray City Hall. The ability to hire a new City Manager is a golden opportunity.
-We predict this is the year that positivity begins its slow march back to the public square. As a result we predict a better Boca Delray.
Happy New Year.

 

Resumes versus Legacies

legacyEditor’s Note: We will see you after the holidays. Have a safe, happy and joyous holiday season! Thanks for reading and sharing!

Resumes versus legacies.
Which would you rather have?
I’ve been thinking about this lately.
I have this app called “Time Hop” and every day it gives you a look back at 7 years of social media memories.
It’s really kind of cool.
Well 7 years ago this month , we lost a local icon named H. Ruth Pompey and the app let me know. I’m glad it did. Because the memory of Mrs. Pompey brought back a smile. I adored her. So did everybody who knew her and many knew her because she and her amazing husband C. Spencer Pompey were integral parts of Delray and Palm Beach County for decades.
They influenced generations of young people and touched many lives very deeply.
Educators, historians, coaches, mentors, founders and leaders, the Pompey’s amassed remarkable resumes but more importantly they left lasting legacies.
Delray has been blessed with many wonderful people who have left legacies of kindness, achievement, voluntarism and dedication. Remembering them is important–because even though many are gone now they are still very much a part of us and ingrained in the DNA of our town.
So remembering Mrs. Pompey also inspired me to remember a slew of other very special people.
Such as…Ken Ellingsworth, a founder of the Delray Affair, a longtime chamber president and former City Commissioner who welcomed generations of young business people to town and helped them get involved. Those were the days when the first stop you made if you opened a business or a professional practice was the Chamber of Commerce.
At the chamber, mentors like Ken and later the terrific Bill Wood got you plugged in so to speak. The mission was two-fold, get involved to grow your business and grow the business community to help others succeed. I think Karen Granger and her team at today’s chamber are following in this tradition; with the chamber serving as a hub of activity, connection and community.
I thought also of my friend  Barbara D. Smith who also left a lasting legacy. I pass a building named after her every morning at the Achievement Center on Lake Ida Road and I still remember Barbara’s kindness and concern for our city’s most vulnerable children.

She served briefly on the city commission but she had decades of achievement under her belt before she even thought of running.
That’s how it was in those days. People tended to volunteer for years before seeking public office. We knew who they were and they knew us.
Think of how advantageous that is: we know if they show up and do their homework, we know if they can work well with others, whether they are capable of compromise or of evolving. We know whether they listen and learn or just keep their own counsel or if they are merely puppets controlled by others.
We knew them through years of service.
It was a whole lot better tradition if you ask me.
I also thought of Carolyn Gholston and her husband Joe,  two leaders in our southwest neighborhood who worked closely with the city and police department on a vision for creating a safer neighborhood for all.
About a dozen years ago, voters passed a bond issue to build a new splash park at the Catherine Strong Center named after our first female mayor who also served as a city clerk. Mr. and Mrs. Gholston worked hard to muster votes for the bond because they wanted to see the first ever park in that part of our city.  It wasn’t about them, it was about their neighborhood and about the future.
As we exit 2016, an interesting year, I can’t help but remember friends we  have lost.
As I rode in the holiday parade for the first time in a decade, we passed by what we on the City Commission used to call “Garito” corner. Every year, the large and boisterous extended family would stake out real estate on a corner that once housed the venerable Green Owl. And every year when mayor’s and commissioners passed by they were greeted with loud cheers and laughter.
This year, the corner was mostly quiet. The Green Owl has closed (for now) and Barbara Garito, the family matriarch and our beloved City Clerk and friend passed away earlier this year.
I miss her smile. But we are so much richer for having known her and so many others who have made Delray such a special place.
You see cities are made special by people, not by rules and regulations, building heights and millage rates. All of those have their place–but the real magic comes when people devote themselves to a place, work together, build trust, laugh with each other, cry with each other and constantly reach out to bring others in.
Those are the people who leave legacies. And make a true difference. Maybe they didn’t build the biggest chamber or clean up every street in their neighborhood but they did touch a whole lot of lives. And continue to do so.
Legacies–that’s what they left. And that’s what’s truly important.

Happy holidays and see you in the New Year!

Trust & Confidence Make The Difference

and also lunch and dinner.

and also for lunch and dinner.

America is a politically divided nation.
But there’s a few things Americans agree on when it comes to the federal government.
It can’t be trusted.

It’s wasteful.

And it’s led by people who say and do anything to get elected and then abandon those promises to serve special interests.

Is the same dynamic infecting local government as well?
A new study by NYU Professor Paul Light, a recognized expert on public service, concludes that almost 70 percent of Americans say the government needs major reform, even though there is a wide divide on what needs to be done and how to get there.
As an old political science major, I find the study interesting.
But this blog focuses on local issues and so I always try to view findings through that prism.
Does this national trend threaten the reputation and trustworthiness of local government?
About a decade ago, I was part of a small group of local mayors who founded the Florida League of Mayors. It was an offshoot of the Florida League of Cities and the organization tried to capitalize on surveys at the time that found  Floridians had enormous trust in local government and that mayors especially had the confidence of citizens.
People might have been wary of Tallahassee and may have been disgusted by Washington but they liked their local governments.
Trust and confidence in your City Hall is an often underrated asset.
And it works both ways: citizens obviously win when they have faith that their tax dollars are being spent wisely and that their local officials can solve problems and seize opportunities. And those who work in local government win too when their citizens support and trust them. They can safely innovate and they can feel confident that their citizens support them in what can be very difficult jobs.
There was a time when Delray stood out in this regard. A time when over a thousand citizens volunteered for the Police Department, raised money for public safety budgets, voted to go into debt and raise their taxes to fund community projects and generally felt that City Hall was an agent of progress, a place where problems were solved and where you could find answers and support.
City staff was outcome oriented and not mired in process. Things got done: Small things–kitchen permits, sea grape maintenance, leases for key non-profits etc.
Big things got done as well–the Decade of Excellence, the creation of a Community Land Trust, the adoption of a Downtown Master Plan and more.
How do big and small things happen? What makes progress possible?
In a word: culture.
Not the kind that might describe art and music, but rather the kind that allows for collaboration, creativity, compromise, compassion, civility and empathy.
A good culture is built on trust and accountability–those two words are not mutually exclusive. You can have both.
When you have a good culture in your town, there are no limits to what can be accomplished.
The best leaders I have seen empower people. And the best outcome you get from a culture of empowerment is confidence and momentum.
Positive momentum is immensely powerful. It creates special cities. When you believe in what your doing and you have the confidence to venture great leaps occur.
I started writing about Delray Beach in 1987.  I hear many people around town comparing this era to the 80s. It’s not a good comp as they say in real estate.

Some say the level of dysfunction and rancor among commissioners is comparable to that era. Some say it’s not as bad, some say it’s worse.
My take: the 80s were rough here, marked by crime, drugs, blight, instability at City Hall and racial tension.
But some big things got started. Some important seeds were planted. The first historic districts, the launch of Old School Square, the creation of a CRA, a major effort to improve local schools, the seeds of Pineapple Grove, Visions 2000 and the Decade of Excellence.
Pretty great stuff. And yet…what do people remember as much or maybe more than the achievements? They remember the revolving door of managers and department heads, the backbiting among elected officials and the sense that other places were thriving and we were stuck.
And then it changed.
The culture that is…a new crop of commissioners and a new mayor were elected, stability returned–civility too. Progress happened and Delray was on its way.
Delray developed a brand as an innovative city, a pacesetter, a good place to work, a good place to live and a good place to invest. Fun, vibrant and  entrepreneurial were among the words often used and bus loads of people from other cities came here to see how “it” was done.
So what’s the buzz now?
Citizens suing the commission over a charter violation because warring elected officials cannot compromise.
A revolving door of managers and department heads.
Major private investments delayed, pronounced dead or in costly litigation.
Residents complaining about a toxic culture and how hard it is to volunteer in this city. Yep, how hard it is to volunteer because of a culture of toxic politics on the commission.
2017 is a New Year and a chance to turn things around. It can be done.
We’ve done it before.

If we do, we will solve problems and seize opportunities. If we don’t, we risk 30 years of progress and more important –our future.
It’s time for a change. If you love Delray as many of us do, it’s time to get moving. We stand for what we tolerate. And right now we are tolerating a whole lot of nonsense.