Unpacking the CRA vote

Photo courtesy of Delray Historical Society.

First some disclosures.
My wife ran the Delray CRA for about 13 years.
I think the current executive director and his staff are hard working, dedicated and smart. They are good people who give it all for Delray Beach. I have respect for the volunteers who have served on the CRA board, both past and present.
So if that offends you, upsets your karma or otherwise gives you agita here’s where you should stop reading.
To say I’m not fans of a majority of the current commission would be an understatement. Give me six hours (shorter than most commission meetings and I’ll begin to tell you why, give me a month and we may get through half my list of differences and missed opportunities) but I sense change in Delray.
Eyes are opening. Awareness is forming. People are getting fed up.
Fed up with the hand wringing.

Fed up with the litigation.

Fed up with the criticism.

Fed up with the arrogance.

Fed up with the turnover and the dysfunction.

Fed up with the lack of leadership.
People are calling this commission out. And it’s about time.
Evidence of this came in March with the landslide victories scored by Jim Chard and Shirley Johnson. So when I write about the commission in the paragraphs to come they are not what I’m talking about. I see them as solutions to what ails us and I have hope and faith in them.
It wasn’t lies or “dark money” that carried the day and saw them win by 2-1.

It wasn’t self serving insiders or greedy developers either. It was the voters who spoke loud and clear.

In precinct after precinct. Neighborhood after neighborhood. They chose experience and ideas over negativity and  nastiness and they chose progress and positivity over division. And they will again in March. They’ve had enough.
And that’s  a good thing because if we don’t stand up for the values and strategies that built this town we will surely lose what has been achieved. And we will lose our sense of community too. That ought to scare us more than anything.
We almost lost the CRA this week.

Because handing the board over to this Mayor and commission would ensure that their dysfunction would have metastasized to that agency as well.
But the community organized and spoke out. They talked about the progress the agency has made. The tens of millions invested in neighborhoods, the $58 million spent on city capital improvements that has somehow, inexplicably been missed by people who ought to know better. But it wasn’t missed by the beneficiaries. They came out. They stood up. They spoke out, they led and they set the record straight. They see progress. They know commitment. They are working with their CRA to lift their neighborhoods up–while the majority of the city commission plays politics.
Oh, I know Mayor Glickstein came around. But only after he allowed the floodgates to open. Only after he took his shots. As he always does.
Now it’s our turn.
Our CRA is a great CRA. It should be a point of civic pride. But our “leaders” won’t allow us to celebrate or to feel good. And that’s a shame. That is not leadership.
Our CRA has helped to transform this city.
And that’s a fact lost on several members of the commission who pressed this issue and have been pressing and bullying the CRA for years now.

And it’s lost on many members of the senior staff who are so new to Delray they couldn’t tell you the difference between Linton and Swinton.
They should ask around before they opine publicly. They should talk to the contributors in this community because they might learn something.
My bet is the prevailing message would be: don’t fix what isn’t broken and please fix your own house. Hire good staff, empower them and get out of the way. Work with the community on a vision and have the guts to follow through.
Some of these so called leaders up there on the dais can’t stop talking about the past. They are so busy rewriting history that they have lost control of the present and they have endangered the future.
But guess what?
The truth is a stubborn thing.

And try as they might to disparage past decisions, staffs and elected officials they keep falling short. They make themselves seem small in the process.
Because the truth is, they don’t measure up and we need them too. Because we have challenges and opportunities that are being missed.
They ought to know better.

The mayor did pretty well here as the dreaded developer of his day, Commissioner Katz moved here as a result of the vision and decisions of a past commission that bought land and made it available for workforce housing (was that resident welfare?) and Commissioner Petrolia enjoyed success selling real estate in a hot market. A market made hot–in large part– by a CRA they criticize and past commissions they whine about.
After a week of emotions and misinformation the independent volunteer board of the CRA was saved. Hallelujah.
Truly.
But….
We spent a week fighting not fixing. Defending not uniting. Treading water not progressing.
We lost another week.
We’ve lost many with this mayor and commission–Mrs. Johnson and Mr. Chard excluded. Thank goodness for them.
We spent almost two years negotiating a lease with Old School Square exchanging nasty emails instead of focusing on the arts and culture.
We spent two years creating an events policy that few understand and most feel is unworkable instead of sitting down and improving events not hacking them to pieces or exporting them to other cities.
We spent nearly a year devising a  plan for Congress Avenue that is gathering dust instead of being marketed, implemented and driven.
We are mired in lawsuits, we waste time arguing with our chamber over an effort to sit down with recovery providers (so that we might better understand the issue), we spend money on consultants and out of town lawyers  but somehow we couldn’t find the money to hire a director for the drug task force.
We downzoned our most valuable real estate without an economic analysis, ignored parking studies and engineering studies and a litany of guest speakers on a slew or topics but somehow we have time to attack the best CRA in the state.
But we don’t have time to celebrate the addition of a corporate tenant to Delray which also provides a welcome and needed family entertainment option.
Ipic finally, mercifully closed this week and actually got a building permit. They paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for the permit. They will create jobs. They will pay taxes and they will clean up a derelict property.
But we don’t get to celebrate.  Nope we get to relitigate and relitigate until every ounce of joy is drained out of landing this company.
What a shame.
So, Ok. I realize this is a rant. But let me assure you this represents the tip of the proverbial iceberg. These are only some of the complaints I hear among people I work with and run into in this City.
I don’t hang with the angry crowd. I spend time with those who have built this city and continue to build this city.
The business owners, entrepreneurs, investors, residents, volunteers, cops, firefighters, city staff, retirees and  young people who aspire and who want to see this place they love thrive.
They want to feel good about where they live. They want to celebrate. They want to dream. They are tired of having to defend every single thing. Especially when major issues remain unaddressed. Homelessness, heroin, staff turnover, rising tides, lack of housing options, lack of workforce housing, schools that struggle and a need to diversify our economy beyond food, beverage and service jobs.
The last two weeks were spent jousting over an ad in Sober World announcing a Recovery Business Council and whether we should continue to have a CRA that kicks ass and runs circles around the city these days.
What will we squander next week on? Maybe we should shut down Friday Night concerts at Old School Square? Too many people seem to smile when the band shell lights up. We can’t have that can we?
We have to do better. We must.
And we will.

Until We Meet Again…

Sister Mary Clare greets a friend–she’s made many.

When we got up to leave Caffe Luna Rosa last week after a wonderful evening, Sister Mary Clare Fennell drew us close and grabbed our hands. Then, in her soft, sweet brogue she recited an Irish blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields. 

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Sister is leaving Delray on May 30 to go back home to Ireland and she’s busy making the rounds not to say goodbye, but to say thank you. And that’s what makes her so special.

Sister came to Delray in 1968 and in the nearly 50 years she has spent teaching and serving in Delray she has touched countless hearts and souls. But when I asked her if she ever thought about all the lives she has touched—through all those years leading St. Vincent Ferrer School and then serving at Emmanuel Catholic Church—she didn’t hesitate to answer:  “No. I think of all the people who have touched my life in a positive way.”

That answer, stopped those of us at the table cold. And if you can get Fran Marincola to stop talking about parking,,well you know you’ve struck a chord (just kidding Fran).

It was just the start of a wide ranging conversation that touched on heroes—Pope Francis, Dorothy Day, Mandela, Gandhi—and love, acceptance and the pure joy of dining at a truly great restaurant with friends on a spectacular night in a great little city.

Sitting with Sister Mary Clare is like sitting with a rock star. People walking by recognize her, smile from ear and ear and come over to hug, kiss and chat.

When Sister came to Delray nearly 50 years ago this was a vastly different place. She remembers the heat, the lack of air conditioning and a few restaurants–places like the Patio Delray and Arcade Tap Room. Things have changed. 

Over the years she built a school that children and families loved and made many friends along the way. 

My wife and I are two of them. 

When I served as a commissioner and later mayor, I found myself going to St. Vincent Ferrer School for various events and programs including a memorable discussion with students about homelessness in Palm Beach County. 

I felt drawn to Sister. I appreciated her warmth and humor and sensed her intelligence and big heart. 

She believed in love and community and making everyone feel welcome and cared for. 

She has been a big part of Delray Beach. The Delray Beach we all fell in love with. 

Because it’s not about the latest political controversy–they come and go. The sky has been falling for as long as I remember. 

But it is about special people who bless us with their hearts, minds, talents and intellect. 

Sister Mary Clare is one of those people. And she made a lasting difference in her corner of the universe —which lucky for us, was Delray Beach. 

When the evening ended, we didn’t say goodbye. We said so long. 

I hope to see Sister again. We all do. Hopefully, it will be in Ireland where she will take a little piece of Delray with her. 

Until then, many of us will be forever grateful for the love and kindness of a wonderful friend. 

 

10 Signs: Houston We Have A Problem

Ten signs of electile dysfunction. (Or how to know if an elected official has jumped the shark).

 

  1. An inability to lose a vote. In an ideal world when the vote is called, you state your position yay or nay. Then you accept the decision and move on. If your elected official can’t accept that he or she may lose an occasional vote you’ve got a problem. Key signs of being a sore loser: endlessly litigating the same issue, looking for loopholes to reverse the decision, attacking opponents, whining, blocking and bloviating. Sadly, there is no known cure other than beating the offender at the polls the next election cycle.
  2. Above it All Syndrome– Symptoms include pretending to be separate from your staff. So when a citizen approaches the mic and complains about an issue or problem you immediately blame staff and take no ownership of said issue.
  3.  Rule of Law Disease-A deeply fatal condition in which elected officials pretend that ordinances, processes and policies are mere “guidelines” or “suggestions” to be applied only when convenient or relating to people they like or who back them. Leads to symptom four.
  4. Litigation fever–An expensive malady in which: armed with taxpayer (i.e. your) money elected officials hire attorneys to battle anyone who doesn’t bend to their will regardless of rules, laws, processes and policies.
  5. Narcissistic Personality Disease–Those afflicted suffer from multiple of the above symptoms. It’s about them and only them. Do not. We repeat. Do not dare feed this affliction lest you become its victim. Symptoms include: Repeated use of the word “I” , a strong belief that you were sent to right all past “wrongs” and only you can fix things. This disease is accompanied by a deep seated belief that every idea has to be yours in order to be worthy of consideration or valid. Those suffering from this serious malady believe time began when they took their seats. Hint: It didn’t.
  6. My Way or the Highway Disease—This refers to elected officials who believe their personal preferences should take precedence over community input which is treated as annoying or inconvenient. Symptoms: town halls become lecture series and presentations replace community input sessions.
  7. That Won’t Work Here Disease. Symptoms include a bedrock belief that their city, village, town, hamlet or burg is somehow immune from facts, best practices and what has been demonstrated to work elsewhere. Frequently used to reject policies related to development, parking, civic engagement and or anything innovative or new.
  8. The Precedent Test. Closely related to that won’t work here disease. Easily determined by how your elected officials treat new or novel ideas. If the word precedent is used this way you have problems: “We can’t do that. It will set a precedent.” If the official answers with: “let’s set a new precedent, that’s how we find progress.” He or she does not suffer from the malady.
  9. Seeking perfection disease. Symptoms include an inability to compromise, an inability to trust staff and an unwillingness to accept even 9/10ths of a loaf.
  10. Grandstanding Disease. Symptoms include grand speeches at public meetings, blindsiding colleagues, inflating minor issues into major imbroglios and calling the press every time you lose a vote to allege a taxpayer rip-off knowing that your blindsided opponents will either be unprepared, unavailable or afraid to refute you.

If you are an elected official with one or more of these symptoms you won’t seek help and your “service” (sigh) won’t amount to much.

If you serve alongside any of these characters and fail to stand up to them you will be swept up in their dysfunction and also fail to move the needle on behalf of the community.

And if you are a community that has to endure any one of these types you are out of luck–unless of course you ditch them. If you don’t….

It won’t be fun to volunteer. It won’t be fun or productive to work for such a city and it won’t be safe to invest.

The antidote is to organize and insist on better leadership and ultimately to have the courage to step forward and take them out at the ballot box.

Remember: you stand for what you tolerate.

 

Ready, Fire Aim

Over time, political bodies develop personalities.
They tend to adopt the personalities of its strongest member or members and that can be a good thing or it can be a nightmare.
It all depends on the personality (or lack thereof) of the leadership.
I’ve observed 30 years of city commission’s in Delray Beach and have watched neighboring cities too. I’ve also paid attention to School Boards and County Commission’s.
Over that time, I’ve seen a lot.
We all have.
We’ve seen larger than life county commissioners and quieter but effective public servants.
Before Steven Abrams and Melissa McKinlay we had commissioners who loomed so large they were  known by their first names–kind of like Cher or Madonna. Everyone knew who Burt, Tony and Karen were–surnames were superfluous.
In 1980s Delray we saw rivalries and factions on the dais and tons of intrigue too. It was a volatile time. But despite the infighting at City Hall we saw the formation of historic districts, the start of community policing, the first “visions” and the creation of the CRA. Not bad.
But it was accompanied by turbulence and sadly that’s what people remember.
The 90s was an era of stability and accomplishment–a Decade of Excellence seeded by the visions and bond dollars of the 80s. The early 2000s was an era of ambition and civic entrepreneurship building on the solid foundation of the 90s.
Along the way, the progress we’ve seen–assuming you acknowledge we’ve made progress–has been driven by a wide range of stakeholders including our CRA.
If you look at any civic achievement in our eastern core over the past 32 years you can be assured that our CRA played a role–often an outsize role in making it happen.
Across the state, it’s viewed as one of the best CRA’s around and over the years scores of cities have visited Delray to pick up redevelopment tips.
But the agency’s PR has always lagged behind it’s achievements. And not for lack of effort by a variety of people who have done a solid job promoting the good works of the agency.
A common complaint over the years has been a lack of investment and focus on the West Atlantic corridor now known as The Set.
Sorry but it’s just not true.
Much has been done over the past 20 years or so and much more is planned.
Nobody has ever declared victory and said the job was done. Nobody on the CRA has ever said too much was spent–and truth is the corridors and neighborhoods west of Swinton have been a focus since at least 2000 and tens of millions have been spent that proves it.
So when I read a commissioners blog claiming that the area has been “ignored” or hear about a resolution calling for the city to take over the governance of the agency I shake my head. But I’m not surprised.
The CRA has been under assault for a long time now. And it’s a shame. It started with a politically motivated audit a few years back that found next to nothing wrong with its administration, financial stewardship and governance and has continued for the past few years with a series of threats to the agency’s role.
First it was an attempt to trim the CRA’s boundaries (a costly study that concluded the obvious: cutting the boundaries would suck county funds out of Delray which makes no sense), then it was the Monday morning quarterbacking on RFP’s and past plans and the constant pecking at the iPic project.
I can go on. But you get the picture.
It’s a shame. Because the CRA is an invaluable economic development tool, a driver of progress, a source of cash for needed projects and a proven performer.
Which brings us back to personality.
The modus operandi of late seems to be ready, fire, aim on issue after issue.

Consider the following:
–When it came time to renew the Highland Beach Fire contract (which has worked well for both cities for two decades) what do you do?  Blow it up and insult your neighbors or inquire about the deal before drawing a conclusion?
Wouldn’t it have been easier to investigate to see why it might make sense? It’s not too hard to find past fire chiefs, past city managers etc who might be able to explain why it works? If you have to raise the fee you charge– so be it. Why not explain to your neighbors that you can’t lose money providing the service? You might find you get more with honey than vinegar.
Ready, fire aim.
–How about last week’s kerfuffle over a letter from an attorney that mentioned making Delray the recovery capital of the world again?
Wouldn’t it have been easier to make a call to the chamber of commerce rather than put the issue on two TV stations, several newspapers and all over social media? Doesn’t that level of attention brand the city more than a phone call to inquire about the intention of the Recovery Business Council? Which is a good idea, by the way. You don’t improve problems by ignoring them.
And then there was the shot by the mayor that he doesn’t know who was sitting in the commission seats in 2007 when the New York Times typed the words “recovery capital” and Delray in the same sentence but by golly this commission sure wouldn’t sit by and allow it.
Well, I know the five people who were there in late ’07 (Rita Ellis, Fred Fetzer, Brenda Montague et. al) and I doubt that they either embraced the recovery capital tagline or could control what the Times writes.
Ready, fire aim.
As for taking over the CRA, it appears the leadership of The Set is united in opposition to the idea and was taken by surprise. That’s a pretty big surprise to spring on a valued constituency.
Ready, fire aim.
So what are the personality traits we are seeing? I see bullying, I see a lack of communication, I see going off without first getting facts, I see an unwillingness to stop and understand issues and determine rationales before setting a course that upsets key people in the community.
Ready, fire aim.
You may not agree with past decisions and the reasons why they were made. And you may despise the folks who made those decisions. But history is important. Time did not start on your watch.  Daniel Boorstin, a former librarian of Congress once said: “trying to plan for the future without a sense of the past was like trying to plant cut flowers.”

Indeed.
You may think those decisions were wrong or ruined the city. But plenty of people would disagree with you. I think the last election spoke volumes. People love this town. They want to see progress. Again.
So mock the past, label and disparage those who served and volunteered.
But those folks got results. They achieved outcomes.
It wasn’t blind luck. And it wasn’t ready, fire aim.
It was decisions based on citizen driven plans and assigned to agencies and departments like the CRA. And  things got done. And commission’s had control and there was accountability.
A southwest plan, the Village Academy, Catherine Strong Park, beautification from Swinton to 95, improvements to Northwest/Southwest Fifth Avenue, the creation of a successful Community Land Trust, a race relations initiative, Atlantic Grove, the Fairfield Inn, a roadway bond that paved streets, an ATP tennis tournament, a reduction in crime rates, the S.D. Spady Museum, a new library, courthouse expansion, the mitigation of sinking homes and on and on and on. Doesn’t seem like the CRA has ignored the area–but nor have they declared victory either.

Pretending those accomplishments didn’t happen and that you can’t build on them unless you take over ignores and disrespects a lot of hard work, investment, risk and leadership that has been exercised over the years and today.
Ready,fire aim is a lousy way to “lead” a city. In fact, it’s not leadership at all.
I’m told of rampant heartache at City Hall. That heartache manifests itself with unprecedented turnover. People don’t leave a place like Delray if they are happy or productive.
I also understand I’m persona non grata with certain people in power (for now anyway).
That’s ok. I’m proud of that fact.
I’m going to speak my mind. I’m going to write. I’m going to help publish a newspaper. I’m going to serve on non profit boards and try to encourage leaders to emerge. I’m also going to continue to invest here–time, money, emotion, ideas and I hope you do too. Because it’s our town too.
Those who want to see jobs, better schools, a strong, happy city staff, investment, tourism, festivals, art, culture and a sustainable city deserve better than ready, fire aim.
We deserve a voice. We deserve collaboration and we deserve kindness and respect.
Taking over the CRA would be a bad move. It’s worked for 28 years for mayor’s, commissioners, city managers and city attorneys. For some reason it’s not working for some members of this group.
You wonder if they are capable of asking themselves why.
Ready fire aim is not a sustainable strategy. We deserve a better personality. Before it’s too late.

In Praise of Volunteers

Have you driven by Delray’s municipal beach lately?
It’s going to be a bit of a mess for awhile but when the dust clears the A1A “promenade” should look great.
Which is a good excuse to say thanks to the Beach Property Owners Association better known as the BPOA.
If my recollection is correct, the BPOA worked on the Beach Master Plan for the better part of 8 years. That’s a long time. Lots and lots of volunteer hours.
Architect Bob Currie donated his time and talents to the effort and so did the board led by President Bob Victorin–one of the truly great people who live in Delray.
It’s the volunteers who make our city so immensely special.
Their love of Delray is palpable and can be seen in every corner of our community.
Dedicated citizens bring energy and resources that can’t  be measured to the effort of building a great community.
It really does take a village.
Recently, I had the occasion to have dinner with three all time Delray greats at 50 Ocean.
While two of the three–former Police Chief Rick Overman and retired Officer Skip Brown–were city employees, their success was driven in part by their ability to attract and effectively deploy a slew of volunteers. The third gentleman was the one and only Perry Don Francisco, former owner of Bostons on the Beach, who became legendary for his community service over the years. In fact, Perry is still working for the community through Delray Citizens for Delray Police. In addition to a sensational banquet honoring longtime police employees (held last weekend) he’s still deeply involved in the holiday toy drive and when the chips are down –as they have been recently –you can always count on Perry to be there.
It’s here that I will note that while his wife grew up in Delray, Perry has always lived just down the street in another city. So for those city commissioners who cavalierly suggest that only residents should be able to serve/volunteer on city boards I respectfully disagree. Take a measure of where someone’s heart resides. If it lives here, it doesn’t matter where the head hits the pillow.
But I digress.

Let’s just say that Perry’s been invaluable to countless lives in our community. Mine included.
Chief Overman and Skip have also been invaluable.
Rick was a force of nature who came to Delray and created a department that became a farm system for future chiefs and legendary officers who made it possible for Delray to succeed.
Without a great PD there would be no Delray as we know it. It’s just that simple.
To quote someone in this story who shall remain nameless: Delray was circling the bowl before it made the turn.
My contention is it doesn’t make that turn without a great Police Department and some terrific city staff and yes volunteers and business leadership.
So as we enjoyed the ocean view from a restaurant once owned by Perry and swapped old stories I sat there in awe of three local legends.
And realized that all three employed volunteers to help them succeed. Rick and Skip and a few others launched and managed a remarkable volunteer effort at the department. An effort that earned national and international accolades.
But it wasn’t just PR. No, the accomplishments were real and lasting.
MAD DADS led by Chuck Ridley and Ben Bryant helped a great set of cops decimate the drug trade in Delray.
Skip’s volunteers–1,300 at its height–were something to behold. They still are.
And Perry set a standard for involvement for all other business leaders that may never be matched. Right up there with him are people like Frank Wheat, Bill Branning and Cathy Balestriere—contributors who give and give. P.S. those three don’t live here either. But we don’t have the Delray we know without them.
What a legacy.
Which brings me to The BPOA.
The association has a long history of engagement and advocacy.
While they are chartered to look after the barrier island, in my experience they have always pushed for the the betterment of the entirety of Delray Beach.
I’m glad to see dirt finally being moved on the Beach Master Plan. It’s been a long slog. It didn’t have to be, but that’s the subject of another column or my next book. Maybe both. Let’s just say the improvements don’t happen without them.
The volunteers work hard. They care.
And that makes all the difference.

Rituals & Happy Hours

City Oyster on Atlantic Avenue is one of many good spots to start a lunch group.

I’m noticing a new trend.
At least I think it’s a trend.
I can’t speak for my female friends (and unlike Harry Met Sally, I do think men and women can be friends) but the guys I know are forming tribes around breakfast, lunch, dinner and happy hour.
Aside from the caloric risks, I think this is a healthy activity.
There’s a group of guys who meet for Friday breakfast, a Thursday lunch group, a Friday happy hour bunch and a semi-regular group that heads for the Sail Inn whenever their “captain” sends out an email enlisting his fellow ‘sailors’.
It’s a great tradition.
Not only do you get camaraderie and fellowship, but you get to experience the insults, humor and gentle reminders leading up to the event.
These rituals that I know about happen at Ellie’s Diner, The House of Pancakes, Donnie’s, J Alexander’s, Caffe Luna Rosa, Christina’s, Tom Sawyer, Farmer’s Table, City Oyster,  the Cuban Café, Tap 42, Rocco’s Taco’s, Latitudes and the aforementioned Sail Inn.

It’s a nice array of Delray and Boca restaurants–so these activities benefit local businesses while also building friendship and community.

My schedule doesn’t allow me to  attend every group activity every week but it’s comforting to know you can tap into these regularly scheduled get togethers and get plugged in.
I’ve seen how a few of these rituals develop and it’s quite simple really.
It often happens when someone calls a few friends to gather for a a meal or a drink. The key is to add a new element. Someone new or a different combination of people than the usual lunch bunch. If the outing goes well it becomes a “thing.”
On Friday, I went to a lunch at City Oyster with Tom Block, a former JP Morgan executive who retired to Juno Beach a few years back after a long and fascinating career in Washington. He’s a childhood friend of Jon Levinson, a former City Commissioner and I’ve tagged along at several of their get togethers over the years to talk national politics. Tommy knows everyone and for a political buff like me it’s just fascinating to get the inside scoop about Congress.
For this outing in Delray, Tommy arranged to bring his winter neighbor John DeStefano, a long time mayor of New Haven, CT and a former president of the National League of Cities who now teaches political science at Yale.
At the last minute, I got an email from former Delray Mayor Tom Lynch asking if I had lunch plans so I called Tom and asked him to join us. What followed was 90 minutes of great conversation about cities, local politics and the difference between Florida and Connecticut and Delray and New Haven (roughly the same size geographically but with twice the population).
It was great.

And I hope it becomes a semi-regular thing.

Why? Because I want to learn more and these guys have done a whole lot in politics, business, education and the non-profit world.
They also happen to be nice, smart, opinionated and funny.
Mayor DeStefano seemed to enjoy Delray.
And a day later he emailed us all–thanking everyone for a nice lunch, good conversation and asking if we could do it again someday soon.
And so a tradition begins.
I highly recommend you join or start a group–it’s the spice of life as they say.

A Hero Comes Home

This week’s Bronze Star ceremony honoring retired Delray Beach Police Officer Skip Brown was a wonderful and very moving experience. The outpouring of positive sentiment has been overwhelming. Skip and his wife Cheryl and their friends are very pleased. The ‘only in Delray’ reception is why Skip took the rare step of bypassing a ceremony in Washington D.C. to accept the medal–45 years after his service in Vietnam- in Delray Beach. I was honored beyond words to pin the medal on his chest and we send heartfelt thanks to all those who have served and sacrificed for our great nation. Many of you who were unable to make it have sent messages asking for the transcripts of the remarks from the event. I will ask Skip to share his when he settles in back in Alabama. Meantime, there was a great piece on Channel 5 and in the Palm Beach Post on the event. Here’s a link to the WPTV piece: http://www.wptv.com/news/region-s-palm-beach-county/delray-beach/retired-delray-policeman-awarded-bronze-star-45-years-after-vietnam?utm_content=bufferc5c4b&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

 I hope the above link works…I’m not much very good with technology. If all else fails,  go to WPTV’s website or facebook page to see the story.

My remarks are below. Special thanks to Old School Square, Rob Steele, Melissa Carter, Peggy Murphy, the Honor Guard at Atlantic High, Sarah Crane and Maria Bollan for your invaluable assistance.

 

This is a very special occasion. And I’m glad we can share it here in Delray Beach at Old School Square.

I’d like to offer a special welcome to Skip’s wife Cheryl, city officials, police officers, firefighters and retirees, our wonderful Honor Guard from Atlantic High School and the veterans in the audience. If you are serving– or have served– in our armed forces can you please raise your hand…let’s give them a round of applause… Thank you for your service to our great nation.

Heroism is an overused word.

We talk about heroic athletes and heroic efforts in everyday life—and while acts of kindness and bravery are magnificent and should be recognized—I’m afraid we throw around the word hero so often that it’s meaning can get lost.

I want us to focus on that word this afternoon as we honor a very special man.

A true hero is somebody who exhibits remarkable bravery and shows great courage and strength of character. It’s somebody who is willing to put it all on the line for a cause, a country, a person or something they believe in.

So when I think of the word hero, I think of my friend Skip Brown.

 

Being a hero is his DNA.

It’s who he is.

And so while I’m in awe of Skip’s achievements— I’m not surprised by them.

Sacrifice…service….bravery…selflessness…are the traits of heroes. It’s the stuff that people like Skip are made of.

He is a rare breed. And I wish there were more like him….

 

 

Friendships come in many forms and Skip and I have an interesting relationship. On paper we don’t match up.

Skip is older than me.  Much older…

He’s from the Midwest . I’m from New York.

We have different faiths, different political beliefs and different personalities.

But somehow it all works.  Always has. We are friends in the truest sense of that word.

He’s the big brother I never had, the man I would call –and have called –when I found myself in trouble.

We have been to some very dark places together and he has helped me and many others surface more than once when we thought we might drown. Skip is always there for his friends and the members of his team—which is why he is a Bronze Star winner.

We have also experienced great triumphs and there is no better person to celebrate with than my brother Skip Brown.

When I needed a confidence boost he was there to provide it and if I strayed from my path he was there to return me to the straight and narrow–just like a big brother would. I mention this, because he has performed this very important service for many of us in this community. And we are blessed as a result….this is a man with a very big heart.

The Bronze Star is awarded for acts of valor—but I think there’s also a Bronze Star set of values that enable people like Skip Brown to do what they do in combat and in civilian life. So what are those values?

Skip values leadership.

He values honor and respect.

He values service and he is passionate about community; especially this community.

Skip and I have had many talks over the years–usually in the wee hours of the morning–usually in my driveway. Usually with a dog nearby.

Our conversations have covered the waterfront. And over time we grew close.

But while we talked about a lot of things…. I never pushed him, nor did he volunteer much, on the subject of Vietnam.

Until recently.

He shared his thoughts on the phone and in long emails. He wrote about his experiences and told me that what he saw in Vietnam impacted every facet of his life.

And I realized he was coming to terms with a war he never quite finished either fighting or thinking about.

So I know the stories. Not all of them….but a few important ones. I have heard about the pain and so have others who are close to Skip.

But while the information was always hard to hear and to comprehend——it was important that I know…it’s important that we all know about service, honor…sacrifice and commitment.

Skip has always been a big gruff guy…but he has always had a big huge heart.

And as he has gotten older…I’ve noticed that his conversations are now full of love and affection.

No more holding back.

No more guessing where you stood.

He told many of us that he loved us– and why.

He was giving himself a gift—because it’s important to tell the people you love how you feel–but he was also giving us a gift.

The biggest gift of all.

Because when a hero opens up his heart and soul to you…you listen and you learn…and you become better because of it.

 

So here we are.

Many of you here today are the ones nearest and dearest to Skip.  A few of you are new faces and it’s good that you are here to witness something very special and very rare.

It’s special…because this is a good man, who has given much to his country, his city, his wife Cheryl, his family and his friends…

It was important to Skip that he return home to receive his Bronze Star– and Delray is home.

It was here that Skip distinguished himself as a police officer. First on the road –in a very different and far more dangerous Delray—a place where guns, knives, and rocks were on display night after night.

Then as a K-9 officer with two amazing dogs– Rambo and Olk —who ran down bad guys while on duty and toured schools and community events on their days off.

And finally as the department’s volunteer coordinator under the leadership of Chief Overman and Chief Schroeder—both of whom are here today and are very special men.

Skip built a colossus of a program.

1,300 volunteers at its height. Many members of the greatest generation—the men and women who served our nation in World War II.

They would run through walls for Skip and this city. And he would do the same for them and they knew it.

Skip and the volunteers were here for us after 9/11 when we discovered many of the terrorists had been living among us and we were scared. They eased our minds and provided comfort and security.

Skip reached into every nook and cranny of this city forming bonds and patrols everywhere you could imagine.

When his troops took ill– and when they passed –he was there for them and their families. Always a rock. Always a hero.

It did not go unnoticed.

And so I am glad that his valor in Vietman did not go unnoticed either.—even if it took 45 years and the efforts of a commanding officer who would not rest until this oversight was addressed.

The Bronze Star is special indeed.

Rare too.

It is awarded to soldiers who distinguish themselves with acts of heroism in combat.

Skip came as close to death as you can possibly can– and he survived to live a life of service.

He provides an example for all of us. Every day that we wake up can be a good day. It can be a day of service, a day of giving back and a day of helping others.

Delray Beach is fortunate that Skip Brown survived that ambush all those years ago.

Because without him and his lovely wife Cheryl— Delray would have been a far different place.

It’s often said that nobody is irreplaceable. I suppose that’s true in a narrow sense. Life does go on —with or without us.

But I choose to look at life another way. Life wouldn’t be as good or as meaningful without people like Skip Brown. You can’t replace people like him. They broke the mold when they made him.

Great people are game changers. They literally bend and shape their corner of the world during the time we have them…into  something  better….

 

And we are thankful for them.

The best warriors are those who are willing to risk it all for a cause.

Skip’s cause was God, country, Delray and the people and animals he has taken care of his whole life. If there’s another life I’d like to come back as one of Skip and Cheryl’s pets. Seriously.  Yesterday he called me from a dog friendly restaurant on the Intracoastal where he was treating his pups to lunch…it’s a good life.

And if there’s a heaven—and I believe there is…I hope it includes tequila under the stars in my driveway  talking to Skip about making our corner of the universe a better place, with a golden retriever and a K-9 at our side—just like the good old days we had in Delray Beach.

Skip Brown…on behalf of your colonel, a grateful nation, your squad –many of whom did not make it– active duty soldiers, veterans and their families, the more than 58,000 names on the wall …. a grateful city and from me…no longer that young man in the driveway—but still very much your brother … congratulations on your bronze star. Well done..my friend. We love you. Very much.

Ladies and gentlemen…bronze star winner Skip Brown.

 

A Fitting Tribute, a Bronze Star & The Arts

Random Thoughts on a Monday…

A Moving Tribute to a memorable officer

It was gratifying to see an overflow crowd at Officer Christine Braswell’s Memorial Service Sunday at Atlantic High School.

Officers from all over the area, Delray police retirees, residents and our own bravest and finest were there for a moving tribute to an Officer who touched many lives.

From Explorers who respected her as a drill instructor to SWAT team members who were in awe of her skills, Officer Braswell’s influence was palpable and lasting.

She connected with everyone. From homeless people who considered her a friend to business leaders who put out all the stops to honor her after her tragic passing April 9 at the too young age of 40.

Chief Jeff Goldman did a great job of leading the memorial and capturing Christine’s spirit and dedication to her job. It was also touching to hear from Christine’s father– a former officer– who recounted his daughter’s toughness and resolve to be a police officer despite his concerns over the physical and mental toll of the job.

Delray Citizens for Delray Police once again rose to the occasion coordinating volunteers and donations to make this difficult time just a little easier.

I thought I’d share a portion of a prayer from a memorial card handed out at the service.

“Lord I ask for courage

Courage to face and

Conquer my own fears…

Courage to take me

Where others will not go…

I ask for strength

Strength of body

To protect others…

I ask for dedication

Dedication to my job

to do it well.

Dedication to my community

To Keep it safe.”

Christine did all of those things for us and others. She will not be forgotten. May she rest in peace.

Bronze Star Ceremony You’re Invited
Tomorrow is a special day in Delray.
Retired Delray Beach Police Officer Skip Brown and his lovely wife Cheryl, a former PD volunteer, will be at the Crest Theatre at Old School Square at 4 pm to receive a Bronze Star for heroism. The medal ceremony, open and free to the public, comes 45 years after Skip’s heroic service in Vietnam.
It’s a fascinating story. I won’t ruin it for you right now because I’m hoping your can come and see a rare ceremony.
Skip is a special guy. This is a special occasion. Hope to see you at the Crest.

Sons & Daughters Farm and Winery
We visited Sons & Daughters on Saturday west of Lake Worth and it was terrific.
Sons & Daughters is a 17 acre organic farm where you can drink homegrown wine and kombucha, tour the farm and interact with an array of animals from donkeys and pigs to chickens and roosters.
It’s worth a visit. Friday night’s feature music, food trucks and a fire pit. It’s a cool place.
And…I couldn’t help but think this is what the ag reserve could have been.
Working farms with retail attached, Agri-tourism amenities, healthy and unique places to hang out.
Alas, it wasn’t to be.
I’m a believer in Eastward Ho..let your downtowns be downtowns tight, compact and walkable but out west..well let’s say it could have been done differently.

Wood and Fire
We gave this cool new place a whirl over the weekend and it was really good.
Delray’s own Castle Construction did the build out and it’s wonderful.
A nice interior, large bar, a wood fired oven, outdoor dining options and a nice menu with reasonable prices.
We had the veggie panini (guess who had that one) and a Margherita pizza with charred zucchini and meatballs.
There’s a good craft beer menu too.
It’s nice to see west Delray add some great gathering spots. The restaurant is on West Atlantic just west of Military Trail.
Check it out.

Speaking of craft beer
We visited Saltwater Brewery recently and chatted briefly with Chris Gove one of the young entrepreneurs behind the growing brand.
I’ve known Chris’ dad Leigh for years. And so it’s really great to see his son have his father’s creative energy and vision.
Saltwater is now distributed all the way to Jacksonville. It just feels like a breakout brand in a crowded space.
Not only is the beer terrific (try the Passion Pit) but the branding is spot on. The brewery is also oozing cool and very popular.
We ran into former Planning Director Paul Dorling and it was nice to catch up with him as well.
Delray needs more than one district that performs so it’s nice to see the nooks and crannies filling up with activity and cool uses.

Kudos to Old School Square
The new summer booklet of classes at Old School Square is out and once again it’s really well done.
The School of Creative Arts is a great asset to Delray and if you have any interest in art, writing or photography you should check it out.
I’m a big admirer of the arts and artists but have zero talent.
I might, however check out the Thursday night readings where writers share their work.

See, I have this idea for a novel about a dashing middle aged blogger who strikes it rich…it’s clearly fiction.

 

But for Leadership Florida…

Thelma and Louise? No…Wendy Spencer and Wendy Walker two of Florida’s best leaders.

This Friday, Diane and my son Ben will join me at the Palm Beach Yacht Club to thank one of our personal heroes for 28 years of service to Florida and to an organization that has meant so much to so many.

Wendy Walker is retiring after 28 years of stellar service as the President of Leadership Florida, considered by many to be the premier statewide leadership organization in America.

And while the organization is a ‘who’s who’ of talented people from business, politics, education and the non-profit world, it would not have soared without Wendy’s steady and humble leadership.

This is from a recent feature on Wendy in the Tallahassee Democrat.

“It’s impossible to spend time with Walker and not walk away inspired or impressed, but likely both. A tall, beautiful woman who is clearly comfortable in her own skin, Walker commands a room when she walks in, but gives credit for her success to great parents, good luck and often being in the right place at the right time.  She is the only person who will tell you that she is undeserving of the honor of being named one of the 2017 25 Women You Need to Know.”

That’s our Wendy.

She is our Wendy because she dedicated her life to her Leadership Florida family and made us all feel very special. Now imagine a constituency that includes governors, university presidents, senators, state legislators, mayors, CEOs, entrepreneurs, scientists, high powered attorneys, prominent journalists and Jon Levinson (sorry, Jon , it was there, so I took it). How do you keep them all happy?

Sure, they are wonderful people: generous, talented, accomplished and smart. But the lion’s share of her constituency are Type A personalities who are wildly opinionated and ambitious–often code words for hard to please.

In lesser hands, this is a combination that could easily go off the rails.

But with Wendy Walker at the helm, the organization has thrived.

Here’s what one of those really smart people—a former Leadership Florida Chair and top aide to Gov. Chiles– had to say in the Tallahassee Democrat.

“Many governors and other public officials in Florida only aspire to the pinnacle level of respect, recognition and appreciation that Wendy Walker enjoys among some of our state’s most important and influential leaders in every sphere of influence,” said Ron Sachs, CEO of Sachs Media Group and a longtime friend. “Her real secret power is a quiet but always effective style of leadership in which she brings people of divergent views together on really big issues that matter most, such as creating a greater sense of statewide community in Florida.”

That’s the magic of Wendy Walker and of Leadership Florida. We need more people like her. It’s easy to divide and polarize. It’s much harder to bring people together.

I applied at the encouragement of former Commissioner Levinson who was a graduate of Class VII when obviously the standards were relaxed to let him in (wink). Actually Jon became Chair of the organization and was recognized with a special award two years ago for his tireless devotion to the organization—a devotion that Wendy inspires in many people.

When I applied my interest was to see if Jon was being truthful– because let’s face it– he tosses around compliments like they are manhole covers and he was always raving about Leadership Florida.

I am a passionate devotee of leadership, was interested in the information I would glean from the experience and wanted to meet many of the people who were in the organization.

I was accepted—which in itself is an honor and devoted the better part of a year to attending weekend programs all over the state—Tallahassee, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and a rural  camp where we had no cellphone service and we woke to frogs and other critters in our shower stalls. But we bonded and we learned from each other and a fascinating array of speakers who gave us a deep appreciation for our state.

Among those we met were Florida icons ranging from Gov. Askew and the first African American to serve on the Florida Supreme Court to Army Generals, nature photographers, professors and experts who helped us understand our state and our own individual leadership styles.

Regular readers of this blog understand my love for Delray—but it was my Leadership Florida experience which cinched my love for Florida. Leadership Florida made me believe in the concept of statewide community—even in a state as transient, diverse and large as Florida.

In my class, there was another Wendy who became a good friend.

Her name was Wendy Spencer and she ran Volunteer Florida for Gov. Bush at the time. When President Obama was elected,  he tapped Wendy Spencer to run his national service program because he recognized that Wendy Spencer was special.

Wendy Spencer would make it back home for Leadership Florida’s legendary annual meetings including an infamous event at Epcot Center in which Wendy and I got lost in the park and couldn’t find our way back to the hotel. It was a rather hot and humid Central Florida evening and there were moments when we felt that we would not make it back alive. It was that hot and that uncomfortable. Navy SEALS we are not.

Alas, we did find our way back to the air conditioned comfort of the hotel. And it’s a good thing too.

Wendy has now come home to take over for Wendy Walker. As a proud classmate, I couldn’t be happier. She’s an inspired choice to step into some very big shoes.

Over the years, I have gained much from my membership in Leadership Florida. And tried to give back as well.

I have seen and met great speakers and thinkers: documentarian Ken Burns, author Jon Meacham, Tom Brokaw, Colin Powell and experts on history, presidential power, communication, entrepreneurship, the environment and health policy.

You leave smarter and inspired, every time. And the goal is to bring these insights back to make your part of Florida better.

But it’s the personal relationships that are just as transformational—when we were hit by hurricanes we were able to call a Leadership Florida classmate who was a senior engineer to help us with equipment that helped to keep our sewage systems from breaking down. When I needed advice as a member of the board at Delray Medical Center, I was able to ring up an alumni expert on healthcare for advice and counsel. In between, there have been presidential primary debates, governors debates and senatorial debates—all sponsored by Leadership Florida. We are great conveners.

On a personal level, my son graduated College Leadership Florida and now attends meetings with me and it has been a great bonding experience for us. It’s nice to share and to see his mind expand as he’s exposed to great thinkers and doers.

My daughter, an ESE teacher in Tampa, attends annual meetings as a guest and last year had a chance to meet Vice Chancellor of Education Brian Dassler, who inspired her as he has so many.

When Brian passed away tragically last month at the age of 38, Leadership Florida members found comfort in each other and gratitude that we had a chance to know such a special man and educator thanks to our involvement in Leadership Florida.

The stories go on.

Wendy Walker made a lot of this possible for me and my family. So did Jon Levinson.

Leadership Florida’s annual meeting will be at The Breakers in Palm Beach this June.

It’s a big year…the official send off for Wendy Walker and the official welcome for Wendy Spencer and the 35th anniversary for the organization.

If you have a good resume of civic involvement and desire to immerse yourself in a community of generous and smart leaders, I urge you to apply for one of Leadership Florida’s amazing programs.

Visit www.leadershipflorida.org for more information. It will change your life.

Thanks Wendy Walker and welcome Wendy Spencer …we look forward to see where you lead us.

 

 

Magic Awaits When You Connect & Commit

When you connect you progress–it’s just that simple.

It’s the little things that make you fall in love.
Saturday we headed downtown for the CRA’s annual Easter Bonnet Pet Parade which never fails to deliver.
It’s a small event: simple, fun, charming and benefits a great cause–Dezzy’s Second Chance Rescue.
Norman Rockwell would have loved it.
It’s these types of gatherings that build community and make you fall for a place. And it’s these types of opportunities that we must seize, savor and support.
Peter Kageyama wrote a book about the intangibles called “For the Love of Cities.” I’ve seen Peter speak a few times and he never fails to deliver.
He talks about the importance of creating events, experiences and places that foster affection for your city.
In my book, “Adventures in Local Politics” I write that love is an important component of community building and leadership.
When people fall in love they commit. And when they commit they invest–their time, money, talent, creativity and passion.
And the rest takes care of itself.
Once people commit to a community, problems can be solved, challenges can be met and tragedies become easier to deal with.
Consequently, the good news is sweeter because there is a community of people to celebrate with.
These are not difficult or complex concepts but building community isn’t easy.
In case you haven’t noticed (and I bet you have) our society is divided these days. And Delray is not immune from those fault lines.
All the more reason why it’s important to come together when we can.
Recently, we’ve had a few opportunities. The Delray Affair, The Pet Parade, Impact 100, the upcoming Police Banquet sponsored by Delray Citizens for Delray Police and more.
There are many ways to connect. But only if we look. And I hope you do. Because it makes all the difference.
You’re needed and you’ll benefit by getting involved too.
Not a bad deal.
The best leaders connect. The best citizens too.
Here’s a free event that I hope you’ll think about coming to see.
On April 25 at 4 pm Old School Square’s Crest Theatre will host the awarding of a Bronze Star to retired Delray Beach Police Officer Skip Brown.
Skip spent 20 years as an officer in Delray and a great deal of that time was spent building community. He managed the Police Department’s volunteer program and specialized in reaching hard to reach segments of our city.
He was all about making a connection.
If you want a dose come to the Crest a week from Tuesday. The event is free–bring the kids. It’s a teachable moment and a chance to honor valor and bravery.
Meanwhile, find ways to get connected. It makes all the difference.