10 Signs of a Great Organization

You need a north star.

Inc. magazine recently printed 10 signs of greatness in a company.

I thought the list was spot on—and that the traits of a great company also translate to a great non-profit, school, organization or City Hall.

Here’s the Inc. list with a few comments from a guy (that would be me) who has worked and volunteered in great places, good places and horrendous places over the past 31 years.

  1. Everyone is having fun—Inc. calls fun the “ultimate entry point for greatness.” I agree. And isn’t that a great sentiment? Fun environments are freeing, creative, productive, entrepreneurial and almost always successful. Fun attracts and retains talent, investment and ideas. “Without a sense of fun and creativity, forget ever achieving any level of greatness. To be great, you have to be a beacon.”
  2. No one is pedantic—Inc.’s John Brandon believes pedantry kills all progress and creativity. “When everyone acts like they know everything, when they are slavishly devoted to rules and when they are fussy, finicky, strict and overly fastidious, then nothing good will happen,” according to the magazine. A good point—flexibility and a willingness to experiment (and fail) enables greatness to occur.
  3. Empathy Abounds—Brandon defines empathy as an ability to see another point of view. “I’m going to help you, you’re going to help me,” he writes. “That’s called teamwork.”So take a look at your organization. Is there infighting? Do people work together, or work to undermine each other? Do key organizations and partners feel supported or neglected and or put upon?
  4. Expectations are Crystal Clear to Everyone—When bosses hoard information it breeds distrust and leads to everyone shooting in the dark. When you have a north star, or “true north” as author Bill George calls it, it enables people to focus. It also allows for true accountability versus a culture of random punishment. Goals should not be a well-kept secret. Stakeholders need to know the end game in order to have buy in to the organization.
  5. Grace is Prevalent—What if you fall short of your goals? Showing grace instead of a demeaning, belittling attitude is what makes a company great. “Grace is a license to fail,” says Inc.’s Brandon. But it’s not an excuse, it’s also a license to try new things, work hard and stick around. A culture of criticism kills momentum, instills fear and kills progress. “A culture of grace, encouragement, understanding and excitement will turn any organization into a giant,” says Brandon.
  6. Roles are Clearly Defined—In dysfunctional organizations, people often don’t know what they’re doing or where they fit in the big picture. This type of culture creates organizational anxiety. Employees need to be empowered not stifled.
  7. Everyone sees and rewards hard work—When companies treat employees like cattle that need to be silenced, cowed (no pun intended) and herded you will surely fail. If hard work and success are celebrated, you will succeed and learn.
  8. Every Employee is Happy—Happy employees create dynamic environments, according to Inc. An unhappy group ensures your enterprise will sink.
  9. Mentoring is more important than performance—“Being beaten into submission by an angry boss won’t work; mentoring will,” writes Brandon. “A great company is one where the most important knowledge is handed down from one employee to the next in a way that’s built on the foundation of individual relationships.” To this I would add to beware of the narcissistic “leader” who only feels good when he disparages everyone else. How do you tell if you are dealing with a narcissist? Here’s one tell-tale sign: If it’s not their idea, they aren’t interested. Narcissists in powerful positions will topple your enterprise faster than you can read this sentence.
  10. There’s a great leader—“Behind every great company is a great leader,” says Brandon. “A great leader has an attitude that generates enthusiasm and happiness among the staff. It’s contagious.” Meanwhile, corrosive leadership destroys any and all progress or chances for success.

A Bright Light in a Dim Crisis

Detective Nicole Lucas speaking at a recent Delray Chamber meeting.

Detective Nicole Lucas is impressive.

As soon as she begins to speak, you just can’t help but be drawn into her story.

She is the detective working with a task force dealing with sober homes and the terrible addiction issues plaguing Delray Beach. Of course, Delray Beach is not alone. Addiction—particularly to opioids—is a national scourge claiming more lives last year than the Vietnam War, a whopping 59,000 people.

It’s a stunning number and Delray Beach is in the throes of the crisis, along with many, many cities nationwide.

When Det. Lucas spoke at the Chamber recently she reported that there have been 340 overdoses this year in Delray. By the time this is published that number is sure to have increased.

There were 76 overdoses in May. Every month, that number is increasing. Young police officers and paramedics are seeing more death in one year than veterans have in their entire careers. The emotional toll cannot be quantified, but it also can’t be ignored or denied.

What impressed us the most about Det. Lucas was that she struck the exact right tone on what can be an emotional issue. She combines empathy for those addicted and their families with toughness toward those who exploit people caught in the vice grip of addiction. She also shows great regard for the men and women saving lives–the responsible operators who are providing a needed service in our community.

“We all know someone touched by addiction,” she told a capacity crowd at the Chamber. “It’s not a small, hidden corner of the world anymore, it’s an epidemic.”

She praised the responsible operators, the men and women who dedicate their lives to trying to save people from the destruction and damage of addiction. There were no broad brushes, no sweeping indictments of the industry, just sober analysis of the situation and a mature view of what needs to be done to save lives and communities.

Our Police Department, our Drug Task Force and our State Attorney’s Office are on the cutting edge of the issue. We were one of the first cities to deploy Narcan, which reverses overdoses, the Police Department is hiring a clinical social worker and we are leaders on the Sober Homes Task Force.

Already, Det. Lucas and her team have shut down scores of sober homes and the word is out that irresponsible operators will be arrested and prosecuted. It’s a slow and laborious task, but the experts in Delray— including veteran providers and responsible operators –say that they are seeing many of the bad guys pack up shop and leave for other locales. Still, nobody is declaring victory and the body count continues to rise.

The opiates are becoming more lethal, the addictions harder to break.

“They are fighting demons most of us will never understand,” said Lucas. “There are tons of good sober homes and treatment centers but we have to get rid of the bad ones, the ones who abuse people.”
Det. Lucas detailed cases where patients were brokered and monetized. Examples of abuse, paying addicts to take drugs so they can be paid for being delivered to detox; etc.

“We see attempts to beat these people down. ‘You are just a junkie, the police don’t care about you. Who will believe you?’ It’s abusive.”

Interestingly, social media has assisted Det. Lucas in her efforts to find bad operators. An active Facebook page has elicited tips and given her a window into the world of recovery. She guarantees anonymity while encouraging citizens to speak out if they witness unsavory practices.

But merely calling the Police to report a sober home is not enough; good operators have a role to play and are protected by federal law. But those who violate patient brokering laws are fair game to be arrested and shut down.

If you have any tips please call 1-844-324-5463.

 

Finding Hope Among Leaders

Nancy Lublin, best selling author of “Zilch” speaks at Leadership Florida.

For me, Leadership Florida is an antidote for the mundane and the banal.
For two and a half days every year, I can count on seeing good friends, hanging out with smart accomplished people and learning from the best minds around.
It’s a break from the cacophony of social media, the gossips at the gym, petty politics and the rigors of daily life.
Over the years, we’ve heard from the likes of Ken Burns, Colin Powell, Tom Brokaw and thought leaders from science, journalism, education, medicine, education and business.
It’s energizing.
But this year was different. This year, we weren’t sheltered from the outside world. There was an 800 pound gorilla in the room by the name of political dysfunction and it dominated official and unofficial discussion.
All four keynote speakers/panels that I saw referenced it: Pulitzer Prize winner Jose Antonio Vargas woke us up with a challenging talk about immigration.
Vargas is undocumented and he challenged us to see parts of the debate that many of us avoid: the personal (he hasn’t seen his mother since he was 12), the factual (he produced staggering stats regarding the economic contributions of immigrants) and of course the politics. Always the politics and the sad fact that we can’t seem to get a coherent immigration policy in this country.
Vargas was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Knight Foundation CEO Alberto Ibarguen and featuring former Gov. Bob Graham and former Miami Herald Publisher Dave Lawrence.
The trio discussed civic engagement, their long careers full of real and lasting accomplishments and politics.
Several of the questions focused on the toxicity of the current moment and the lack of true leaders in the public square.
Gov. Graham sees civic engagement and education as the answer.
We need to train better citizens who will become servant leaders.
Watching these guys–serious people with gravitas–only pointed out how those qualities are missing today and so badly needed.
It was a good segue to Chuck Todd, the host of Meet the Press and himself a lighting rod for the right.
Todd’s message was how compromise and bipartisanship went from desirable behaviors to political death. He spoke about civility and how gridlock is preventing anything from getting done.
Nancy Lublin, a legend in the non-profit world, followed with a sobering talk on crisis trends in America as expressed via text messages to her organization which provides counseling to those crying out for help. Once again, political dysfunction seems to be driving anxiety, fear, anger and stress.
The last speaker I caught was the great Geoffrey Canada, the recently retired founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone.
He gave a roof raising talk about the importance of education and how teachers are often given short shrift in society.
It was a call to arms. A plea for seriousness and an impassioned argument to save a generation.
Our incoming chair Beth Kigel believes that if Florida and the nation were turned over to the men and women of Leadership Florida we would be able to solve a lot of problems and seize a lot of opportunities.
I agree. Because I believe in the organization.
But I also know that won’t happen and that many of my fellow alumni won’t be running for office anytime soon.
Oh sure, there are many current and past elected officials in the organization and more than a few current and future candidates. And yes, these talented men and women are making it happen in business, academia, social work, health care and the social sector but we are not in charge.
If we were there would be bipartisan compromise. There would be fact based discussions, there would be civility and policies based on a genuine passion for Florida.
Yes I am biased. But I’m also optimistic it’s possible because Leadership Florida is a mix of parties, philosophies, ages, geographies, backgrounds and ethnicities. And we get along. We care for each other.
It’s possible. We can do this. We must do this.
Happy Independence Day.

 

Innovation & Aspiration in Pompano

Pompano’s brand new cultural center makes a statement: We are serious.

Last week, we attended a meeting of the Urban Land Institute at Pompano Beach’s gleaming new cultural center.

For me, it was a case of déjà vu—because what I’m seeing in Pompano is the mindset I saw in Delray Beach in the late 80s and early 90s—a time of dreaming, aspiration, visioning and planning.

If you’re a city wonk like me, there’s nothing more inspiring than a city that sends out the message of “come on down, we are open for business and striving for greatness.”

And consequently no more depressing experience than to see a city that says “go home and get lost, we are done.”

Of course, no city comes out and says it quite that way. They all talk about jobs, investment, smart growth, sustainability and every other buzzword you can trot out, but the cities that are sincere actually seek it out and if investment comes to them they work hard to land the deal.

The most compelling incentives are never financial—they are always emotional. Investors bringing jobs and projects don’t expect you to compromise the rules or aesthetics—but they do expect you to have some flexibility and predictability and a sense of urgency to get things done.

One of the speakers at the ULI Pompano event warned those in the audience to avoid two labels:

  1. Don’t be the city where someone has to spend $500,000 beating their heads against the wall before leaving for friendlier towns. Capital goes where it is welcome.
  2. Don’t be the city that is perpetually the next “it” town, but never quite gets there.  I think that’s good advice.

Let’s explore warning number one—the city that develops a reputation for being impossible to work with will begin to attract bottom feeder developers—not the best in class that cities should be looking to lure.

The best developers and business owners aren’t averse to high standards or tough criteria; many of the best welcome a high bar. But they are wary of unpredictability, dysfunction and frankly stupidity. They don’t like corruption either.

They also don’t like an environment in which the rules are fungible—so that even if you follow them you aren’t assured of a fair hearing.

As for the second warning…we all know the label and can name a few cities that fit the moniker. After a while you become like the talented draft pick who never quite reaches his potential. We all know the term that’s used for those types: bust.

What’s also bad is to be known as the city that climbs all the way up the mountain and then before reaching the summit, gives it all away. They call that being “meshuga”: Google it.

Anyway, Pompano is pushing an innovation district just east of I-95 and spanning over 170 acres. They envision jobs, manufacturing, start-ups, restaurants, apartments and open space.

They built a magnificent cultural arts center, redid their beach front, landed the 26 Degree brewery on Atlantic Boulevard, and approved the mixed use Pompano Fishing Village, the sharply designed Koi Residences and a few more signature projects in their eastern core. Even the long troubled Hammondville Road corridor is seeing investment.

Several Delray Beach investor/development companies including Grover Corlew (invaluable contributors to the Congress Avenue Task Force) and New Urban Communities (Atlantic Grove among other projects) are investing in Pompano. Both see parallels between where Delray Beach was and where Pompano is today—solid leadership, a great CRA, talented staff and an aspirational “get it done” mindset.

ULI and Pompano brought Mitchell Weiss from Harvard Business School to the event. Weiss was chief of staff to the late Boston Mayor Tom Menino when that mayor envisioned an innovation district along Boston Harbor that became a national model for job creation and placemaking.

Weiss said cities should stick to their vision—insist on doing something special, invest in education, partner with universities, market their city and take extra care to make sure things happen so that traction and momentum can take root.

Words to live by or ignore.

Live by it and see things happen. Ignore it, and watch other cities eat your breakfast, lunch, dinner and sadly your future.

 

An Evening @ Bourbon Sprawl

Note: Last week, I had the opportunity to speak to a wonderful group of urban planners, activists, bloggers, architects and redevelopment advocates at an event known as Bourbon Sprawl on Clematis Street in West Palm Beach. It’s a great group and I thought I’d share some of my presentation from that evening. It was followed by great conversation.

Like Tip O’Neill— I’m a firm believer that all politics are local…and like many Americans —both Democrats and Republicans—I believe that Washington D.C. is broken…unable to solve problems, unwilling to collaborate, unable to compromise and challenged to seize opportunities.

So if we are going to solve problems—whether inequality, climate change or race relations—we are going to have to do so on the local level.

If we are going to have successful communities we have to get our cities right…and in order to get our cities right we need to attract the best and brightest to public service—both on a staff level, a volunteer level and as elected officials.

If we can do this—there is no doubt in my mind that our cities, towns and villages will succeed. But if we don’t—there is simply no way our communities will thrive.

I’m sure of this…because I have experienced it in Delray Beach where I have lived for 30 years and I have seen what switched on leadership can do in cities large and small in a variety of geographies…unfortunately, I have also seen what corrosive “leadership” can undo or prevent and it’s not pretty.

The challenges and opportunities facing our communities today are complex….they require serious thinking by serious people. And I often wonder if our “system” is designed to attract the polar opposite personalities…

I have seen what wins local, state and national elections—and it’s a combination of fear and blame. We are told what to be afraid of and we blame our opponents for causing the problems. But we never seem to get around to solutions…we never talk about collaboration, compromise or the need to marshal our resources to either make things happen or to begin to solve problems that threaten our future…

We are here the day after the most expensive House election in American history….$50 million spent—mostly on negative advertising—to elect a single representative— who regardless of who won—would most likely have a negligible effect on the issues facing our nation….the content of that spending will be forgotten in a few days and then the fundraising begins again….an endless cycle. Can you imagine what $50 million could do in your community…if it was invested in start-ups, non-profits, placemaking, research, science and education? Do you think the impact would be greater than $50 million spent on attack ads?

We seem to be caught in an endless spiral toward the bottom…and we have created an atmosphere in which serious people avoid the public square, walk away from public service and in many cases fail to exercise the basic pillar of our Democracy…the right to vote.

There was a time when small towns might have been somewhat immune to this disease… I’ll tell you about my own story in Delray Beach…the basis for my book, Adventures in Local Politics… I saw what good leadership can do…

I moved to Delray Beach in 1987….and the physical gifts our city has, have not changed in those 30 years.

There’s a grid system, good ‘bones’ as planners like to say, a glorious beach and good geography since we have proximity to several regional powerhouses—West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and our next door neighbor Boca Raton.

But Delray was a very different place in the 80s than it is today…I can describe to you the blight, the vacant storefronts, the crime, the drugs and the disinvestment…but instead I will quote one of my best friends a restaurateur who was an early pioneer in Delray….”this town was circling the bowl, before it was saved.”

A colorful quote…vivid, descriptive and accurate. Three words: circling the bowl.. says it all.

So when you do a SWOT analysis of Delray and examine its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats you’ll find that alongside some incredible strengths and opportunities are some daunting weaknesses and threats….schools that struggle, deep generational poverty, racial division, a lack of high paying jobs, a lack of a diverse housing stock, a proliferation of sober homes –many run by irresponsible and exploitive operators, poor citizen participation as measured by a lack of civic engagement and poor voter turnout…

And yet….tremendous value was created….we have a dynamic and vibrant downtown, our tax base is growing faster than most of our neighbors, blighted neighborhoods have seen improvements, crime rates —while still troublesome— were improved, culture and art have taken root and we have seen an improvement in race relations since the 80s, particularly between the Police Department and our minority communities.

This did not happen by accident…or by policies pushed by our county government, our friends in Tallahassee or our representatives in Washington.

It happened through visioning, collaboration, solid execution of citizen driven plans, the adoption of new urbanist principles, and a business friendly government that was focused more on outcomes than process. It happened because of leadership: among staff, elected officials, business leaders and volunteers….

And so I suspect that the rest of our nation’s cities have this opportunity to transform…or to be left behind….it all hinges on leadership….all of it….People matter, more than anything…and we better do what we can to attract the right people to the Public Square and frankly keep the wrong people from the levers of power…

People matter….leaders who empower rather than stifle a community—make progress possible.

Because the word impossible loses all meaning if the right people show up and agree to work together….but the word impossible becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy if the wrong people show up and talented citizens sit on the sidelines or decide that the level of toxicity is too high for them to participate….

Again, my city is a case study….

Because as far as we have come….a CRA district that went from $250mm in value to over $2bn in 30 years, recognition as an All America City, the first city to win the John Nolen award recognizing our implementation of smart growth policies, Florida Trend naming us the best run town in Florida and hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment—we are far from done. And far from being bullet proof….

Every ounce of progress cities make is vulnerable to being rolled back. Every dollar spent can yield a return on investment or a loss….and the headwinds we faced 30 years ago remain headwinds today….schools that struggle, the devastation of heroin, neighborhoods on the brink as a result of bad sober home operators….crime, violence and now profound and embarrassing political dysfunction.

None of these problems are intractable—if you attract the right people to the public square.

But all of them are intractable, if you have a mindset predisposed to failure or lack of collaboration—as we see in Washington and in cities that struggle with toxic politics.

Benjamin Barber—who works at the City University of New York–wrote a book called “If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities”.

It’s a manifesto…passionately written and convincingly argued—that local governments are uniquely positioned to save the planet and themselves. I agree with him.

Mr. Barber builds a strong case for an informal parliament of cities, perhaps several hundred strong, which would in effect ratify a shift in power and political reality that, he argues, has already taken place. He sees modern cities as incubators for problem-solving while national governments are doomed to failure.

 

“Because they are inclined naturally to collaboration and interdependence, cities harbor hope,” Barber writes. “If mayors ruled the world,” he says, “the more than 3.5 billion people (over half the world’s population) who are urban dwellers and the many more in the exurban neighborhoods could participate locally and cooperate globally at the same time — a miracle of civic ‘glocality’ promising pragmatism instead of politics, innovation rather than ideology and solutions in place of sovereignty.”

I like the ideals espoused by Dr. Barber…but I am a realist as well.

And so the key to success is not just home rule and collaboration among cities…the key is making sure the right leaders are in the right positions to build cities that are sustainable…and that the right leaders feel supported and nurtured by caring citizens.

So we must invest in leadership, which we are not doing…we must encourage people who are courageous…and we must invest in not only the appearance of the public realm but the attractiveness of the public square..because if the public square is toxic and resembles a sewer—good people will find other ways to spend their time.

That does not mean we shun or discourage debate…but it does mean that we confront the civic bullies that all of us working in public policy are all too aware of but are reluctant to talk about….we have to make it safer—not safe—safer and more attractive for promising leaders to succeed. We have to confront the bullies that rob us of aspiration, inspiration, progress and productivity.

If we don’t….the cities that do— will thrive. And the other cities will wither and die…and there is too much at stake for us to allow that to happen…we have a responsibility to the past, the present and the future.

We should strive to preserve the best of our history, serve our stakeholders today and plan to give future generations a better future…it can be done.

It must be done….

So I will leave you with two ideas….and then I want to talk to you guys…because you are the type of leaders we need to fan out across our region to build great places…

Idea #1: Some university in our county…Lynn or FAU needs to step up and build a Public Leadership Institute…we train doctors, we train lawyers, we train puppies…we need to train public sector leaders…don’t you think that will yield ROI?

Idea #2: New Urbanism, Smart Growth, sustainable development—whatever you want to call it, needs a marketing makeover because it is just too damn easy for NIMBY’s and naysayers to derail progress. We need a political strategy that matches the intellectual underpinnings of what we know to be solid public policy. We are starting to see this with the beginning of a YIMBY movement, but we have a long way to go. If we don’t…we will lose any and all opportunities to create a sustainable future for our kids.

 

 

 

Against the Wind

Facebook is powerful.
And lately it’s reminding me of how fast time passes.
Sometimes when I can’t sleep (and I write most of these posts between 3 am and 4:30 am) I scroll through Facebook viewing the lives of people I know through their news “feeds.”
Most of the time, it’s a happy experience and it makes me feel somewhat connected to the lives of people who have meant something to me on my travels through life.

But sometimes it leaves me feeling a little sad because I realize that I’m barely connected to people who once were so important to my daily existence. And I realize the relentless velocity of life. Days bleed into weeks, weeks bleed into months and suddenly life passes by.
And so I realize that I don’t know my childhood friend’s son who just graduated college and that I have never seen (in real life anyway) my best friend’s grandchildren.
Work, distance, obligations, your own troubles, joys, sorrows–life. As Bob Seger sings: “deadlines and commitments, what to leave in, what to leave out.”

I recently shared with a new friend that I find my 50s to be a poignant decade.
In so many ways, we find ourselves at the top of our game. We have gained knowledge,  insight and perspective through experience, mistakes and time. We’ve paid a lot of dues.

We’ve tripped and fell over and over again but still managed to find a way through our childhood, teen years, the turbulent 20s, our 30s and 40s and now we’re here: smarter in so many ways. But still filled with unanswered questions, still searching, still wondering. There’s so much in the rear view mirror, so much we now understand and so much that is still a mystery.

The poignancy comes with the realization that there’s just not enough time to do all that we want to do. To see all that we want to see.
We hope there’s time and most likely there is, but we also understand how fast it goes, how tenuous our health can be, we know our strength and we grasp our vulnerability.

When I was a kid, my friends and I would play basketball in our driveway for hours. We found time for stickball, threw a football around and played tennis for hours. We would listen to records and talk endlessly and enthusiastically about all that we would do. The places we’d travel. The jobs we’d have. The world’s we’d conquer.

As I see all my friends kids graduate, see the photos of a college reunion I just missed, watch my own kids launch their careers I realize that I still aspire.
That I’m still excited about the future, still get turned on by creative people who spend their days dreaming and doing and helping and achieving. This week alone, I reconnected with a young entrepreneur that I believe in, talked with my team about building a brand, dreamed about creating a creative village, kicked back with close friends at a great local restaurant and had a great discussion with some really smart people about community and connection. It’s invigorating. It feeds your soul.

But I also feel the tug of time, the need to connect with people who have meant the world to me and the need to be present and to plan: trips, goals, experiences..the things that matter most.
Because while time has always been finite, you just don’t realize it until you get older just how fast your life passes by.
And you realize that how you spend your time and who you spend it with is the most important decision of all.

Here’s To The Winners

Delray Beach won another All America City Award last week and that’s  a good excuse to write a whole lot of nice things about Janet Meeks.
Prior to winning last week, Delray had won the award twice before in 1993 and 2001.
Back then, the award recognized cities for three community projects. These days the award recognizes strides communities make for advancing reading scores.

Janet’s leadership on behalf of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading gained real, quantifiable results sustained over time.
When she asked a few people to serve as peer reviewers to look at other cities efforts, we all said yes.
After I read and reviewed the applications from a few communities I knew Delray would win.
We know how a city can impact education and based on the applications we read it was easy to tell that Delray is a pacesetter.
We should be. We’ve been at this a long time.

Since at least the late 80s when Tom Fleming led an effort called Sharing for Excellence.

Back in those days, Tom was a home builder and he became frustrated by the negative perceptions enveloping Delray’s schools. Young families weren’t buying homes in the beautiful Andover development because they didn’t want to send their children to Delray schools.
Realtors called it the “Delray Dilemma.”
So Tom and members of the community crafted a vision for education in Delray. It called for magnet schools, a new middle school, upgraded facilities and more. The City  got it done.

Mayors Tom Lynch and Jay Alperin were passionate advocates for education investing city monies to help improve neighborhoods near schools. Tom went on to serve on the School Board for 8 years, including 7 years as chair. He did a lot for education during his tenure.
Mayor David Schmidt was also a champion for education leading the city’s efforts to work with the School Board to build a new Atlantic High School, which the opening of career academies including an innovative Criminal Justice Academy in partnership with our Police Department.

The leadership around education in Delray came from all segments of the community. Residents of the Southwest Neighborhood pushed for a new school and the Village Academy was born.

The Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce raised funds through a foundation to support local schools and teachers. Parents, volunteers, non-profits, business leaders all rolled up their sleeves to support better schools. It has made a difference.

Janet was there for many if not all of these efforts.
She became our education coordinator, served as the staff for the city’s Education Board and became our advocate at the School Board fighting for resources, boundaries, facilities, programs and to make sure our schools had solid principals.
The campaign for Grade level reading built on literacy efforts, chamber programs, the work of key non profits and other community partners.
She’s a huge asset to Delray.
Along the way, I’ve been lucky to call her a friend. She’s a fountain of knowledge, does her homework and cares passionately for kids and for Delray Beach.
Over the years, there have been whispers of cutting the position. Luckily they did not come to fruition because Janet Meeks has provided tremendous value.
Delray’s leaders have long recognized that schools are an important part of our community.
We have had our struggles but also our triumphs.
From an award-winning Montessori program at Spady Elementary and the IB and career programs at Atlantic to the creation and growth of the Village Academy to the terrific gifted program at Banyan Creek and so much more we have come a long way.
Obviously, there is more to do. Much much more to do.
But Delray has shown over and over again that a city can impact education, even when it’s not its direct responsibility. If we make the investment, we get the return. It’s just that simple.

Leadership Heals

When tragedies strike communities, I think first of the victims and then their families and friends.
But soon after I think of the mayors.
They are often the elected officials tasked with putting the pieces together and trying to make sense of the events in the face of sadness, grief and anger.
So I sympathized with Sadiq Khan in the wake of the recent terror attacks in London and I thought of Mayor Buddy Dyer of Orlando as I read the spate of anniversary stories this week one year after the Pulse nightclub shooting. The largest mass shooting in US history.
I’ve met Mayor Dyer a few times, even had lunch with him once many years ago at a League of Cities convention. He’s been a great mayor transforming downtown Orlando into a dynamic place and expanding Orlando’s brand beyond Disney, time shares and Medieval Times like attractions.
But in the public’s mind he may be remembered more for his handling of the Pulse shooting.
He’s done a yeoman’s job and this week he talked about the unity of Orlando and the resilience of the community in the wake of unspeakable violence.

When you’re a mayor you get to experience the thrill of civic achievement. There are parades, ribbon cuttings, proclamations, awards and photo ops.
You get to experience civic pride and you get to recognize the special people in your community. The couple celebrating a landmark anniversary, the person turning 100, the Eagle Scout, the Little League champs.
It’s a joy.

An honor.

A privilege.

But you also sign on for the tough stuff. The fires that displace families, the crimes that turn your stomach, the natural disasters which endanger lives– the overdoses.
That’s not easy.
Leadership asks a lot of people.
It asks us to be boosters one day and healers the next.
Tragedies shouldn’t define a city. That was the message Mayor Dyer said at an event marking the anniversary.
Achievements are a far better way to think of a place.
But tragedies do mark and mar a place. And they should. Because we must never forget. We must heal–but remember. We must mourn but allow ourselves to love.
It’s easy to succumb to hate. But it’s much better to love one another.
Much better.

High Rent Blight

Bleecker Street in the historic Noho District of NYC may be resembling bleak street these days.

The New York Times touched on an interesting topic last week: high rent blight.
They used the phrase to describe Bleecker Street in New York City which saw rents soar to $800 a square foot before retailers cried uncle and shut their doors. Now the once red hot street suffers from vacancy; hence high end blight which is considered late stage gentrification.
Which begs the question: can this happen to Atlantic Avenue?
Palmetto Park Road? Pineapple Grove?
When I moved here in 1987, we had conventional low rent blight. Rents were $5-$8 per square foot and vacancy rates downtown were about 40 percent.
Today, some restaurants are paying in excess of $100 per square foot–far from Bleecker Street numbers but still very high for our market.
Rents in Pineapple Grove are $30-$35 per square foot for prime space–(solid rents no doubt) and hardly imaginable back when Norman Radin conceived the district; but still not ridiculous.
But ….
high rents are coming.
They have hit the avenue and the  Grove is next.
Why?
Because we’ve had some incredibly high purchase prices on and off the avenue.

If you talk to veteran commercial real estate brokers, they are wrestling with the challenge of making rents jibe with high land prices.
It’s a conundrum.
If you believe in a free market–and I do–rising prices are driven by the market and represent good news for long time landlords who have weathered good cycles and horrible cycles.
But if you want to see a diverse mix of businesses downtown and if you value independent operators–as I do–the high prices are a major challenge.
As the son of an independent pharmacist I have a little insight into the challenges of making a small business work in a competitive environment.

Today, the challenges are bigger than ever. The internet, Amazon, the very difficult retail environment etc etc., all make it very hard to build and sustain a business. Even well- heeled chains are finding it hard to survive. Throw in high rents, a seasonal economy, high insurance, a tough labor market, competition for people’s time and complicated marketing channels and you can appreciate how hard it is to make it today. You can also appreciate the need to support local businesses and to shop local.

The Downtown Development Authority is wrestling with these issues in a smart way.
They are working with Robert Gibbs, a noted retail and downtown expert who has some familiarity with Delray having worked here during the creation of the Downtown Master Plan.
But no doubt about it, this is a challenging environment. And we need to be cognizant of  that. We also need to be aware of our downtown mix and our demographics too.

When rents get high, restaurants tend to push alcohol–a high margin item. And if we morph from a food destination to a nightclub scene that has consequences ranging from our brand and who hangs out here to public safety concerns and whether we become more of a late night destination than an all hours downtown.

Big topics. Great stuff to chew on.
But what we don’t want to see is high rent blight.

So how do cities address this issue without infringing on property rights or the free market?

My theory is a good offense is a good defense.
So here are a few thoughts.

Successful cities need multiple districts/neighborhoods to perform. If they do, businesses have options on where to locate.
So efforts must be made to transform The Set (and those efforts are being made), but also Congress Avenue, South Federal Highway, North Federal Highway and eventually the “four corners:” of Atlantic Avenue and Military Trail which was rezoned and reimagined a dozen years ago.
You can and should be working on multiple fronts both for practical reasons and market based ones.

The notion that cities can only do one thing at a time is plain wrong.

For example, the players for Congress and The Set are different. The areas don’t compete, they complement. Some investors will want West Atlantic. Some will prefer Congress or South Federal. Some will be interested in all of the above. Your “open for business” sign has to be open for all commercial districts while the economy is good.

One thing we know for sure, the cycle will end, so it’s important to get traction while you can. Development standards can and should be high. But you have to make hay when the sun shines as they say. And you don’t have to offer incentives–just attractive zoning and a smooth and predictable approval process. Be tough, but fair.

In previous down cycles– including the great recession– Delray Beach was the last to city to experience issues and the first to emerge from the doldrums. That was a result of a good planning,  a business friendly environment, a solid brand and a City Hall that knew how to execute.
Those are “hidden” but very real assets. So it’s just as critical that we rebuild capacity at City Hall.
How does this all address high rent blight?
Well..it doesn’t lower rents, or increase availability of affordable housing or commercial spaces overnight but it does spark competition so that if the market skews there are now options in our city. If we don’t create multiple options, people, business and investment will go elsewhere.
Hopefully over time the power of the market will modulate prices to better reflect what’s possible and desirable. That’s the bet, it’s not easy. But it’s doable. One thing for sure, doing nothing guarantees trouble.

The Truth Is Out There

“There’s a secret plan to fire the city manager/CRA Director/dog catcher and make (fill in the blank) the new city manager/CRA Director/dog catcher.”

 “The new project in town is really going to be a giant sober house/Victoria’s Secret/home for the criminally insane.”

 “There’s a secret plan to make the new iPic a Marriott.”

 “They bought a newspaper so they can publish fake news.”

 “(Insert name) has a handler/puppeteer/secret agenda/secret financial interest in a sober home.”

 “Our old Mayor loves Lake Worth, pines for Boca and hates alleys.” (One of out three ain’t bad, so in the interest of full disclosure I do have a crush on Lake Worth but we’re just dating and I’m free to see other cities).

Evil doers. Shysters. Mediocre minds. Has-Beens.

Blah blah blah…

Are you a fan of Jimmy Kimmel?

I am.

I think he’s real. I got vaklempt when he teared up about his newborn’s health challenges and I really thought his tribute to Don Rickles was amazing and genuine.

I also love the mean tweets segment on his show in which famous people read negative comments about themselves.

It’s funny. And it defangs the bullies and the trolls.

It exposes them as small, petty and mean.  It makes me believe that humor may be the best way to deal with the nattering nabobs of negativity and Nimbyism.

I remember a time when local politics was different. Hard fought yes, but different.

When it was safer to go in the water– so to speak.

Safer– but not safe.

It is what it is I suppose but the level of toxicity discourages good people from getting involved in politics and we need good people now more than ever.

I ran for office four times in my life. Only once did I have an opponent, my first time in 2000. We ran a hard fought race based on issues, ideas and experience and when it was over we became friends and now neighbors. I happily supported Ken Rubin for boards and task forces. I’d like to think he would have extended me the same courtesy.

Not that everything was roses and perfume in the old days—it wasn’t. I know what it’s like to have misinformation spread about me, my family and my friends. I even got a few physical threats and was the subject of a horrible rumor about my health because I went to Bethesda Hospital for something—I can’t even remember what. I’ve been sued, deposed, had anonymous mail pieces sent etc.

And yet, the culture at City Hall and among key organizations was stellar. We got along.

There was debate, some bruises along the way but a whole lot of collaboration. And while mistakes were made, there were outcomes. Stuff got done. A lot of stuff. For the record, that’s not bragging, that’s civic pride.

I served with Jon Levinson, Bill Schwartz, Alberta McCarthy, Brenda Montague, Rita Ellis, Dave Schmidt, Pat Archer, Fred Fetzer and Bob Costin. Did I miss anybody? It’s a blur. We were a range of ages, backgrounds, life experiences, political parties, races, religions and musical tastes. I liked them all. A few drove me crazy at times—(Jon especially) and I’m sure I annoyed them as well. But we saw each other as a team. We saw the city staff as teammates. We wanted to empower them, not micromanage them or stifle them.

We saw each other as the key to our individual success as elected officials and more importantly our collective success as a community. There were egos…I have one, I readily admit. It’s hard to run for office (or do anything of significance, without some confidence in your abilities to move the needle). But there was also gratitude, thankfulness, understanding, humor, empathy and a passionate desire to advance ideas, opportunities, neighborhoods, careers, visions and plans. It was real. It was palatable, you could taste it; it was in the air.

That said, we had enemies.

Only a few to be honest and they were tough. I lost a few people I thought were friends. Usually when I just couldn’t bring myself to agree with them on a single issue and despite my efforts to say “hey, there’s always 10 more things we can agree on”, they’d burn the bridge and try to take your house with it.

That’s politics. It’s rough. If you can’t handle the heat, I suggest you stay home and watch “The Bachelor.”

Then there are those who just don’t like you—maybe it’s the way you look or dress or talk. I don’t know.

I tried to reach out to those folks—but many times when you extend a hand you end up with your fingers bitten off. I’m not sure I understand that, but it just is.

Over time, in order to stay sane, be productive and move on with your life, you learn to focus on helping those who are doing good work in your community. If you do, you’ll succeed. You also learn that not everybody will like you. It’s just impossible.

But despite the fact that the good old days had their challenges…something feels very different now—both nationally and locally.

These days the strategy seems to be to spew conspiracy theories on social media using loaded terms like “dark money” and “hidden agendas.” The posts are loaded with threats and innuendo. They are devoid of facts, specifics or reality.

The self-regard is off the charts.

The ones who specialize in this communication are the only ones who care; the only ones with pure motives. The only ones who know the real truth–which they never quite reveal. When you press them, (which sadly I have done from time to time, sad because they are not worth the time) you only get more of the same. The truth will be revealed “in time.”  It’s like the X-Files…but without the beautiful red headed FBI agent.

Maybe an iPic supporter will be given an extra plush seat when the theater finally opens. Maybe, someone will rent an office at Atlantic Crossing someday. Maybe an evil developer will make a profit somewhere in Delray Beach.

Or maybe they are full of it.

The truth is this: any value that has been created in Delray was a direct result of public policy, investment, risk and leadership that not only enabled but encouraged that value to be created.

The disrespect of anyone remotely connected to the value that was created here is a phenomenon.

It’s a mystery to me. It truly is. But I’ve seen some civic giants dissed and it makes me sad. It makes me want to blog..and that’s a dangerous thing.

The other mystery–and this is a long time  thing I’ve wrestled with–is this notion that there’s some sort of secret, exclusive society here.

I’ve been observing and participating in Delray since 1987.

I don’t know how other places work because I was 22 when I arrived here and this is my experience. I don’t know what it’s really like elsewhere.

But for the most part, I have encountered a slew of very nice people.

When a family is victimized by a heinous crime, I’ve seen busy people drop everything and raise funds to help out.

When we lose community members I’ve seen people drop everything and help the grieving.

And when we’ve experienced hurricanes, accidents or shocks like 9-11, or the loss of a beloved police officer we’ve seen the community rally.

Lots of good, generous people live and work here.

I have found the vast majority of them to be welcoming to others.

If you called them up, they called you back.

If you invited them to lunch they said sure.

If you asked them to support a cause they said yes. And if you wanted to get involved you were put to work.

You weren’t put in charge, you were put to work. And if you showed up and didn’t insult everyone in the room you were given more to do–boards, committees, task forces.

You didn’t have to take a pledge or adopt group think. You just had to be decent, respectful, truthful and reliable.

That’s how it was in 1987 and that’s how it is now.

Warm. Welcoming. A community.

Back room deals? Plots? Grand schemes?

Oh there have been a few.

But the prevailing modus operandi has been putting Delray first. Not the unanimous M.O. but the prevalent one.

In other words, there’s a lot of good here.

Sitting on social media regurgitating or making up rumors puts you on the opposite side of what’s good in this community.

If you have the goods, present it.

If you don’t…well as my old English teacher used to say…”ignorance is its own refutation.”

(I got a B in that class, so if my grammar isn’t perfect, please forgive me).