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The Last Newspaper

Ken Tingley has written a love letter to the local newspaper.

A few weeks back, I wrote about cleaning out a junk drawer and finding an old Delray Times newspaper from 1995.

I worked for that paper for about a decade from 1987 to 1996 when I left to start my own education newspaper.

I’ve been blessed with a lot of interesting and great jobs/roles in my life, but none better than being a reporter for the old South Florida Newspaper Network.

It wasn’t the pay (we made very little money).

It wasn’t the perks. (There were none unless you count free parking).

It was the people and the job itself.

Newsrooms attract funny, smart, talented, creative, and idealistic souls.  It was a joy to work with them in a wide-open office where every day was an adventure.

You get to hear about the interesting stories your colleagues are working on, the colorful characters they are chasing and the “you can’t make this stuff up” things you see when it’s your job to report what’s going on in town.

I know it’s fashionable to bash the press these days. “Fake news” is the latest adorable saying meant to undercut the credibility of the only industry protected by our Constitution. It is protected because a free press is essential to a Democracy.

I’ve been on both sides of the pen so to speak. I spent years as a journalist covering people making news and I’ve been written about, which is far less fun.

I’ve seen amazing reporters and I’ve seen some bad ones, but there’s no doubt in my mind that a free press keeps us a free people.

I’ve been thinking about the role of local newspapers a lot these days.

When I moved to South Florida in 1987, Delray Beach was covered by four newspapers: The Sun-Sentinel, The Palm Beach Post, The Boca Raton News and the Monday-Thursday Papers (my alma mater and the precursor to the South Florida Newspaper Network). On big stories, the Miami Herald came to town.

You had to work hard not to know what was going on in Boca and Delray.

And the level of coverage spurred civic engagement. More people voted. More people attended Commission meetings (they weren’t at 4 p.m. when anyone who works can’t attend) and more people volunteered because they knew what was going on and when you know what’s happening, you’re more likely to want to be involved.

Everyone knew their city commissioners, county commissioners, school board members and state legislators. They attended charettes and visioning conferences, they showed up to protest or support projects and they relied on the local papers for information. In other words, there was a community  ‘water cooler’ and local reporters competed fiercely for readers, so you saw a lot of “enterprise” reporting not just dry meeting coverage.

In hindsight, it was a golden age. Not only for newspapers but for civic engagement. We never thought it could end.

But it did.

Not with a big crash, but with a slow-motion agonizing fade that saw newspapers shrivel up, or in the case of the Boca News—die. Even the vaunted Monday-Thursday Papers went away.

My friends in community journalism found other careers in public relations, marketing, advertising and sometimes in fields that had nothing to do with writing or communications. One former senior newsroom guy that I knew, ended up living in his car in a Boca Raton parking lot. The last time I saw him, he had his arm broken by someone who tried to rob him while he slept. We met and he was offering to sell me memorabilia from his career. It was a sad and terrible end to what had been a good run.

But as much as the people in the field suffered and were forced to reinvent themselves, the communities they covered suffered as well and continue to pay the price.

Today, there is no water cooler.

We have Facebook which often spreads misinformation, one monthly newspaper that has an odd bent (in my opinion), a few lifestyle magazines, a few newsletters (one is anonymous which undercuts its credibility) and a podcast or two with limited audiences.

We are poorer because our newspapers have gone away. The Sun Sentinel and Palm Beach Post are sad shells of their past versions, and the few reporters around don’t seem to have any history in our community. We lose something real and valuable when institutional memory becomes forgotten history. Coverage suffers without context; it’s like coming into a movie that’s half over and pretending to know the plot.

I recently finished a wonderful book called “The Last American Newspaper” by Ken Tingley. It’s a poignant book that tells the sad story of The Post-Star, an award winning newspaper in Glens Falls, N.Y.

The paper was a local powerhouse and even won a Pulitzer Prize for its editorials, an almost unheard-of victory for a small newspaper.

But the Post-Star was ambitious and committed to the community it served for over a century. The newsroom—led by Mr. Tingley— reported the news fairly and accurately, surfacing important issues from teenage drinking and domestic violence to homelessness and the financial troubles of the local hospital, which also happened to be a major advertiser.

Because the Post-Star did its job so well, the paper sparked important conversations that often led to meaningful change.

But over time, as the Internet came to dominate, the Post-Star lost revenue and no longer had the resources to produce the in-depth journalism that communities need to thrive.

The diminishment of local journalism is an important issue that needs to be addressed by every community in America. But especially here, in fast moving complicated South Florida.

I’ve long believed that it is easier to find out what is going on in Kabul, than it is to find out what’s happening at City Hall. That’s not good if you value community and if you care about your tax dollars.

Rogues thrive in the darkness where brave reporters once shined a light.

I don’t have any answers. In my opinion, nobody does.

I keep tabs on my old profession and see a few promising seeds: local newsletters that sell subscriptions, online newspapers, city-oriented podcasts etc. But there’s nothing like a newspaper. The magic of opening something you can touch and discovering something interesting and noteworthy.

We will lose a lot when the last newspaper vanishes. We already have.

 

 

The Ties That Happily Bind

Rex’s Hairstyling has been a community institution and a source of community for close to 40 years.

I miss the movies.

I miss newspapers.

I miss magazines.

I miss bookstores.

I miss albums (and getting lost in a great record store).

I miss civility.

I miss the America I knew in the 70s and 80s. But I’m still filled to the brim with patriotism.

I miss sleep.

I miss endless summers.

I miss boring hurricane seasons.

I miss Blood’s Groves.

I miss Ken and Hazel’s.

I miss seeing my buddy Perry at Boston’s on the Beach.

I miss 32 East.

I miss Chip Stokes at St. Paul’s.

I miss listening to stories in Mr. and Mrs. Pompey’s living room.

I miss Joe and Carolyn Gholston.

I miss visits with Libby Wesley.

I miss Sister Mary Clare’s brogue.

I miss roasts. (And when this town had a sense of humor).

I miss charrettes.

I miss optimism.

I miss the sense that anything was possible.

Because it was.

 

Celebrating A Friend

A few months back, I wrote a tribute to Karyn Premock who died tragically in an accident in Tennessee. http://yourdelrayboca.com/remembering-our-friend/

Karyn, who used to work at Rex’s Hairstyling, is beloved in Delray Beach. She touched so many lives.

I had the honor of speaking at her “celebration of life” at The Dunes over the weekend. The place was packed, and it could have been filled four times with the number of people who wanted a chance to mourn and celebrate.

Karyn is missed. I find myself thinking about her often, especially when I pass her old house in Lake Ida on the way to the park near the Delray Playhouse.

The celebration was closure for many of us, but it’s still difficult to reconcile that she’s gone. One minute you’re here…the next your gone. It’s sobering but also clarifying because it’s important to cherish the people who enrich our lives and communities.

We live in coarse times.  And you have to ask why?

Why?

Karyn was a bright light. She made us smile. You can’t put a price on what that’s worth. Her warmth, her energy, her caring made a real and lasting difference.

Earlier in the week, we learned that Rex’s will be closing Dec. 30.

Another Delray institution passing into the history books and memory banks.

Words cannot express how special a place Rex’s has been. How important it has been to this community. The scene of countless first haircuts, endless conversation, loud laughs and love. Lots and lots and lots of love.

When you walk through the doors you got more than a haircut, you got community.

The special people who work there adore each other and their customers. In today’s often toxic world, you can’t put a price on that.

Karyn created a family in that shop. She leaves behind a legacy of love and warmth.

So does Rex’s Hairstyling.

We need more of these great places….

Untimely Loss

Speaking of untimely loss, we were stunned to hear the news of Anthony “Rumble” Johnson’s death over the weekend.

The MMA legend was a neighbor for a few years and always kind and friendly to everyone, especially the children in our neighborhood who loved his big truck. He died after an illness at 38.

Rest In Peace.

 

I’m glad the Election is over.

What a waste of money…what an exercise in (fill in the blank).

I don’t care what side of the divide you’re on, all of us were inundated with an endless barrage of mud that did not offer a single thoughtful solution or a way forward, only reasons why should we fear/hate each other.

Let’s hope the upcoming municipal elections in March will offer us more substance.

There are real issues to discuss; the Delray bond issue, water issues, what do with Old School Square, where to site a new fire station now that we are losing our long term (and mutually beneficial arrangement with Highland Beach), issues at City Hall, workforce housing, dispirited non-profits because of attitudes at City Hall and the CRA’s politicization and implementation of draconian terms to accept grants.

As for the election results, it was a monumentally consequential election for Palm Beach County.

A political earthquake.

Reliably blue Palm Beach County turned red. Not only did Gov. Ron DeSantis beat Charlie Crist but two prominent Democrats lost County Commission races.

County Mayor Bob Weinroth lost his seat to newcomer Mari Woodward and longtime civic leader Michelle McGovern lost her bid for a commission seat as well.

While both races surprised me, the Weinroth loss was a stunner.

Bob was a hardworking and highly visible elected official with lots of experience in city and county government.

I went to his opponent’s website to learn more, and she seemed to be a one-issue candidate with lots of words about Covid lockdowns. It will be interesting to see how she performs.

But it’s clear to me, that experience matters less than the team you’re on. You are either a D or an R. And neither side will consider voting for the candidates outside their tribe.

In those kinds of races, money (Weinroth had a bunch) matters less than turning out your team.

Personally, I don’t understand why the County Commission is a partisan body.

And love him or loathe him, Governor DeSantis had some serious coattails.

 

It’s All About Soul

There’s a darkness in the center of town.

It’s been said that placemaking done right builds on “the soul” of a place.

I like that sentiment.

Too often, we think of placemaking as construction when it’s really about storytelling.

I believe that every place has a story to tell and that our job as citizens is to honor that story.

If we do, we will be good stewards of our communities and we will make sure that change—which is inevitable—will be authentic and feel good. But if we don’t, we will lose our soul and the essence of what makes a place special.

Losing what’s special about a place, doesn’t happen overnight, but it will happen. If we keep pulling threads, eventually the garment falls apart.

I believe that good design helps build great places, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle.

The other part—the most important part— is the people equation.

A great place must be “people friendly.” It must be warm and inviting and above all it must be respectful of its past, mindful of its present and always thinking about the future.

Those thoughts hit me when I drive past a still vacant Old School Square on my way to work in the morning.

To me, those beautiful buildings—once bustling with activity—seem sad and lonely. The Crest Theatre, home to so many magical performances over the years, is now an abandoned construction site. The classrooms once the home of art and photography classes are empty. The newly renovated Cornell Museum has had its walls stripped of art.

It didn’t have to be this way, but that’s a whole other story.

Meanwhile, The Downtown Development Authority is poised to come in and pump some life into the grounds and I have no doubt that if given ample resources, they will.

But as good as that agency is—and I’ve been a supporter over the years—I don’t think it will be easy to replace the soul of Old School Square. And as Billy Joel sings: “it’s all about soul.”

Old School Square’s soul was embodied by the special people who gave their time, passion, love, and hard-earned money to that place on the corner of Atlantic and Swinton for 32 years before the City Commission on a 3-2 vote kicked them to the curb. The public had no opportunity to weigh in before the vote, because the item to terminate the lease was never on an agenda.

But I suspect, based on the thousands of people who signed a petition to reverse the decision, that the community would have asked the commission to stop. Sadly, that never happened.

For 14 long months, there have been clumsy efforts to replace the non-profit that created Old School Square.  But that’s not proving to be so easy. And I know why: you can’t dial up soul.

You can’t issue an RFP and ask a group to bring love and passion as well as operating chops and tons of money. That’s what we’ve lost–love, passion and 80 percent of a $3 million operating budget. And it’s not a one time loss. It will be felt every year until you find a way to bring the soul back to what was Delray’s signature civic project.

Into that vacuum, comes the DDA. They are taking on a difficult and expensive assignment.

Again,  I support the agency.  When I was an elected official, and the downtown was humming, I would get occasional calls from citizens who wanted to disband the taxing authority.

“We don’t need the DDA anymore,” they would declare. “The downtown is busy. Their job is done.”

I would disagree, because the first rule of success in life, business, cities, and downtowns is this: you are never done.

Complacency is a killer.

Just when you think you’ve got it made, life will remind you that you don’t.

So, for the record, I hope the DDA succeeds.

But I will always believe that the Commission’s decision to terminate Old School Square, the very creators of the concept, was a tragically bad one. Costly in so many ways and while the politicians mercifully come and go, you the taxpayer will be saddled with those costs for years to come.

The biggest cost is the people who were thrown to the curb. They were awfully good folks—as good as it gets. Contributors who were generous and passionate about their town who were, in the end, told to get lost. People who ought to know better but don’t are lying about them and when they do they reveal who they really are.

That’s tragic and hurtful. And it matters. More than dollars and cents.

My friends, it’s the people who provide the magic.

It’s the people who provide the soul of a place.

People and only people can animate a brand, a community, a non-profit, a neighborhood.

So, it’s not about plugging in another entity or designing a great looking space. Of course, the entity is important and the space as is well, but it’s who comes/volunteers (and stays) at the table and who replaces them when they move on that matters most.

There was a time when our city government had multiple “connection” or entry points. There were Citizen Police Academies, there were Resident Academies, a Youth Council and more charrettes and more visioning exercises than you could count.

Old School Square was the heart and soul of those efforts to connect us.

It was a place to gather and celebrate our history, discuss our present and plan our future.

Old School Square was the physical and spiritual embodiment of our community. And it was wiped out without notice, forethought, or empathy.

I would be the last person to argue that what we lost was perfect. But Old School Square was good and there were times when it was great.

And that’s why you work to make it better. You don’t throw it away. You don’t kick it to the curb and then flail around asking the Boca Museum to help you (think about that for a moment, call on a Boca institution to run our community’s cultural center? Come on, folks) before resting on the DDA.

The DDA has promised to enlist volunteers and engage stakeholders as they embark on this new task. They are even suggesting the creation of a non-profit so they can solicit donations. Hmm….sounds familiar. It sounds like Old School Square.

All that is fine, but  I also hope they take some time to heal some deep wounds. Reach out to some of the people who loved Old School Square. Reach out to the woman who gave it life: Frances Bourque.

I know that won’t be a popular move with some of the powers that be. So what? It’s the right thing to do.

A warm gesture would be good for the soul.

And what’s good for the soul is good for the town.

True Love Stories Never Have Endings

The American Parkinson Disease Association is holding its annual Optimism Run & Walk Oct. 30 at South County Regional Park in West Boca.

There are certain phone calls you’ll never forget.Phone calls that change your life.Three years ago, I got such a call from my wife Diane.

But first some context.

Diane’s sister Joan had recently passed after a brave and brutal battle with a rare cancer.

Diane and her siblings went to Santa Cruz to spend those last sad days with a sister who had been larger than life. Joan was one of a kind—tough, independent, kind, spirited, smart.Losing her was like losing a limb, she was fundamental to our family dynamics even from her home across the country.When Diane came back she was understandably sad, notably tired and hurting. We all were.Cancer is a frustrating beast. You rally and then you get hit again.

While the impact  is hardest on the patient, the disease hits everyone and it’s path is broad.Still, I sensed something more might have been amiss when Diane returned home. She seemed to be moving a little slower than usual: her gait was off by a hair. But I noticed.Over the ensuing weeks which included holidays, I asked our kids and family to let me know if they thought something was “off” with Diane.Some thought so, others didn’t notice. Like I said, it was subtle.

But I knew something was not quite right, and I asked that she get checked out. She was suffering from pain in a shoulder and weakness on one side, but despite treatment the symptoms persisted.So she went for another opinion. This time, to a neurologist.The diagnosis: Parkinson’s. Just the word takes the air out of you. She could barely get the word out over the phone when she told me.It’s a heavy diagnosis and we were shocked.

Parkinson’s is a progressive disease.

There’s no cure—but there’s hope and Herculean efforts are being made to treat the disease and ultimately find an answer.Until then you do what you can to cope and fight back.You also load up on hope, love, information and support.And here’s where awe takes over.I’m in awe of my wife.

Just when you think you know someone, just when you think you can’t love or respect them more, you find that she possesses whole other reserves of strength, resilience and beauty.It took a few weeks for her “fight” to kick in. A few weeks of emotion and deep depression. I was worried. She didn’t seem up for this challenge. And she said so in worrying terms.But she was processing the news and the impact it would have on our lives.

In an attempt to sort through the noise and anxiety we were experiencing, we reached out to friends who connected us with people they knew who had Parkinson’s. We soaked up as much information as we could find, and came through this process with a strong desire to lean in to our new reality and live with gusto.

The people Diane spoke with were inspirational. Through a friend we connected with a retired airline pilot who was positive and upbeat and living an amazing life. He called Parkinson’s an “inconvenience.”  Diane was taken by his confidence and sense of self. We also spoke to a friend’s aunt who was traveling far and wide—living fully and in the moment. She was encouraging and urged Diane to strive for a full and adventurous life.

These calls helped enormously. I saw a change in Diane. She was processing the news rapidly. Her inner strength, which I have seen before, would be there once more.

But while we were grasping the meaning of this diagnosis, we were also beginning to shift as a family. For us, “someday” had come. Instead of deferring to the future, we would begin to do the things most important to us now.

The takeaway from everyone we spoke too about Parkinson’s was you have to keep moving. The best defense against Parkinson’s was exercise: boxing, spin classes, walking, exercise videos, “Rock Steady” classes anything that keeps you moving and works to keep your balance and strength.In typical fashion, Diane hit it hard. She works out every day—sometimes more than once. She’s in amazing shape.

She also found a wonderful doctor at FAU’s Research Park and has surrounded herself with a community that cheers each other on.To say we’re proud would be an understatement. Those who know and love Diane are in awe.She’s inspiring.

As her husband, I have long been fascinated by the different layers of Diane’s personality. Because she’s shy and reserved, only those closest to her see the depth of her character. But to me, that made uncovering her layers all the more special. She was sharing her professional gifts with the community during her very public career, but I got to see the rest and there was so much more to explore and discover.

To see her resolve kick in, to see her try and find the “gifts” in her diagnosis, gave all of us who adore Diane comfort and hope. This was important, because if you allow yourself you can easily fall down a rabbit hole of despair.

When Diane got the news I had just spoken at the funeral of a beloved Delray icon who suffered for years with Parkinson’s. I saw how this disease can level a strong person. I also thought about Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali, two people with all the resources in the world but still…

But we also learned that we don’t know our exact path. We are going to try and write our own story. We are going to have faith, do what we can and not allow this or anything else to define us.

I drew on those lessons a few months later when I got Covid and thought that I might die.

I was also told that if I lived, I may need supplemental oxygen for the rest of my life. But my doctor, Paige Morris, said “Jeff, let’s write our own story. Let’s try.”And we did.

I can feel the limits of my scarred lungs but I don’t need oxygen. And while I cannot keep up with Diane, who is in great shape, I do try and hang with her when we put on an exercise video.When we went to Maine this summer (because tomorrow is here) we took long walks every morning and I marveled at her stamina.She is doing well. And I love her even more if that’s even possible because she meets life’s challenges with a work ethic and an attitude that inspires all those who know her.

None of us knows what the future holds. Our lives can be changed with a phone call. Ours surely has been.But we move forward. We live. We are thankful and hopeful.

Always hopeful that we can write our own story….

In two weeks, there’s a walk and 5K run for Parkinson’s in West Boca.The event raises money for Parkinson’s research.Here’s a link. https://apdaparkinson.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.event&eventID=998

At last year’s event, Diane and I walked alongside brave families on the same path. The event was emotional for both of us. We saw a lot of brave people. But we didn’t see any broken people. Looking around the park that morning I felt the spirit of a community. I also saw Diane’s doctor, Henry Moore. There he was, early on a Saturday morning greeting his patients with a big smile and a whole lot of warmth. I knew he was the right man for the job. I knew Diane was in good hands.  It was overwhelming and emotional.

Life changing news will do that to you. That’s why it’s life changing news.

But a year later we are strong, happy, healthy, hopeful and grateful for each other, for those who struggle and for those on the front lines seeking answers. Someday we will get there. Until that time, we laugh. We love. We live; a precious day at a time.

“One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: that word is love.” – Sophocles

Odds & Ends & Leadership Podcasts

 

A slice of life from Delray-Boca.

News, notes and impressions.

Every now and again, I like to do a round-up.

I hope you enjoy.

Leader Gov

I’m a fan of the Leader Gov podcast, so I was thrilled when my publisher said they were interested in talking to me about my book “Adventures in Local Politics.”Leader Gov co-founder Bill Stark works with local government leaders across the country and understands what it takes to be an effective leader. He’s a wonderful guy and a treasure trove of knowledge.Here’s a link to the podcast. I hope you enjoy it.https://www.leadergov.com/podcast/

If you like the podcast, check out the book (shameless plug) https://www.amazon.com/Adventures-Local-Politics-Jeff-Perlman/dp/1736105167/ref=sr_1_1?crid=Y9SKHF377Z61&keywords=jeff+perlman+adventures+in+local+politics&qid=1665404198&qu=eyJxc2MiOiIxLjg1IiwicXNhIjoiMC4wMCIsInFzcCI6IjAuMDAifQ%3D%3D&sprefix=adventures+in+local%2Caps%2C86&sr=8-1

Off the Beaten Path Dining

We are blessed to have a vast array of excellent restaurants to chose from in Boca Raton and Delray Beach.Here’s three you may want to check out.Wood and Fire in west Delray is home to my favorite salad in town aptly named the Delray salad. They also have great margaritas as well.

Fries to Caviar in Boca features an inventive menu, great service and an atmosphere conducive to conversation.There’s no better polenta on the planet and the bar has charm. Finally, we checked out the Palm Trail Grill on Saturday night and loved it.The service was stellar, the food and cocktails delicious and the atmosphere lively. It’s nice to see restaurants “off the ave” doing well.

Amy and Noreen: Delray’s Dream Team

We went to a gathering at the Delray Market last week hosted by Amy Stark Snook and Noreen Payne, the famous Amy and Noreen Team at Lang Realty.

Those two are so special.

The party exuded the warmth and attention to detail that have made them beloved realtors (and people) in town.

There was no specific occasion for the party, just a celebration of their success in a highly competitive market during a crazy time. Amy and Noreen just wanted to say thanks to clients, friends and colleagues.

We were honored to be included and we loved seeing everyone at the event because they were so many people there that make Delray Beach the unique place that it is.

We sometimes lose sight that it’s the people that make a community desirable (or not). The bullies and B.S. get our attention and we need to be vigilant, but it’s the quiet contributors, the good peeps that make a place sing.

Amy and Noreen are incredibly devoted citizens and super nice people. I saw firsthand how clients become friends. It was a powerful and inspiring dynamic to experience.

There are not too many good things in this town that you won’t find this team involved in; from organizations and charities to events and business they touch a lot of lives.

We are lucky to have these two and while they celebrated us (their friends) I couldn’t help but see how much they are appreciated by a grateful community.

Like a Rolling Stone

I just finished the Jann Wenner biography “Like a Rolling Stone.”
It’s a tome, 556 action packed pages of music, politics. history and journalism—the story of our times.

But an absolute thrill ride if you love rock and roll.

From Bono to Bowie, from Bruce to Bon Jovi—the book has it all.

So if you like rock and roll, dig popular culture and want to get the inside scoop on the golden age of magazine journalism this is the book for you.

And at 556 pages plus photos, it will make a good door stop when you finish.

Wenner is a talented writer and there isn’t anyone of cultural consequence since the 60s that he has hasn’t met, written about or partied with.

 

 

 

 

Random Thoughts…

Random thoughts on the passing scene…

Last week, I shared that I was invited to be the inaugural speaker for the “Paw Power Hour” at Palm Beach State College’s Boca Raton campus.

What an honor, what a turnout, what a wonderful opportunity to interact with students and faculty.

We talked about leadership in difficult times, careers, education, entrepreneurship, and the challenges facing students (and educators) in a high-priced economy that is challenging for everyone.

Provost Van Williams is striving to build a special culture on the south campus and based on the people I met, it’s working.

I love the mission of state colleges and believe they perform an essential role in our society.

If you have a chance, visit the campus, sign up for a course and tell our legislators that we need to support the men and women who are educating our future workforce.

These types of institutions often fly under the radar, but places like Palm Beach State College are the backbone of our community.

I was grateful for the opportunity to learn and share a little of my story.

I was also thrilled to learn about the existence of the Kimmel Leadership Academy.

A group of 27 students recently went through the program thanks to a generous gift from the Virginia and Harvey Kimmel Family Foundation.

The Kimmel’s live in Delray. They are wonderful contributors and philanthropists.

The curriculum for the Kimmel Leadership Academy, based on the Social Change Model of Leadership, was developed by Dr. Kalisha Waldon, a professor at the PBSC Boca Raton campus. It emphasizes seven key values that individuals, groups and communities should strive for to create change through leadership.

The participants were picked from nearly 100 applicants. During the academy, students learned about team building, personal branding, understanding their values, etiquette, and other topics. Each student also received a $1,000 scholarship and were  recognized at a campus awards banquet.

This is the kind of effort we need to build our next generation of leaders.

PBSC is doing their part and it’s so exciting.

The Vital Role of Local News

I’ve long been passionate about the importance of local journalism.

So I’ve been pouring through new research released by the Democracy Fund that shows the power of local news done right.

Some of the takeaways to ponder:

  • Strong local journalism = more people turning out to vote. 

 

  • Weak local journalism = fewer people vote.

 

  • Thorough local journalism helps people be less biased when considering candidates for office.

 

  • Quality local journalism can counter divisive national narratives that contribute to polarization.

 

  • Every dollar spent on local news produces hundreds of dollars in public benefit by exposing corruption and monitoring government spending. 

 

  • People feel a stronger sense of community in places that have strong local journalism.

 

  • Local news keeps communities informed during times of upheaval, like disasters, protests, and pandemics — when people need critical information to engage their communities and leaders.
  • Important to remember: Local news isn’t inherently good for communities just because it’s local. It needs to be good local journalism.

I’ve long felt we’ve been underserved and ill-served by some of our local media—sorry guys. TV news does a good job with weather stories but lacks enterprise or investigative journalism and print has dried up.

The lack of a local water cooler—so to speak—gives rise to lots of misinformation on the Internet and social media that can be very harmful to a community.

In Delray, we have seen voter turnout crater. That’s not the sign of a healthy community. Local government matters and those who get elected can and do have an outsize impact on our quality of life.

Back in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, locals had a rich diet of local news: The Monday-Thursday papers, Boca/Delray News, Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel and even the Miami Herald (on big stories) covered all aspects of local government. People were informed and involved. It made a difference.

 

Which leads me to Friends of Delray.

For a long time, I stayed away. I was rooting for them and I supported the mission of bringing the community together, promoting transparency and good government, but I’ve seen prior efforts fizzle and quite frankly I’m exhausted. It’s time for a new generation of leadership to step up and right the ship.
Seeing a once independent and successful CRA taken over by politicians in the middle of the night and Old School Square evicted from the campus it created, loved and supported for 30 plus years takes the wind out your sails. Life is just too short.

But I like this group. We haven’t had this spirit here  in quite some time.  Their work is needed. so I will do my part.  I hope you will check them out and if you like what you see. maybe you can help too. They need the community behind them.

Their website, e-blasts, social media posts and now podcast/videos are not traditional journalism per se. There is a point of view, but from where I sit that point of view is to promote local non-profits, urge citizen involvement, strive for transparency in government and dialogue among neighbors. They seem very reasonable and we can sure use reason.

Check it out and make up your own mind. Here’s a link to their site which includes articles and a link to their newly launched podcast. https://www.friendsofdelray.us/

Goodbye and thank you Fed

He never did play the Delray Open.

Sigh.

But that’s about the only gap in Roger Federer’s resume.

The tennis legend announced his retirement last week thanks to age and a balky knee.

What a career!

What a gentleman!

Fed has been the best ambassador for his sport imaginable and leaves behind an unforgettable legacy and is a case study in grace and class.

So, whether you play tennis at Path Reef Park or Pickleball at Pompey Park you may want to channel your inner Federer and see where it leads.

He will be missed.

Reading List

I’m on a reading tear lately and I thought I would share some of the books that are well worth your time.

“Saved by a Song” by singer Mary Gauthier is an honest, emotional and raw autobiography of an artist I have grown to love and admire.

Music is so powerful and such a restorative force in our lives. Mary’s song “Mercy Now” should be an anthem for our time. It’s certainly an antidote for some of the poison and hatred in the air these days. She’s coming to the Broward Center in January and we got tickets. I can’t wait.

“Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott has long been on my radar. As someone who loves to write, I’ve been told that Lamott’s book was a must read. I finally got around to it and she delivered. A great treatise on the joy and difficulties of the writing life told by a sensitive soul.

“Like a Rolling Stone” by Jann Wenner is a tome and I just started it but can’t put it down. The founder of Rolling Stone magazine has met all of my heroes and he’s a terrific storyteller. What a life…

 

Until next week.

 

 

A Birthday To Savor

Scott Porten enjoying a past birthday and a cake made by Diane.

A good friend of mine sent me a nice text after last week’s blog.

It’s nice to hear from people who take the time out of their busy lives to spend a few minutes reading what you have to say.

My friend asked whether I write the blog in advance or the night before and the truth is I do both—it all depends on when and where the muse (or the news) strikes me.

He also said that he found inspiration in some of the tributes I have written to special people who have passed. All of this is good, and I am very thankful that my friend likes what I write, especially because he happens to be among the most well-read and curious people I’ve ever met. And I have met some curious and well- read people!

But it also struck me that I should write more about people before they pass on. We should show our admiration for those who enrich us while they are still here to appreciate us. In other words, if someone makes you happy tell them.

Which is a long-winded way of saying happy birthday to my friend Scott Porten.

I won’t say how old Scott is, but this birthday is a big one and it’s starts with an s. Hint: he’s not 70.

Inspired by our mutual friend Randy, I’m going to tell you about a very special person my family has come to know and love.

I met Scott 20 plus years ago when he was a young developer in a still redeveloping Delray Beach. Scott and his company did some landmark projects: The Estuary near Palm Trail and City Walk in Pineapple Grove are among the most memorable.

I admired both projects, not only for their quality and design but for the vision he exhibited.

Back in those days, Delray was not the no-brainer “sure thing” it would soon become, but a city trying to revitalize itself in the shadow of a successful neighbor—Boca Raton.

Scott’s two signature Delray projects showed faith in the future. The Estuary was in a part of town nobody wanted to touch in those days and City Walk was on a secondary street that was trying to forge an identity separate and distinct from Atlantic Avenue.

City Walk gave us Brule’ and Joseph’s and later Yama three excellent restaurants and several cool boutiques as well. The project featured beautiful residential units and replaced a coin-operated car wash in a part of Delray crying out for investment.

The building had a distinctive design and I think still looks good all these years later. I remember someone commenting at the time that the building didn’t have a pool or other traditional amenities and Scott saying that the street itself would be an amenity. That was a bold statement. But he was right.

I think Pineapple Grove may be my favorite street in all of Delray Beach—it seems to be a perfect blend of vibrant without being overwhelming, which come to think of it, describes my friend Scott.

Over the years, Scott and I have grown very close. He’s the kind of friend I’d call in the middle of the night not only because you can take his advice to the bank but also because he’s a night owl and he’ll take my call.

Scott is honest, intense (but in a good way), a devoted husband and father, a proud son and an all-around good guy. He has a terrific sense of humor, is scary smart and is fun to talk to about a wide array of subjects. And I mean a wide array: from politics and prostates to real estate and relationships, Scott can hold his own with just about anyone including our mutual friend Randy who is such a whirlwind of activity, learning and adventures that I would get tired typing up his itinerary for a given month. (If it’s Tuesday he must be mastering the guitar or sailing the Greek Isles).

They say you are a product of the five people you hang out with the most and if that’s true, I have a decent shot at a good life because Scott is easily in the top five.

They also say that you make the strongest friendships in childhood when you have the time and space to hang out. Many of you know that I still enjoy the friends I made as a kid growing up in Long Island. But I’ve been truly blessed to make such good friends in middle age. Scott is at the top of that list.

I enjoy people who care about things deeply…who are passionate about what they are passionate about.

Scott and I share a love for business, real estate, Delray Beach, local organizations, sports, and music. We also love restaurants that have great bars where you can sit and debate the day’s events.

We enjoy and practice the art of conversation and like to talk about our lives, children, past adventures and future hopes and aspirations. Dare I say it, but we also like to talk about how we feel about things. The old stereotype is men don’t like to “emote” or share. But guess what? Real men do—within reason of course— because we are not above calling each other out or poking fun at our weaknesses. Friends are also adept at making sure we keep our feet on the ground. Scott is good at keeping our circle anchored.

I admire so much about him but especially his desire to take care of people. He’s sincere, caring and consistently goes the extra mile. He does so many things so well.
He’s also a convener and has lunch clubs, happy hour groups and breakfast clubs that serve to keep disparate groups of friends together.

About the best thing I can say is that Scott Porten is a mensch, which is the highest compliment you can pay someone. A mensch is a person of integrity and honor. According to the great American humorist Leo Rosten, a mensch is “someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character.”

That’s my friend to a T.

Happy birthday Scott and a tip of the hat to the legendary Randy Smith for the inspiration to write about our buddy.

Leadership In Difficult Times

 

A few years back, I was invited to speak to “Creative Mornings”, a wonderful group that gathers each month to hear a speaker tackle a subject shared with chapters across the world.
I was assigned the word “genius” which, in all honesty, has never been used in a sentence relating to me.

Miraculously, the speech went well. I was fortunate to be in front of a hometown crowd at The Arts Garage and we had a good time.

This week, I’m heading south to speak about “Leadership in Difficult Times” at an event called “PAW Power Hour” at Palm Beach State College and I feel challenged once more to deliver on a subject that’s hard to discuss.

The invite came from Provost Van Williams who I got to know while mayor of Delray Beach when we embarked on an ambitious race relations initiative.

We contracted with a wonderful man named Sam Mathis to help us navigate a topic that has bedeviled our nation since its founding. Sam reached out to Van who was working in Tallahassee at the time and along with a committed group of citizens we launched a dialogue designed to bring the community closer together.

Ours was no “check the box” effort.

We really tried to make a difference.

We tried to increase understanding, we tried to improve communication. We endeavored to listen. The effort was sincere and I think we made some progress.

But we were also embarking on a journey with no end and that’s the beauty and pathos of civic life.

You can make progress, but you’re never done.

That’s  beautiful because the whole point is to keep going, keep pushing forward, keep trying to make a difference.
But this kind of work can be tiring too. If you’re not checking a box, not going through the motions, it can take a lot out of you.

We asked people to be honest.

We asked them to be real and that can take you to some very interesting places. Some of those places are dark as we confront our fears and biases—and we all have them. And some of those places are beautiful too.

When people ask me about the best and worst parts of public service, I have a ready answer.

I was mayor when a 15-year-old boy was shot and killed outside a school dance by a rookie police officer. That’s a bottom so low you can’t ever fathom being able to catch your breath again.

Yes, I have led in difficult times.

The antidote to hard times is always love and empathy. You can’t lead unless you love your community and feel empathy for others.

The high point are the relationships you build along the way, the people who touch you with their goodness, care, and concern. If we listen closely, and if we pay attention, we learn that there are people in this world who see you for what you are or can be. They light a fire inside you that burns brighter than any fire that threatens to engulf you.

So that’s how to lead in difficult times—with your heart. You have to know that hard times often lead to the greatest times in your life. You have to feel that in your bones.

Challenges build strong people—they forge great leaders.

And that’s what I will share this week with my friends at Palm Beach State College.

A Toast to Serena

By the time you’re reading this, gallons of ink will have been used to describe the incredible legacy being left by Serena Williams.

Serena— so famous that everyone knows her by her first name– is stepping away from the game she has redefined during a 27-year career that’s historic in so many ways.

Serena’s not retiring, she’s “evolving”, an evocative word she used in an essay she wrote to let the tennis world know that she was moving on. I like the word evolving. Because if we are healthy, that’s what we’re constantly doing. We leave one phase behind and continue to grow.

More qualified writers than I can describe Serena’s cultural impact, but I wanted to focus a bit on her experience in Delray Beach.

A part of the Serena (and Venus) story takes place right here in our hometown.

Movies and documentaries  have been made about the Williams sisters growing up on the courts of Compton, California but  they also spent a pivotal part of their early years in Delray Beach, playing with local coach Rick Macci at the Laver’s Resort on Linton Boulevard when they were 10 and 11 respectively.

According to press reports, the sisters trained six hours a day, six days a week for four years in Delray. That time in the Florida sun proved to be a crucial factor in their growth as players. As a newspaper reporter back in the day, I remember visiting the facility to do a story on a prodigy named John Roddick while his younger brother Andy played on an adjacent court. I remember seeing two signs: “Enjoy the Battle”  and “To Get A No. 1 Seeding You Keep Fighting Unless It’s Broken or Bleeding.”

Yes, we have a place in tennis history.

No less an authority than the New York Times describes Delray Beach as a tennis “mecca” and indeed we have seen players ranging from Jennifer Capriati and Andy Roddick to Vince Spadea and Kevin Anderson live and train here.

But as big as those names are in the tennis world, Serena and Venus were by far the most influential—so far.

In a NYT magazine profile last month, local phenom Coco Gauff talked about Serena’s influence on her game and life. The Gauff’s came home to Delray to train at the Delray Beach Tennis Center because the city is indeed a tennis mecca and offers the weather, facilities and coaching opportunities that are hard to match.

There’s no doubt that Serena and Venus influenced a generation of tennis players mesmerized by their strength, power, personalities, fashion, and social activism.

As Black female athletes they blazed a trail that will yield benefits for generations to come.

I had a chance to meet and interact with both Serena and Venus when they headlined a star-packed American Fed Cup team in 2005. The team included three former world number ones: Venus, Serena and Lindsay Davenport as well as Corina Morariu, one of the best doubles players of all-time who grew up in Boca Raton.

Hosting the Fed Cup was a thrill, and the town was electric. We had a dinner at Mar A Lago (yep) where we were able to mingle with the players and enjoy the international sportsmanship on display.

Serena was friendly, but at least on that night, Venus was the more outgoing of the two.

I took my then teenage daughter Samantha with me, and she and Venus hit it off. It was surreal to see them off to the side chatting while Venus styled Sam’s long hair.

C. Ron Allen, Serena and some blogger.

While in town, the team visited some schools and donated a practice wall to Pine Grove Elementary School. The kids were positively awe struck at the site of the Williams sisters and all of us who were there thought “wow, these kids will never forget this moment.”

There have been many other Delray sightings and involvement through the years.

Both Venus and Serena have attended matches at the Delray Beach Open, including this year when a masked Serena sat with her sister to watch their friend Grigor Dimitrov play under the lights.

As she evolves, Serena is telling associates that she will dive deeper into the business world where she already has a bunch of investments/businesses.

It will be fascinating to see the next chapter.

As an athlete, Serena reminds me of Kobe Bryant, whose famous “Mamba” mentality made him a brutal competitor on and off the court. With Kobe’s tragic ending, we never got to see how far that competitive spirit would have taken him in the business world.

With any luck, we will enjoy Serena and Venus’ next chapters.

Tennis will be forced to move on beyond these legends but with Coco ascending it appears that Delray’s place in the sport is still very much on the rise.

This past weekend, Delray was top of mind in the tennis world. Coco advanced to the quarterfinals and looks poised to make a title run. Former Delray Open champ Frances Tiafoe beat 22 time Grand Slam Winner Rafael Nadal in an epic nationally televised match. After his landmark win, Tiafoe was interviewed on the stadium court by another former Delray Champ  James Blake.

Watching Serena bow out and Coco rise, I couldn’t help but think that somewhere in our 16 square miles there’s a young girl or boy dreaming about following in their footsteps.

 

Odds and Ends…

Congratulations to new Police Chief Russ Mager who was sworn in last week. A 26-year veteran of the department, Russ has worked his way through the ranks and recently served as assistant chief. He’s a good man and we wish him well in his new position.

Here’s a little trivia for you. Chief Mager is the 17th chief in the city’s history. W.M Croft was the first. R.C. Croft was the longest serving chief holding the position from 1943 through 1972. That’s from FDR to Nixon. Amazing.

 

Thank You Janet….

C. Ron Allen and Janet Meeks greet students on the first day of school at Carver Middle.

“Many a flower is born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness on the desert air.” — From the poem “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Gray.

I came across that line in something I read recently.

I can’t put my finger on what I was reading but the phrase stirred something in me, so I wrote it down.

And when I revisited my note, it made me wonder: what does it mean to be a flower born to be ‘unseen’?

As I thought about the phrase, I felt it related to beauty or value that doesn’t get recognized or appreciated.

To be honest, I’m not one for poetry unless of course you are talking about song lyrics which have always fascinated me.

“Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice

In the church where a wedding has been

Lives in a dream

Waits at the window, wearing the face

That she keeps in a jar by the door

Who is it for?”

Now that’s poetry….

But something about this particular Thomas Gray poem resonated. So, I looked it up and I learned that it’s about the universality of death and how our inevitable end serves as a leveling force that brings all people, rich or poor, to the same final fate.

I know. I know. You didn’t bargain for something this heavy on Monday morning. But please bear with me, we get sunnier as this goes on.

Thomas Gray wrote the poem after the death of a friend. It’s meant to be a tribute to the common man and is considered Gray’s masterpiece.

Pretty impressive stuff.

Wouldn’t it be nice to create something that others call your masterpiece?

Regardless, perhaps the beauty of poetry (or a song lyric)  is  that the reader gets to assign their own meaning to the words on the page.

For instance, the Bob Dylan classic “Lay, Lady, Lay” was said to be written about or for Barbra Streisand. Isn’t that wild? Who knew?
But as much as I appreciate Ms. Streisand, when I hear the song, I don’t think about her. And I don’t think about death when I read “Elegy.” To me, the poem speaks to undiscovered or underappreciated beauty.

Not to get all philosophical on this Monday morning, but that’s a concept that reverberates!

So, let’s think about the unsung heroes and heroines in our lives and communities.

Let’s make sure they are not “unseen,” let’s recognize them, let’s thank them, and let’s appreciate them. Now, while we still can.

I’ve been thinking about those extraordinary and sometimes unsung people because I’m on a committee planning a special Delray Chamber gala set for spring 2023. Never too early to mark your calendars!

Details are still being worked out but there’s a consensus that we would like the event to honor some of the special people who made a difference—many of them quietly.

The big shots get the glory, but the folks in the trenches make it happen. That’s true in business and it’s true in communities.

These special people should not go unseen. Their stories need to be told, remembered, and shared so that future generations may know.

I believe in the old proverb—when eating fruit, remember who planted the tree.

One of those special people who made a huge difference was honored Aug. 25 at the Delray Chamber’s Annual Education Breakfast. Janet Meeks, Delray’s long time Education Coordinator, is retiring. She’s a special person and should not go ‘unseen’ as the poet would say.

I couldn’t make the breakfast, but I sent some brief remarks. Below is an expanded version of what I sent.

 

I am sorry I can’t be with you to celebrate the start of another school year and the end of a remarkable career.

I was there at the beginning in 2001, when Janet Meeks invited me, a new commissioner, to lunch at the old Annex restaurant in Pineapple Grove to discuss an idea. Janet wanted to become the education coordinator for the City of Delray Beach.

In typical style, Janet laid out the facts about why the city needed to dedicate someone full-time to education in Delray Beach even though it was the School Board not the city that was responsible for local schools.

I was sold, instantly.

Not only on the need for our city to have someone who could help us improve our schools, but I was sold on Janet, the person. She’s special—hard working, dedicated and data driven. She has a heart of gold and a ton of vision.

The mayor and commission at the time were richly rewarded for supporting Janet’s initiative. Subsequent Mayors and commissioners have also benefited from Janet’s hard work and her unique ability to see the big picture: there are public servants and then there are public servants. Janet has always gone the extra mile. Janet Meeks has made a difference.

During my time in office, we decided to move Atlantic High School so we could build a new and larger facility to bring our children back home and add career academies.

We also started the Principal For a Day program to bring business and civic leaders into our schools, we championed the modernization of Spady Elementary School, created the Eagle Nest construction program, worked with community partners to add  Beacon Programs at Village Academy and the Achievement Center, developed a new Teen Center, saw the opening of a new Boys and Girls Club, provided afterschool and summer programs to stop the “summer slide” in learning and launched the Get Caught Reading program which gave books to children. We also launched citizen academies to build relationships with our stakeholders. That was just our term in office….she’s done a whole lot more.

Janet spearheaded it all….and then some. In short, she has been an amazing asset for this city.

Over the years, we’ve become good friends, so I’m excited for the next chapter. Janet leaves a legacy of achievement…she created this job and set the bar high.  Those of us lucky enough to work with her will always love and appreciate our remarkable friend. Good luck Janet…thanks for asking me to lunch all those years ago. You hit it out of the park my friend and a generation of Delray children are grateful for your care and concern.