Going To Be A Long Walk Home

Our beach is a prized asset. Protecting it must be based on science not politics.

“ Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

There’s a lot happening in Delray Beach these days.

Water quality issues, controversy over sea grapes, budget shortfalls, lawsuits and an ill timed raise for city commissioners.
As mom used to say: Oy!
When you sit alone in a hospital room for six weeks fighting Covid, you have a lot of time to think. You wrestle with issues large and small as the hours and days tick away.
Weighed against issues such as life and death, the dysfunction at Delray City Hall doesn’t mean a whole lot. This too shall pass as they say, although, to be honest, the nonsense has lasted a very long time and has done untold damage to our beloved city.
So while “sea grape gate” and “raise gate” doesn’t rise to the level of dealing with a pandemic, an economic crisis or racial strife, if you love your town —as I do —the state of affairs should alarm you.
We have strayed far, far away from the days when Florida Trend magazine put Delray on its cover with the headline: Florida’s Best Run Town.
There was a time when Delray Beach was not only well run but it was well led too.
We were aspirational and visionary. There was a sense of possibility, we knew if we put our minds to it, we could do anything.
You could feel the civic pride and the confidence that goes with it. It was palpable and that confidence was a key to our success.
Pick your issue and there was a plan and more important action being taken to make things better.
Crime problems fueled by drug sales were met by groundbreaking efforts in community policing. Community leaders, foundation executives and academics came from far and wide to study Delray’s police department and its efforts to connect to the community.
When city leaders decided to tackle educational issues they adopted an ambitious plan that called for new facilities, magnet programs, summer enrichment activities and partnerships to try and raise the quality of education in our community.
And guess what? It got done.
S.D. Spady Elementary was rebuilt and added an award winning Montessori magnet, Village Academy was built, a brand new high school with career academies was also built and partnerships with stellar non-profits such as the Achievement Center for Children and Families were created to launch initiatives to help the most vulnerable children in our community.
The CRA, ridiculously maligned by people who either don’t know or should know better, revitalized a once moribund downtown and also invested tens of millions of dollars into distressed neighborhoods.
And the list goes on.
Old School Square, Pineapple Grove, the Arts Garage, signature events, world class tennis, successful beach renourishment efforts, innovative housing initiatives such as the Community Land Trust and more.
Now this is not to say that everything was perfect.
Our schools still have a long way to go, our neighborhoods still need investment, reclaimed water was a great idea but there’s obvious managerial and operational issues that need to be addressed  and like the rest of America we struggle and always have struggled with inequality and racial division.

But the difference I see is that back in the day there was a recognition of our deficiencies and a resolve to get after it.
There was a hunger to solve problems, involve the community and innovate. There was a willingness to experiment and yes a willingness to fail.
Delray’s culture was one of “civic entrepreneurship” which is the opposite of a “gotcha” culture in which fear reigns and everyone is afraid to proffer an idea lest they get ripped by trolls on social media or drummed out of town by toxic politics.

So while I spent 98 percent of my recent Covid experience trying to stay alive and pondering how much I loved my family and friends I spent two percent of my time thinking about the town where I live.
Why?
Because I love my city.
I love it enough to criticize it because I want to see it do better.
I cringe when I see story after story of turnover and dysfunction. Others do too. I hear from many of you who can’t believe what they are seeing.
They don’t relish or take joy in the nonsense. They worry because they too love their town.
They want to see an effective and efficient city government that uses their tax dollars wisely.
They want to see a thriving local economy and opportunities created for those who live here or may want to live here.
They want a safe town and to see their elected officials work collaboratively.
It’s OK to debate passionately but once the vote is called they want to see their leaders move on and not hold grudges. Washington take note. People can’t stand Congress because the Dems and Republicans can’t work together.
Therefore, problems never get solved and opportunities are hard to seize.
Same thing right here in little old Delray.
So yes, I spent some time thinking about Delray. When you live in a place, own a home, have a business, raised a family here and dedicated years of your life to a town  you can’t help but care. A lot.
It’s going to be a long walk home as the song says. Because we’ve strayed far from the ideals that created a wonderful little city.

We have to learn to work together again.
We have to stop labeling, dividing and sowing fear.
We have to want to do better and to be better.
Not every elected official is on the take. Not every developer is here to pillage the village. Not every business is a special interest with only profits in mind.
There’s talent at city hall, but I’m not sure there’s a culture here that encourages staff to be creative or to even do their jobs effectively. For goodness sakes, let them loose to create value.

Last week, I saw the Beach Property Owners unfairly maligned for wanting to protect the dunes at the beach.
Friends, the  Beach Property Owners Association has been a force for good in this town for a long, long time.
If they differ with others on the height of sea grapes we ought to listen and ask why instead of assuming that they selfishly want a better view and that they are willing to risk the beach to get it.
I know the leaders of that association. They love Delray, they are not selfish.
The ‘Delray way’ as we once called it,  would be to listen, seek understanding and find a way to protect our dune system based on a full understanding of the science.

Yes, it’s going to be a long walk home.
But we need to take the first steps toward restoring civility, vision, collaboration and stability.
The first rule when you are in a hole is to stop digging.
Our town deserves better.
And all of us have a role to play and a stake in the outcome. We have to speak out. We have to get involved.
As John Lewis wrote in his posthumously-published essay, “When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.”
Amen.
The same goes for cities.

Comments

  1. Thank you Jeff for speaking out. I might add that what makes a great city are the intangibles. The fostering of community unity. The celebration of neighborhoods. Of bringing together divergent areas so that partnerships and understanding thrive. The feeling of inclusiveness and of all belonging to a cause of building a better city comes from the top.

  2. Chuck Ridley says:

    Well said. I’m willing to do my part… ijs

  3. Melissa Carter says:

    Bravo Jeff. Thanks for reminding us about the great things that inspired me and many others to care so much and to go above and beyond for betterment of the town. I hope we can find our way back there again.

  4. Lainie Lewis says:

    Wonderful article and so true. I’ve been away from my beloved Delray for over 5 years now but in my heart Delray is my home and it breaks my heart to see what’s happening to my town. I wish I could help get it back on course!

  5. Scott Porten says:

    Aspirational thinking set this town apart from others. My family moved here because we had strong sense of community. There was a common vision. Even if we didn’t agree on how to get there, at least we agreed on where we were trying to get to. What is our vision for the future? One can’t help but feel that has become politics over progress.

    As always Jeff, well said. Plus I always enjoy a good Dr. Seuss quote.

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      Lots of wisdom in Dr. Seuss.

      • Well said Jeff … as I drove around Delray this week, I wondered what happened to that town I have lived in/by over the last 21 years. We need to create a
        Vision for its future as was done before. Somehow we wandered off the path

      • Well said Jeff … as I drove around Delray this week, I wondered what happened to that town I have lived in/by over the last 21 years. We need to create a
        Vision for its future as was done before. Somehow we wandered off the path.

  6. Well said! “Back in the day” we often talked about what ingredients were necessary to be a successfully managed city. More often than not two things were always at the top… putting egos aside and community inclusiveness – everyone looking for ways to make Delray better. ‘Everyone’ was not just elected leadership – it included everyone you mentioned – non prophets the business community, residential communities, etc. I would imagine that at one time Delray must have held the record for conducting the most community charrettes, visioning and other planning gatherings all in an effort to be inclusive and reach consensus on many issues of the day.

    Sooooooo… stop digging! This is a great city and I believe it is capable of great things!

  7. Lucy Larner says:

    Inspirational words, Jeff, for all who feel Delray’s lost its soul. With imagination, open minds and grace we can reclaim our sense of place and community.

  8. john ferber says:

    Great writing Jeff, i can feel your spirit returning with each and every keystroke!!!

  9. Kelly Barrette says:

    I will definitely do my part to support new candidates for commission in March. Mayor Petrolia always votes with her constituents in mind – but clearly the other two commissioners up for re-election do not. Until the dais is pro-resident – we will not be unified. Delray is an incredible place to live – let’s keep it going strong by electing candidates who listen to us!

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      Thanks Kelly. There is a lot of common ground if we stop and think about it.
      I would caution that successful communities are not zero sum games. Resident and businesses need to and can Co-exist. We need to always seek win win scenarios. We get in trouble when either constituency loses.

  10. Bob Victorin says:

    Jeff, this is the best and most insightful and timely message you have ever delivered. I am certain that the readership will be huge in serving both long term and newer residents with your total perspective of our great city. Positive results will result as concerned citizens and our city leadership join forces in appreciating the depth of your message. Thank you.

  11. Mariann Gerwig says:

    Jeff,
    Thank you for addressing this. This, like COVID, is a subject you have first had experience in. Your thoughts are more important than the loud voices of people that have never been in local government. I moved to Delray Beach in 1973. I experienced the last part of the era of the avenue lined with family owned stores, to it becoming run down as major chain stores and malls starting popping up all over. Thankfully I have also been witness to our town being run by people with the vision to bring back Delray’s value. Earning Delray its own reputation and not just the city just north of Boca Raton anymore.

    I knew we were going down a bad road when campaign’s started to become negative and full of falsehoods. It is a shame that people in government forget phrases like “For the People”. But remember “We are the People” so get involved and work towards change, help change happen. Not you, you have done your best, it is just a shame to know what things were like and what they are now.

  12. Jeff, thank you so mucb for speaking up after all you have gone through. When I moved to Delray Beach in 2001 and joined the Chamber of Commerce it seemed that they and City Hall were one entitee working together for the City and making the City better.
    City managers come and go….
    What’s going on? Hopefully City Hall is taking your comments to heart!

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      Thanks Christel. I remember when you moved to town. Can’t believe it’s been 19 years! We’ve sure seen a lot.

  13. michael wind says:

    so many intelligent people in delray beach but no one comes to city meetings to do the right thing,perhaps some tell like it is,sure when i did not proper response from police i reported to fbi hance new chief in police,it is a fact delray beach is a shithole that we live here,perhaps next year a full investigation

  14. Beautiful and inspiring….as always. Thank you Jeff.
    Stephanie

  15. Reginald A. Cox says:

    Great insight Jeff, many people know what we need to do in March. Electeds should not be in the business of destroying the results of broadly supported community planning efforts. I’ve fought tirelessly, for three years for a return to civility. As chair of the CRA, Diane and I didn’t always agree, but we always were willing to come to the table and partner with hard working dedicated residents who just wanted better conditions and opportunity. We led with the spirit of mutual interest and mutual benefits. If we do what we have to this March, the road to home and civility won’t be as long.

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      Thanks Reggie.
      Diane is never listed on the list of departures but she was affected by the climate in town and that’s why she felt it was wise to leave when she did.

  16. Renée Sloan says:

    Thank you, I appreciate your perspective, and will do my part as a resident to be more involved for the good of our community.

  17. Joseph Safford says:

    Jeff,
    First of all, we are certainly glad to see your health is improved. You had us concerned.

    Your commentary is certainly appreciated. It has been difficult to watch the downward direction taken within our beloved city. City Manager and Department Head turnover over the past several years is counter-productive to efficient operations. In addition, high turnover rates affect the willingness of competent prospective applicants for open positions to want to come to the city.

    It will be long road back. Filling open positions with competent individuals, rebuilding the working teams and teamwork both within each department and between departments is critical. Then these teams have to rebuild relationships with neighborhoods and businesses. Regaining our past reputation and pride as the “Florida’S best Run Town” and/or “All American City” will not be easy.

    Our regards to your wife. She was instrumental in the past success of this City with her leadership of the CRA. Also good to hear Susan Ruby’s response. She was one of the finest Department Heads we have had in my opinion.

    Thanks again, Jeff.

  18. Years ago, Delray was the MODEL for other cities…We knew how to do it, and we were happy to share our good fortune… we are still the same, just got a little sidetracked like the rest of the World…things are so crazy all over, it wouldn’t be natural if it didn’t affect us too!

  19. Nancy Stewart-Franczak says:

    So glad you articulated and recapped what so many either don’t know or have forgotten. I miss the civic entrepreneurship you speak of, the collaboration of community and our initial vision to make Delray a great place. It happened – we did it but I too fear the reputation we now have. Delray used to be the example of how to do it right. Now we’re the example of how not to. I love my town, I love living here, I love the people … we need to unite again and change the dictatorship that seems to be going on lately.

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      Nancy you know because not only were you there, but you contributed mightily to Delray’s success.
      I and many, many others appreciate your contributions, hard work and passion for Delray. You always gave back. Always paid it forward. Which was also the Delray way.

  20. I’m glad you’re back in action doing what John Lewis suggests. What is going on in Delray is, in my mind, happening in many other communities. Divisive behavior mixed with ego and not giving respect or listening to other’s opinions. We need to have visioning or charrettes to help get back on track. This is your best blurb ever and I believe it will be a catalyst for positive change. I have been passionate about Delray since 1964 and hope civility will return.

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      Thanks Bruce. You are correct. This is happening in many other communities and nationally as well. It’s not productive and in fact, it’s ruinous. Let’s hope civility returns. Hope all is well Jeff.

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