Rankings, Ratings & Quality of Life

Leawood, Kansas seems like a great place but…

The personal-finance website WalletHub has released its report on 2017’s Best Small Cities in America.

It’s interesting and provocative.

Boca Raton scored high on most measurements, but the analysis revealed some areas of concern. And Delray Beach—despite being the great city we know it to be—has some work to do if you believe the indicators.

First the highlights:

WalletHub’s analysts compared more than 1,200 U.S. cities with populations between 25,000 and 100,000 across 33 key indicators of livability. They range from housing costs to school-system quality to restaurants per capita.

 

Top 20 Small Cities in America    

  1. Princeton, NJ   11. Newton, MA
  2. Lexington, MA   12. Melrose, MA
  3. Leawood, KS   13. Brookfield, WI
  4. Milton, MA   14. Sammamish, WA
  5. Brentwood, TN   15. Kirkland, WA

6 .Los Altos, CA   16. Saratoga, CA

  1. Carmel, IN   17. Dublin, OH
  2. Needham, MA   18. Palo Alto, CA
  3. Holly Springs, NC   19. Westfield, NJ
  4. Littleton, CO   20. Fishers, IN

 

Best vs. Worst

  • The Villages, Florida, has the highest homeownership rate, 96.25 percent, which is 108.1 times higher than in Fort Hood, Texas, the city with the lowest at 0.89 percent.

 

  • Plainfield, Illinois, has the lowest share of the population living below poverty level, 1.90 percent, which is 27.5 times lower than in Statesboro, Georgia, the city with the highest at 52.3 percent.

 

  • Fort Hood, Texas, has the shortest average commute time, 11.2 minutes, which is 3.9 times shorter than in Lake Elsinore, California, the city with the longest at 43.6 minutes.

 

  • East Lansing, Michigan, has the fewest average hours worked per week, 28.2, which is 1.7 times fewer than in Fort Hood, Texas, the city with the most at 49.1.

I would suspect that many of us who live in Delray and Boca wouldn’t trade living here for anywhere else—especially now that the good weather has kicked in. I don’t think there are too many people who would look at the rankings and sell their home in Lake Ida or Woodfield Country Club for a home in number 3 ranked Leawood, Kansas either. (No offense to Leawood, we’re sure it’s wonderful).

So where do we rank?

Delray ranked in the 60th percentile—the top cities were in the 99th percentile. Boca ranked in the 98th percentile.

Delray’s overall score of 57.62, trailed Boca which scored a 66.01. Number one ranked Princeton scored a 73.36.

Delray ranked 870th on affordability—not a surprise considering the run-up in home prices and the lack of new product on the market. Boca ranked 733rd on affordability.

Delray’s economic health ranked 436th with Boca coming in at 224—hard to imagine that there are that many cities healthier than Boca which seems to rake in companies and jobs by the truckloads. On the education and health measurement Delray ranked 728 and Boca 520.

Delray scored an impressive number 51 on the all-important quality of life ranking with Boca an even more impressive number 14. Interestingly, my guess is that residents of each city wouldn’t trade places—both cities are appealing for different reasons. Sarasota ranked number one in quality of life—and if you’ve visited lately you’ll see why.

On safety, Delray scored number 924 and Boca 543.

Lots to chew on certainly.

Rankings, awards, contests etc., are fun to debate, but in the end they are just numbers and things. It’s hard to measure a community’s spirit, aspirations, closeness, friendliness or ambience.

Still, they can be used to benchmark so that cities can strive to do better. Some cities—like Santa Monica—try to measure happiness. Delray used to survey residents on a range of issues and topics and policymakers at the time found the findings interesting and helpful. Cities can be noisy places—especially with the advent of social media—and sometimes (often) the squeaky wheels don’t represent the majority opinion on a given issue.

As for the Wallet Hub findings—I think we should take another survey in January and see if Boca /Delray would score somewhat higher than Princeton, N.J. as the place to be.

 

Growing Our Own

No bigger game than Amazon.

November is National Entrepreneurship Month.

I didn’t know that, but as far as I’m concerned we ought to be spotlighting and helping entrepreneurs 12 months a year.

Since 2008, there has been a net decline in new business creation in the U.S. One of the contributing factors appears to be a growing aversion to risk for young adults who grew up during the Great Recession.

 

A new survey by Junior Achievement shows that 9-out-of-10 parents would support their kids starting a business as adults, but only 1-in-3 teens say they would consider becoming an entrepreneur, identifying “risk” as one of the top reasons for not striking out on their own.

We need to reverse that trend—it’s not an overstatement to say that if we don’t we will lose our edge as a nation.

America was built by entrepreneurs: people in business, government, science, education and the non-profit world who took risks because they saw opportunity.

Entrepreneurs are the people who solve problems, build, create, sustain and design successful societies.

We’ve all been reading lately about the efforts of close to 250 cities and regions to lure a second Amazon headquarters and its promise of 50,000 jobs. It’s a big opportunity—no doubt a game changer for the lucky winner who will have to put up billions in incentives to make it happen. South Florida, including our own Business Development Board, is playing the game and to some extent I guess you have too.

But personally, I would rather make an investment in seeding a new generation of entrepreneurs than throwing money at an already wealthy company like Amazon. I prefer what they call “economic gardening” (growing your own) to chasing smoke stacks or the modern digital version.

Fortunately, there is a lot beginning to happen on the gardening front: FAU and Lynn University have good business schools, Tech Runway at FAU has potential and the business community in Palm Beach County is relatively strong. Boca Raton’s economic development efforts are impressive, West Palm Beach is coming of age and Boynton Beach has some very exciting projects under consideration. Northern Palm Beach County has a very strong business community anchored by a progressive Chamber of Commerce (shout out to our friend Chamber president Beth Kigel) and Lake Worth has tremendous potential especially in the energy sector.

As a two time board member of our BDB, I can attest that we have a solid economic development organization that in my opinion has been a little starved of resources by the county over the years (relative to budgets in Broward, Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties).

I’m especially intrigued and excited by some of the emerging groups of young creative entrepreneurs that we are seeing pop up: Creative Mornings Palm Beach, Palm Beach Tech and One Million Cups are just a few of the groups emerging filled with energy, ambition and community building potential.

There are also some real interesting co-working spaces popping up.

I’m especially happy to see the growth and excitement behind Palm Beach Entrepreneur Week Nov. 10-18. (Like The Beatles song, that’s actually an 8 day week).

Highlights include a meetup at the Social House in Lake Worth, a Creative Morning at Saltwater Brewery in Delray Beach, a pitch competition in West Palm Beach, a Florida Venture Forum showcase at FAU’s Tech Runway and more… Check out the website for a full schedule: https://eweekpb.com/#landing-events

All this is really cool to see. But we need more.

More angel investors, more mentors, more venture capital, more news about entrepreneurs and more outreach into schools. The Boca Chamber’s Young Entrepreneurs Academy is a great start. We also need more affordable space in key downtowns like Delray—not easy to do based on market forces and high prices.

We sit in a great location—close enough to Miami (an international city and a gateway to the Americas), close to an emerging Fort Lauderdale and within a county that offers a great quality of life.

If we reach our potential—the Amazon’s of the world will be asking to move here and ideally the next Amazon will be born here.

10 Things We Liked About October

 

Matthew Farmer serenaded Lifetime Achievement Award winner Frances Bourque and hearts swooned.

10 Things we liked in October.
1. Bat Mitzvahs. Especially Bat Mitzvahs at Boca Pointe. Especially Bat Mitzvahs that include blackberry mojitos and chocolate fountains. Oh and a great young woman and great people too. That we love.
2. Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” in Pittsburgh. We know lots of Pittsburghers in Delray and Boca and we like them all.
3. The Matzo Ball soup at Deli On Rye in Boca.
4. Sitting at the bar for lunch at the Gazebo in Boca, a local classic. Elegant and delicious.
5. Frances Bourque being recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Delray Chamber. The founder of Old School Square is quite simply a local heroine. She made it all possible.
6. We loved seeing good guy Pedro Andrade recognized by the Chamber as Business Person of Year. The GM of Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza is terrific. Period.
7. Congrats to the Conde Center for Chiropractic Neurology for also winning an award from the Chamber for their business success and growth. Founder Dr. John Conde also finds time to give back.
8. Margaret and Robert Blume stepping up to lead the effort to rethink the Cornell Museum at Old School Square.
9. The pork chops at 5th Avenue Grill. We knew they had great steaks, but the pork chops are magnificent as well.
10. Believe it or not– but I’m told by a well known deli maven that Caffe Luna Rosa serves a great pastrami sandwich. Maybe the best.
See you in November a month devoted to giving thanks.

Honoring A Local Legend

Frances Bourque: A Lifetime of Achievement.

Editor’s Note: We received a few requests for the speech honoring the Delray Chamber’s 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Frances Bourque. Frances was honored Friday night at the Delray Marriott. It was a memorable evening and her speech was sensational. Video coverage of the awards ceremony can be viewed on the Facebook page of the Delray Newspaper.  Here’s the transcript of the intro…

Well, what can you say about our honoree…Frances Bourque?

This tribute can be six words…I love you. We love you.

I truly believe that none of us would be sitting here in a beautiful beachfront hotel… in a vibrant downtown…if Frances Bourque had stayed in the Glades or set her sights on Boca Raton or West Palm Beach. We were forever blessed when she came to Delray.

Old School Square started it all…It was the catalyst…you were the catalyst… and because you brought your beautiful spirit, vision and brilliance to our town…we—all of us— have reaped the rewards…You are so special…and we are so grateful for all that you have given us.

Because as you taught me… it’s all about people—people who lead with love, boldness, aspiration, care and concern. People who motivate us to join the mission. Frances, your heart is so big and so generous…your vision is so compelling…there was no way we could fail. You lead with love.

That’s our Frances…she is spellbinding and irresistible.

The first time I met her, when I was 23 years old, I was struck by her spirit and her unique worldview. She just had a great way of seeing things… I’ve been enthralled ever since…

Frances and I have laughed together and we’ve shed a few tears too…she has been our rock, the champion of our city’s vision, and she has been the go-to person for so many great people….inspiring them to be involved, give back and make a difference in Delray.

For thirty years—she has taught me…and so many others…what it takes to build and sustain a great city.

Because none of this…none of what we saw in the video… happened by accident. All of the things we love and cherish about Delray Beach is a result of people working together through good times and bad.

None of this could have happened without people like Frances leading the way and teaching us that anything and everything is possible if we dare to dream and dare to try.

 

Great leaders are inspiring, they make you feel good about the mission, they lift people up and they show us the way. They make you believe that your dreams can come true—and when they do —they graciously give others the credit. That’s our Frances…

 

Frances Bourque is my hero and a hero to so many of us in Delray Beach. Where others saw a desolate and blighted downtown, Frances saw boundless potential.

Where others saw a broken down old school, Frances envisioned a cultural arts center that would transform our community by giving us a place to gather—so we could actually be a community. She gave us the biggest gift of all—community.

Old School Square is a brilliant idea… it honors our past, enhances our present and addresses our future. It’s where we gather to celebrate, it’s where we go to dream and it’s where we go to console each other during tough times….it belongs to all of us and it’s an asset—a gift— that we must treasure.

Frances made this happen.

Oh, she had help—but it was her boundless energy, passion, skill and love for Delray that drove the vision. Her optimism is contagious and once we were exposed to the Frances Bourque magic—there was no way we could ever fail.

Great leaders attract people to the cause…and they make us feel that we can move mountains and change our corner of the world.

Frances has been this city’s muse and champion for decades…Old School Square was the catalyst for our revitalization. It created an economy out of blight, breathed life, music and art into a once desolate downtown—and gave us pride of place.

We were no longer “Dullray Beach”…we were Delray Beach…an All America City, a place of possibility, achievement and innovation.

Frances is a most deserving Lifetime Achievement Award winner…she’s a brilliant star…a beautiful spirit…she has gifted us a world of possibility and she has never wavered or gone away… thank goodness.

On behalf of the Greater Delray Beach of Commerce and a grateful community: Thank you. We love you very, very much. Ladies and gentleman…your 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award winner…Frances Bourque.

 

 

A Lifetime of Achievement: Honoring Contributors

Frances Bourque: A Lifetime of Achievement.

On Friday night, the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce will honor three special people at its annual Luminary Gala at the Delray Marriott.

The Conde Center, founded by Dr. John Conde, will be named Business of the Year.
Pedro Andrade, GM of Anthony’s Coal Fire Pizza, will be honored as Business Person of the Year.
And Frances Bourque–the extraordinary Frances– will win a much deserved “Lifetime Achievement Award”.
All three represent the best of Delray Beach, people whose work in the community make them invaluable.
I’m glad that after a years break, the Chamber has restored its awards program. It’s important to recognize good people, say thanks and hopefully inspire others to strive.

To be honest, I don’t think we say thanks enough to the special people who give their time, talents and treasure to our community. If we fail to show gratitude and recognize service, we miss an opportunity to educate newcomers and our children. And we risk that important and noteworthy contributions will be missed–and as a result, the history of our city risks being incomplete.

The three Chamber honorees this year are truly deserving and very special.

The Conde Center enjoys a stellar reputation for advancing the health and wellness of its clientele.
Founded in 2006 by Dr. John Conde, the Conde Center for Chiropractic Neurology is known for its state of the art equipment and caring staff.
As a result, the Center has grown in size and now employs 10 people.
Despite a fast growing practice, Dr. Conde serves on several non profit boards and the city’s Downtown Development Authority. He’s involved in the community and finds many ways to support Delray. Over the years, I’ve quietly referred several people to the center.

One of my best friends is a chiropractic physician in California and I’ve learned to appreciate the difference these practitioners can make in people’s lives. I’ve never had anyone complain after visiting the Conde Center. I do hear a lot of raving reviews.

Mr. Andrade is another individual who finds myriad ways to support the community.
Quite simply, he’s a go-to person in Delray. If there’s a good cause, you know Pedro will be there.
He’s just a terrific guy and it feels good to see him honored.
I remember when we approved the restaurant way back when. I had received a letter from a neighbor concerned about “coal emissions” a reference to Anthony’s pizza cooking method.
That’s how new coal fired pizza was back then. Not to worry, all Anthony’s does is make amazing pizza and the best wings imaginable. No smoke stacks.

Which leads me to Frances.
What can one say about Frances Bourque?
She’s my personal heroine. And she serves that role for many many others.
The founder of Old School Square is truly an historic figure in our community. Her work has impacted a generation and will continue to impact Delray forever. There’s not too many people you can say that about.
She continues to be a leadership force in our community teaching us, focusing us and inspiring us.
In short, she’s a treasure.
To see her receive a lifetime achievement award will be a thrill for so many.
Because in so many ways, she personifies the best of Delray: visionary, aspirational, inspirational, historic, formidable, complex, loving and smart.
See you at the Gala…three special  honorees recognized by an important community anchor: our Chamber.

Wouldn’t It Be Nice

Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs wrote,   “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” 

Kind of a nice sentiment right? 

I mean who can disagree?

But maybe..,just maybe…a part of you is wondering if that’s just pie in the sky idealistic hooey. 

And I suppose it may be. But…

Ideals are important. Values too. 

It’s vital that we try and it’s imperative that we strive. 

I keep hearing how we live in an age of disruption where everything we know is being challenged. 

How we work. 

Where we work. 

How we get around. 

How we shop. 

Name the sector or the subject and it’s being rethought. 

Retail. 

Higher education. 

Cars. 

The Presidency. 

It’s both exciting and scary. 

Me, I’m cool with change.

I find technology interesting and I love to learn about new things and new ways of thinking. 

But I also feel it’s imperative that we hold onto some foundations, cling to bedrock values and think about what we want to see last. 

Traditions are important. So are roots and history. 

But they shouldn’t shackle us or prevent us from going to new places in our minds and communities. Values and traditions should inform us and the things that work should endure. 

Inclusiveness is one of those things. 

So Jane Jacobs was right. 

The table —so to speak—should make room for all who wish to sit there and participate. And efforts should be made to involve as many people as possible. We need the coalition of the willing to be ever growing. 

I think often about what my city has taught me (us) if we take the time to reflect. 

We work best when we include, when we seek to unite, understand and engage. 

We fail and we hurt others when we exclude, divide, label and ignore. 

Inclusiveness promotes respect and encourages participation and dialogue. 

A top down “father knows best” style of governing is a dead end. 

Inclusiveness is noisy, cumbersome, time consuming and not as efficient as top down decision making but it’s worth it. 

And it creates human connections. And we need that more now than maybe ever. 

The comedian Sara Silverman has a new show on Hulu in which she seeks to spend time with people who don’t see life as she does. 

I caught a sample episode online in which the Jewish liberal from New England visits a family of Trump voters in Louisiana. 

They talk about hot button topics including  gay marriage and immigration in a humorous way that doesn’t change any one’s mind but does change how they see each other. They laugh. They bond. They leave with their humanity not only intact but enhanced. 

To quote The Beach Boys: “Wouldn’t it be nice”. 

Old School Square Makes Us A Village

The anchor is a beacon.

We went to a great party Sunday afternoon to celebrate a generous donation to Old School Square.

And we were reminded about how art builds community.

Margaret and Robert Blume stepped up to make the transformation of the Cornell Museum possible.
When the newly renovated museum re-opens in November, we predict that visitors to the space will be amazed.

As Old School Square CEO Rob Steele puts it: the museum will become an important community asset for Delray Beach with profound and enduring benefits.
That’s exactly what it should be. Community museums and art centers are meant to be treasured assets valued by residents, tourists and artists.

None of this would be possible without the generosity of donors like the Blume’s, dedicated staff (and Old School Square has a terrific staff), a committed board, volunteers and a supportive city.
It really does take a village.

The Blume’s were taken by Old School Square’s story and it’s importance to the community and stepped up as a result.
Let’s face it, when it comes to philanthropic dollars there is enormous competition. You have to have a compelling mission and an ability to deliver in order to stand a chance with so many worthy causes to choose from.

Those of us who are board members and fans of Old School Square are hopeful that others will be inspired to step up and help Old School Square in its important mission. Rob and his dedicated team have created naming rights and other opportunities for philanthropy and involvement.

Here’s hoping that many seize the opportunity to shape the future. Old School Square is a special place and plays a central role in our community.

I’m reading a great book by musician Dar Williams called “What I Found in a Thousand Towns” which is devoted to the observations of an artist who has spent a life on the road.
Ms. Williams is a self taught urban anthropologist and her eyes have been trained to see what works in towns she visits that thrive.
In her book, she notes a concept she calls “positive proximity” —or the creation of spaces where people can gather, meet, talk, experience music, art and community.
Sound familiar?

That was the genius of Frances Bourque’s idea when she looked at a dilapidated old school sitting on the very best real estate in town.
She saw a place that could be the focal point of our city. A place that could build community.

Over the years, Old School Square has delivered.

It’s where we practiced for our All America City awards, where we gathered to light the Christmas tree and Menorah, where we thanked volunteers, where we held a vigil after 9/11 and where we met as neighbors to discuss race relations.
It’s also where we met to discuss our downtown master plan, where we have lit unity candles on MLK Day and where we attended weddings and other important personal celebrations.
In its classrooms, we have seen artists of all ages learn and explore their passions. On its stages, we have experienced magic.

Old School Square is our most important asset. It belongs to everyone. It honors our past, informs our present and speaks to our future.
And it needs our help. Now more than ever.

We need to complete our parks plan, reinvent for the future and make the most of the amphitheater.
If we fulfill its promise, we will remain a strong community. In  a world that’s increasingly polarized and growing more remote thanks to technology (and fear of one another) we risk losing “positive proximity.”
That’s a loss we may never recover from and will be sure to regret.
Old School Square was the key to Delray’s revitalization three decades ago. It’s even more important to our future.

I Loved Those Days

It’s not been a good moment for the news media lately.
Fake News has become a hash tag and public opinion polls consistently rank journalists low on issues of trust. But I’ve seen both sides.
I’ve watched lousy reporters botch or miss stories and I’ve seen great ones illuminate our understanding of the world. Broad labeling of people and institutions is the lazy way out–life is much more nuanced.
Readers of this blog know I spent my early career working—very happily– in newsrooms.
Today, I have an ownership interest in the Delray Newspaper and Boca Newspaper but because of a hectic schedule and a day job I don’t get to spend as much time as I’d like “newspapering.”
I miss it.
Especially newsrooms, which are just magical places filled with smart, funny, talented and colorful people.
My favorite newsroom was at the old Monday-Thursday Paper’s on East Rogers Circle in Boca Raton which was later relocated to Fairview Drive in Deerfield Beach.
Those newsrooms were filled with editors, reporters, photographers and assistants and they crackled with humor, activity, the clacking of keys and a fair amount of profanity.
I loved it.
The Monday Thursday Papers (later renamed the South Florida Newspaper Network) was one of the largest community newspaper groups in the country and the largest in the southeast.
We were big. We were good. We were relevant and we covered the news in a slew of cities from Dade to Port St. Lucie.
It was a blast because of the people. I loved coming to work because I was surrounded by talented characters who told stories that were often better than the ones we wrote. Why? Because the stories behind the stories were always better. We live in an area rich with characters and chasing them down often led to some great adventures.
Not that our news stories weren’t good.
They were and we regularly walked away with lots of hardware at Press Association gatherings.
We had grizzled editors, oddball reporters, incredibly inventive photographers and colorful people who designed the pages of the papers  on “flats” using glue, pica poles and exacto knives.
This was all before the advent of desktop publishing which revolutionized the industry and cost a few people their jobs.
We also had a huge printing press, a large circulation department and across the wall sat the advertising sales staff. We believed in a separation of church and state– so to speak– so while we were friendly, those of us on the news side were decidedly our own team.
We ate lunch together, gave each other space “on deadline” and served as each other’s human thesaurus when we found ourselves at a loss for words. After work, we hung together in places like Dirty Moe’s, sharing stories about the people and places we covered.
We had a managing editor named Tom Sawyer, who had a heart of gold but could be a curmudgeon of legendary proportions. We took pride when he praised us and also when we made him turn red with anger. He would chase us out of the newsroom with the famous words: “no news happens here. Get out of the newsroom. Go to your cities.”
And we did.
We hung out at lunch counters—the Green Owl, Ken and Hazel’s, bars—The Frog Lounge, Paradise Club, Powers Lounge, we rode with cops and firefighters, embedded ourselves in ERs and Trauma Centers and spent long nights at city commission meetings writing the first draft of local history. It felt like important work and twice a week our  stories ended up on thousands of driveways.
It felt like we were making an impact. And I think we did. We created a narrative for the cities we covered.
For me, covering Delray Beach, the narrative was of a fascinating and complex city that was determined to rise above its challenges and work together to build a brighter future. There were bumps along the way, but the arc was steady and it was fun to write about the progress and the challenges. It was my graduate education and what I learned from watching mayors, commissioners, department heads, business leaders, detectives, paramedics, volunteers and road patrol officers was invaluable.
Sometimes I find myself missing those days and especially those smart, vibrant and funny people who worked alongside me in the newsroom.
So I went online  to “hear” their voices, and I was able to find some of  their words on the Internet.
While it wasn’t ideal and there were many I couldn’t locate (Jim Baker, sportswriter extraordinaire, where are you?) I did find a few and I managed to enjoy their writing once more.
Here are a  few snippets:
From an editor I learned a lot from…

“As someone who loves history, particularly American history, I have long been astounded by the brilliance of our Founding Fathers. They gave serious thought not only to whether they were being unfairly taxed or lacked fair representation, but to the  question of what rights naturally fall to individuals of our species in the natural order of things — the very essence of liberty. They studied Greek and Roman history, read the works of those civilization’s great orators. And a central ingredient of the philosophical stew which became the spiritual and civil framework for our country was the inherent right to stand up against injustice — even to the point of taking up arms. Patriotism in their eyes was not flag-waving and anthem-singing, but taking bold action, whether on the battlefield or the halls of Congress, to ensure that every citizen be guaranteed fundamental rights associated with “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” (Those words were not just a political catch-phrase to the Founders.)  As an ardent fan of these great thinkers, I support every citizen’s right to protest in whatever manner he or she feels appropriate (and doesn’t physically harm others) and I consider those acts of protest patriotic. Even if it means allowing moral degenerates to peacefully espouse racial and ethnic hatred.”  

From another editor, who I thought was an exceedingly cool human:
“Summer 1985 and I have  press passes at SPAC to interview Aimee Mann and Til Tuesday. I wander off backstage to look around, make a quick turn around a sharp, dark corner, and run smack into this skinny guy with stringy blond hair, who I assume is a roadie until he says in a rich baritone drawl, “Hey, watch where you’re going there.” Realizing that it’s Tom Petty, I fire off an apologetic retort, something akin to, “Uh, oh, you homma, eya, yah,” and run away. I’m relatively certain he secretly dedicated “Even the Losers” to me later that night. (We get lucky sometimes.)
From a reporter who left for a big gig in The Keys.

“We are going to make it. We’re the Keys. We’ve done this before (though not on this level). We know our collective community character, and it is strong. We are going to make it, with all of us helping each other.’

From an editor who became a dear and lasting friend and confidant:

“Yeah, back in the day, there were no helmets or heart guards – just pure unadulterated playing. Our game was kickball out in the street. No helmets, no any kind of guards, and certainly no helmets when we rode our bikes. I actually had a hard time learning how to balance my two-wheeler, so I can’t imagine what it would be like if my head was weighted down with a helmet too. The only game I would admit could use some sort of protection was Dodge Ball – which I’m guessing is probably outlawed these days. Who would sanction kids throwing a big, round hard ball at someone – just for fun? And it was okay to get dirty, roll around in the grass and scrape knees. There wasn’t a lot of germ-a-phobic behavior – no hand sanitizer, for sure. But we all survived.”

From a reporter who spoke with a great Irish accent.

‘Time traveler’ says aliens are coming next year but he has no info on who wins 2018 world cup, clearly a fraud.’

 

I think my old friend from Belfast was reacting to a tabloid headline. He always had a razor sharp wit–most of the journalists I know do. Spend some time in that environment and you either develop one or get cut to pieces.

My great buddy Perry Don Francisco texted me last week to alter me to a story on NPR about community newspapers.

That’s how I met Perry, the legendary owner of Boston’s on the Beach.

I was a reporter. He was making news by doing great things in the community. He never wanted the attention but he liked that the causes got ink. We became close friends over the years and he has taught me a lot.

So following Perry’s advice I caught an NPR podcast last week about newspapers. It was a solid piece.

And it made me think about my newspaper days and all of those great voices who served this community so eloquently. Newspapers were better than tweeting, deeper than Facebook and the photos were better than what I find on Instagram (and I’m a fan and user of all three platforms).

And that’s why I’m so reluctant to recycle the old copies of those papers in my garage. I’m just not ready to say goodbye.

Something Has Changed

Jason Aldean covers Tom Petty’s “I won’t back down.” Neither will we.

Two musicians have been on my mind since the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Jason Aldean was on stage at a Country Music Festival when the carnage began and issued a heartfelt statement in the aftermath. His words have stuck with me: “Something has changed in this country and in this world lately that is scary to see.”

Indeed.

Tom Petty passed away while we were trying to process the Vegas shooting. He was 66. Mr. Petty meant a lot to me and to music fans of my generation and beyond. In reading through some of his interviews, I saw a quote that also made me think.

Petty gave an interview to USA Today upon the release of what would be his last album, 2014’s “Hypnotic Eye”, a record he said was about “what’s happened to the human that’s lost his humanity.”

Petty went on to say: “I’m not extremely political. I just look at what makes sense to me. I would think we’d be in the streets demanding that our children be safe in schools. I see friendships end over politics. I’ve never seen so much anger. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. In a two-party system, ideas are argued and you compromise. You’re not supposed to stop the process.”

Mind you, this was 2014. Things have gotten a lot angrier and nastier in the past three years haven’t they?

We see violence all over the world—people brutalized in Myanmar, blown up in Britain and France, girls kidnapped in Nigeria, cartel violence destroying cities in Mexico—the list goes on and on. And we see violence and unspeakable acts here as well.

But something else is afoot.

Something else is happening.

It’s a lack of civility. A lack of respect for common decency. An inability to see other points of view.

We live in a divisive society and taken to its extremes we become tribal and if you are not in my tribe you must be stupid, evil, bad—or somehow less human.

But Jason Aldean’s full statement called on us to remember that we are all human—and we are all Americans, even if we disagree—maybe especially because we disagree. Isn’t that what America is supposed to be about?

Democracy is loud and messy at times, but Lincoln and others reminded us to be mindful of our better angels. We sometimes lose track of those angels and we lash out.

We see it on cable news, online, in our nation’s capital, in Tallahassee and right here at home in our city halls.

We can blame it on social media. We can blame it on #fakenews. We can blame it on Trump. We can blame it on Hillary.

But the buck stops with us.

I write down quotes that make me think. I got this one from the former CEO of Office Depot. Bruce Nelson and I used to meet here and there when he was running the show at their old Delray headquarters out on Congress Avenue. Mr. Nelson once said to me: “You stand for what you tolerate.”

It’s an interesting quote isn’t it?

So why do we tolerate nastiness, bullying, incivility and lack of results?

Why do we wait for the knight on the white horse to arrive and save the day, when we have the power to bring about positive change?

Something has changed.

We are tolerating too much nonsense.

Our leaders work for us—why are we afraid of them?

If we want to see a just world, a gentler, and safer place why do we tolerate nonsense?

If we want to solve problems, why don’t we?

 

 

Help Wanted: Leaders Who Can Provide Stability

Stability provides a great foundation for progress.

It may be hard to believe, but there was a time—not too long ago– where working for the City of Delray Beach was an appealing prospect.

Delray was the city on the cutting edge.

A city of vision, promise and innovation.

We were known for being collaborative—a place where City Hall played well with non-profits, the business community, sister agencies and neighborhood associations.

Delray.

Got.

Things.

Done.

A lot of things.

To be sure, it was never nirvana.

Delray has always had its challenges and problems—all cities do. And we have had our share of big ones—from schools that need a ton of help, to crime, drugs, irresponsible sober home operators, civic bullies, poverty and racial tension. And that’s only a partial list. Many of these issues have proven to be stubborn and they have frustrated all sorts of efforts. But there were gains as well.

This was a place where you could see visible progress—on projects large and small. This was a place where many challenges were overcome and as a result opportunities were created.

It was a place where city leadership—staff, uniformed personnel, elected officials, citizens, business owners and volunteers — believed that by working together you could create a better, stronger, more resilient and caring community.

Consequently, it was a pretty good place to work.

Mayors and commissioners—for the most part—were kind and respectful to city staff. Delray became known for its stability—especially among department heads many of whom lived here and were deeply committed to the betterment of this city.

Like all large organizations, we had some clunkers.

Like all complex entities—and cities are very complex—mistakes were made.

But progress was made as well.

Giant strides. Things that make your heart swell and give you a sense of civic pride.

What happened in Delray Beach did not happen by accident.

It was envisioned. It was planned. And there was execution across the board.

Now some people don’t like what happened here and I respect that opinion.

I have a business acquaintance who moved to Hobe Sound because it just got too busy here for his tastes. Nevertheless, he finds that he drifts back here often to eat or catch a show at Old School Square. He won’t miss the Delray Open because he loves tennis under the stars. He also invests here from time to time and encourages others to do so.

Still, I’m sure others despise the hustle and bustle and long for the days when we were a sleepy village.

I’ll be honest, I don’t.

My frame of reference goes back 30 years and while I’ve always loved Delray, I wouldn’t trade the 1980s version for today’s city even with our warts and challenges.

I think most people feel the same way. That’s my hunch anyway. We have a good city, not a perfect city, but a good city.

In fact, we are such an interesting place that you would think top tier talent would flock here.

They don’t. Not anymore.

We are about to choose a city manager from what everyone seems to think was a pretty thin list of candidates. There were three finalists out of a small pool of applicants and on October 10 commissioners may move forward and choose a manager. That list is now down to two applicants, with one dropping out. You can go to the golf course this evening and mingle with the finalists—that’s what passes for public input these days—a cocktail party. I attended the last cattle call party at 32 East which produced Don Cooper. It’s hard to learn much about someone in such an environment.

When the head hunter was asked why a city like Delray was not attracting interest, the recruiter answered honestly. Delray is considered a challenging environment these days. It’s not the salary being offered—which is competitive, it’s the toxic political atmosphere and the commission’s reputation for infighting and micromanagement. To quote the Palm Beach Post: “Delray Beach has a ‘reputation’ for micromanagement and ‘other negative things’, according to the consultant for the Mercer Group which was hired to find candidates.

That’s sad, because they should be turned on because this should be one of the best jobs in America.

Hopefully, commissioners will make the right choice this time and hopefully whoever they choose will succeed. We need the next manager to be successful, because so many others have fallen short in recent years.

Since longtime manager David Harden left in 2012 we have seen five managers/acting managers come and go. We have seen a truckload of assistant managers/department heads/middle managers/city attorneys, rank and file and others leave as well.

This is not the sign of a healthy organization.

But the sun still shines. The property values still climb and Atlantic Avenue is still busy. You can flush a toilet (without a generator), call 911 and get great service and your trash gets picked up twice a week. So why should you care? Here are a few reasons why:

If you’ve run a business of any size, you know that turnover is costly. So if you pay taxes you should care.

If you run a business in town or want to build a home or add a new kitchen you should care too, because if your City Hall has issues you may find that efficiency suffers and over time that will cost you.

This is NOT A SLAP at city workers. This is a plea to make their lives better and get out of their way. Hold them accountable, but let them do their jobs.  I happen to know many and we have still quite a few talented people on staff.

But I worry that talent is being stifled. I worry that our best minds at City Hall are frightened. I am concerned that rather than rely on staff, we are hiring expensive consultants and then often ignoring their advice as well. I am worried that other cities are catching and passing us—and that impacts everything from quality of life and home values to job prospects and our sense of community and civic pride.

When government organizations get frightened, they seize up like an engine without oil. It’s safer to keep your head down than to rock the boat. The best minds—if situations permit—will leave as soon as they can. We are losing talent to Lake Worth, Boynton Beach and other cities. That hardly ever happened.

Many are taking lateral positions too—so it’s not as if they are leaving us for traditional reasons such as career advancement.

In July, I was the guest speaker at an event called “Bourbon Sprawl.” It’s a great group of urbanists, business people, planners, architects and others who care about community. They talk about issues impacting cities and they have a few drinks. It’s a fun group.

A few Delray Beach employees attended that event. I won’t name them, because I don’t want to expose anyone. I didn’t know most of them—and I hadn’t worked with any of them. But after the talk, I was told that city staff could get in trouble for talking to elected officials or if they made recommendations without being invited to do so.

And I left that event wondering how an elected official can do their job if they are not allowed to learn from the subject area experts that work for our city. Notably, one of the people I spoke to that night is gone. Too bad, because I sensed a bright mind who could have done great things for our community. I don’t know what the specific policy is, frankly I don’t care. Because if your staff feels stifled and frightened something is amiss. And we the people, lose out on their knowledge, talent and expertise.

I get the desire of a City Manager to control the flow of information, but I remember learning an immense amount from listening to and reading the work of our planning, financial, engineering, parks and public safety personnel. There is a middle ground which always includes the manager, but also enables policymakers to glean knowledge from subject area experts so they can make good decisions.

I was a young reporter here in the 1980s when we last suffered from instability at City Hall caused by strife on the dais. City Hall was a revolving door in those days. Then we had a landmark election that saw Tom Lynch, Jay Alperin and David Randolph sweep into office and we enjoyed a long run of stability, innovation, achievement, civic pride, community unity and problem solving. They set an example for future leaders.

At the time, staff remarked at how civil the Mayor and commission were—respectful of their professional acumen while still able to hold people accountable. I went to every meeting in those days. And I can tell you the mayor and commissioners questioned staff vigorously, but always respectfully. Assumptions were challenged and decisions were made. Not all were correct, but the batting average was really good and so we had progress. Lots and lots of progress.

 

We need to get back to those days. Before we give it all back. And if you think we’re bullet proof, let me assure you we are not.

A follow up story in the Post covering Commissioner Shelly Petrolia’s run for Mayor noted the “chaos” and turnover at City Hall. That’s a good story—but the Post enabled Commissioner Petrolia too artfully—but falsely—shift the blame to Mayor Glickstein. People all over town had a good laugh over that spin.

Sorry, but you own your fair share of the chaos after 5 years. Readers of this blog know I am no fan of Mr. Glickstein. But in fairness, he can’t be blamed for all of the chaos, dysfunction and lack of progress on everything ranging from Congress Avenue to the Old School Parks Plan. It takes three elected officials to tango.

Coincidentally, that’s how many seats are up this March.