Here’s To The Teachers

Geoffrey Canada

I had always wanted to see Geoffrey Canada speak.

We tried to get him to come to Delray Beach many years ago, but for some reason we were unable to pull it off.

Canada is a legendary educator and community builder who did some miraculous work running the Harlem Children’s Zone until his recent retirement. He continues to speak around the country and we caught him recently at The Breakers in Palm Beach where he spoke to the annual meeting of Leadership Florida.

He’s a riveting speaker. Riveting with a capital R.

And his message is powerful and built on a lifetime of experience. It’s also timely with our children heading back to school in a few weeks.

While there were many lessons packed into his presentation my two takeaways were this:

  • We completely disrespect the education profession in this country and;
  • Where you grow up and how you grow up matters—a lot.

Canada who grew up in the South Bronx was a bright student who went to Bowdoin College in Maine in the 1960s.

Back home, he saw the plague of heroin stealing young lives (sound familiar) and so out of curiosity he took two science classes his last year of school: pharmacology and physiology.

He wanted to figure out what it was about heroin that made the drug so addictive and deadly.

He aced both classes and a group of professors intervened in his career path and urged him to go to medical school.

“But I want to be a teacher,” he told them believing that education was the best way to lift a community and break the cycle of poverty.

“No you don’t,” they answered trotting out the usual reasons: you won’t make money, you won’t be able to drive a nice car and you won’t be invited to all the cool cocktail parties.

It was a full court press and his professors talked him into going to medical school which was where he was heading right up until he had to sign a commitment letter and he decided that he just “didn’t like sick people.”

So he escaped medical school and instead launched a career that has touched the lives of thousands of kids.  An astounding 97 percent of children enrolled in the Harlem Children’s Zone program go onto college—all of this in a community in which poverty, crime, drugs and despair are deeply rooted.

The Harlem Children’s Zone is changing the trajectory of that universe. That’s what great leaders do.

They change lives.

But the point was well taken. Every effort was made– by educators no less—to dissuade young Geoffrey from what would become a brilliant and important career.

Based on his 40 plus years of experience, Canada believes that education needs an infusion of talent to lift the fortunes of American students.

“When we think talent, we think Google, Facebook, Netflix,” he said. “We don’t think of the local elementary school in Fort Lauderdale.”

But we should. We need bright young minds to go into the field. Canada believes that education is beyond a full time pursuit, it requires immense dedication, talent and resources.

“We pay teachers part-time wages,” he argues. “And we entrust the future of our nation to them. In business, there is an intense struggle for talent. In education, we’re not competing for talent and we need to be.” That was not a knock on the quality of teachers, but rather a call to arms. Educators should not have to take a pledge of poverty in order to teach our children.

As the father of a young ESE (Exceptional Student Education) teacher who loves her students and goes above and beyond that argument resonates with me. I simply don’t know how teachers can live in Palm Beach County given the high cost of housing these days.

The second point is that place matters.

“The place you’re in is either going to help you succeed or be a barrier,” he said. “It’s hard for a child in the fourth grade who has to go home to parents addicted to drugs, living in chaos. He or she won’t be able to compete with a child coming home to loving parents.”

Unless….

Unless we start to think deeply about how we are going to make the child successful.

The brilliance of the Harlem Children’s Zone is its holistic approach.

“We start at birth,” he told Leadership Florida. “With baby college which is for newborns to three year olds. And we stay with them through college.”

That’s a big and expensive commitment—financially and emotionally. But it works. It gets results, especially when you introduce remarkable teachers into the equation.

“The message is we are going to do whatever it takes,” he said. “This is the deep end of the pool. In the beginning, the data is going to be bad. We have to get comfortable with that. And know, that over time, we will move it..slowly.”

On August 14, our kids will be heading back to school.

When you take a look at the educational landscape in Southern Palm Beach County you see lots of bright spots and lots of areas of concern.

The state recently released school grades for 2017.

More than half of District operated schools earned A’s and B’s overall and 30 schools operated by the School District of Palm Beach County improved by at least one letter grade. A total of 63 District-operated schools earned A’s from the state and 35 schools earned B’s, which equals 61 percent of traditional schools in Palm Beach County. No District-operated school received an F in 2016-17, and only eight District-operated schools received a D.

Twelve District-operated schools improved from a B to an A, including the following schools in Boca Raton and Delray Beach:

  • Banyan Creek Elementary School
  • Boca Raton Community Middle School
  • Hammock Pointe Elementary School
  • Olympic Heights Community High School
  • Sandpiper Shores Elementary School

But we all know we have lots of work to do.

Locally, we are fortunate to have Delray Students First, the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, magnet programs, career academies, the Golden Bell Foundation, the Delray Education Foundation, the Achievement Center, the Milagro Center, Florence Fuller Center and more.

I’ve always felt that the Village Academy and a concept called “Village Center” had enormous potential to employ the Canada Harlem Children’s Zone model.

But it takes money. It takes leadership. It takes vision and it takes a long term commitment.

In other words, it takes a village.

We say we are one, but it’s not about the size of buildings or whether we get a Publix—(for the record I like our scale and I want to see a Publix on West Atlantic) it’s about the size of our collective hearts.

Some Internet trolls love to sit back and bash and pontificate about what they don’t want to see.

I get it. And that’s cool—to a point.

But I often wonder if that same energy was channeled into thinking about the future rather than fighting the latest outrage if we might actually get somewhere again—as a community and as a nation.

I see a lot of loud people who are comfortable with their lot in lives paying lip service to kids but barely lifting a finger. I see others who have placed their comfort and personal convenience over the needs of future generations. What do our kids need?

They need attainable housing. They need good jobs. And we need to nurture our entrepreneurs and have a strategy to both attract and retain talent.

Place matters and that could be our competitive edge.

We’re walkable. We’re cool. We have amenities. We have art and culture. We have great restaurants and a wonderful beach. We have great weather and recreational opportunities.

Sure, we have problems. But you don’t solve your problems by driving down your positives. You solve your problems, you meet your challenges, through collaboration, investment and a can-do mindset.

Frankly, I’m seeing the opposite from our so-called “leaders.”

We have some deep end of the pool issues in Delray these days. It’s not the first time we’ve had them.

Last time, the community said “let’s work together.” Three words=profound results.

And it sure beats “divide and conquer.”

It’s our choice. Which path do we choose?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Not Going to Change

I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time.” — Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon

 
I’m not quite sure I’m a fan of Jeff Bezos.
But I sure do respect him.
He knows how to scale a business and disrupt industries as well as or better than anyone.
Just ask Walmart or any legacy retailer, bookseller or even cloud storage companies. 
I’ve been thinking about Amazon lately and what it’s impact and the impact of ecommerce may mean for cities and real estate.  But that post is for another day. 
The quote above made me think about something else. I think Bezos is right.  And while entrepreneurs always seek to skate where the puck is heading, the quote is also relevant to cities. 
A loud and active group of people seem to lament change in cities and I get it, we don’t want to lose the soul of our communities but change is inevitable and so the discussion should focus on how to best manage and steer the inevitable.
But what about thinking about what won’t change? What will still be needed in 10 years and beyond?
There are –as Bezos instructs –opportunities in what won’t be going away.
 
As much as we love Delivery Dudes we probably will still want to visit a great restaurant because it’s not just about the food it’s about the experience and the ambience. 
As much as we “stream” we may still want to see a great movie on a big screen with other people. We still may value “date night” or a matinee as I did the past two weekends when we went to see “The Big Sick” and “Baby Driver “at Cinemark. 
I love Netflix, but when I’m home I’m distracted. When I’m in a theater I focus and I end up enjoying the movie that much more–provided I don’t nap. 
Ipic is banking on that experience to endure as they build a new theater in Delray. 
I grew up the son of a retailer. My dad owned a retail pharmacy in Smithtown, N.Y., a business model that was disrupted by the likes of Walgreens and CVS. 
Now there are rumblings of Amazon going into the prescription delivery space. It will have an impact I’m sure. But as I watch an independent pharmacy being built on US 1 in Delray which will include an old-fashioned counter and other elements of retro drug stores I wonder if maybe we will leave room for authentic, old fashioned experiences like my dad’s old store. 
Yes AirBNB is all the rage but I think hotels will be around in 10 years. Maybe not the generic kind, but cool independents and boutique brands like Aloft that embrace local aesthetics will make it as will the incredible Crane’s Beach House which offers service, intimacy and strong ties to the local community. 
Big box retail and malls will be severely challenged but independent stores or highly curated chains with unique products and superior services and experiences should find room to survive and thrive. 
Food stores are changing too. 
A news story last week reported on a landmark study that showed consumers shopping for different items in different places. They may grab some items in a local farmers market, buy paper goods at a big box, shop for prepared meals at a local market and hit up a dollar store for staples. The 60,000 item supermarket may find itself struggling or having to reinvent.
So while we should cheer the CRA’s and WARC’s pursuit of a long coveted Publix for West Atlantic we should also recognize that our Green Market, local gardens, ethnic food stores and food halls have a place in our communities. Today’s consumer seems to crave options, authenticity, experience, ambience and value over generic mass. One wonders whether local retailers may mount a comeback: remember when Burdine’s was the Florida store? They didn’t stock sweaters in September because Burdine’s served the Sunshine State not a mass national market?
One of the bigger questions related to what will remain has to do with the future of the car.
Will it remain the same as today? My guess is no. 
There’s too much money being bet by major companies to think that the auto culture won’t be disrupted. 
When autonomous vehicles arrive, it will become the single greatest real estate opportunity of our lifetimes. With so much land and infrastructure given over to the car—i.e. seas of parking lots, garages, lanes and lanes of heat trapping asphalt–think of the opportunity to reinvent cities.
 No, transportation won’t be same. But my guess is the need for people to gather and experience together won’t change–providing great opportunities for cultural institutions, parks, recreation, restaurants and I hope old fashioned town hall democracy to thrive. 
The more technology engulfs our life the more we may crave human interaction and experience; which is the beauty of cities.
Cities are one “invention” that may change but I think they will endure and become more important than ever. 
I sure hope so. 

Creative Mornings Rock

Creative Mornings Palm Beach celebrates the selfie. I’m being blocked here by Connor Lynch, who is taller than LeBron.

Oh my goodness, where do you start when you write about Creative Mornings?
Is it the energy of 150 creatives at 8:30 am that makes you feel like the people in the room can transform the world?
Is it the inclusiveness that welcomes all and does not charge admission?
Is it the empowering message of the speakers and hosts?
What about the manifesto which says Creative Mornings are for people who give a damn?
It’s all of those things. And more. Much more.
I’m hooked.
And that’s a good thing because I have less than a month to piece together a talk for the next Creative Morning. After attending the most recent event and viewing several past talks, I have my work cut out for me.  #uhoh.
But enough about my troubles. This is a supportive group, so I’m sure they’ll grade on a curve and give me a pass.
Let’s talk about how cool Creative Mornings Palm Beach is and why convening creatives is hugely important.
Creative Mornings is an international movement with chapters in over 160 cities including five in Florida.
The concept is brilliantly designed and simple: gather for 90 minutes once a month and become part of a community of creative entrepreneurs whose brilliance and positivity will inspire you to new heights personally and professionally.
Alexa Rose Carlin was the speaker at last week’s gathering hosted at TK Academy in Boca Raton, an exciting new coding school. She was in a word: amazing.
Her message addressing inequality touched on themes of empowerment, positivity and gratitude.

At age 25, Alexa is already a national figure hosting national conferences and speaking to major corporations.
She electrified and inspired the crowd. It was amazing to experience.
It seems like these days we wallow in so much soul draining negativity and bile that it’s sometimes hard to trudge out of the house; or to turn on the TV or read the news.
A visit to Creative Mornings reminds you that there are people in our world who are trying to create and innovate. They are busy serving, building, dreaming, doing and aspiring.
I found it to be life affirming and comforting
On August 18 at Delray’s Arts Garage I will attempt to add to the community they have built. But more than anything I will let them know that their work is important and I will say thank you; because we need creativity and positivity now more than ever.

Editor’s note: Last week, our community lost a friend when Skip Sheffield passed unexpectedly. I worked with Skip on two separate occasions at The Boca News and at Atlantic Ave magazine. He was a wonderful man, a terrific musician and a great writer. His arts and music journalism won’t be forgotten and he was a walking encyclopedia of community knowledge. I enjoyed our friendship and loved working with him. The loss was stunning to those of us who knew, loved and respected Skip. He won’t be forgotten and he will be deeply missed. Our prayers are with the Sheffield family during this difficult time.

Things that Work Edition

It’s time for some positivity.
Social media and conventional media are full of bad news these days.
It’s time to take a look at what’s working.
Fortunately, this is by no means a complete list. And please send me some suggestions for future posts, we’d love to spotlight the good in our community.

Delray Beach Initiative –think of this group of committed citizens as a SWAT team for good. Essentially they go where they are needed helping local schools and non profits by raising funds and awareness. Over the weekend, they hosted “Delray’s Got Talent” at the Elks Club which in addition to being a lot of fun raised funds for the Miracle League, a non-profit that works too. To get involved or learn more visit http://delraybeachinitiative.com/

The Delray Beach Historical Society–under the leadership of Winnie Edwards, the Historical Society has new energy and life with lots of activities, exhibits and projects. They have a robust social media presence and have activated their home at the historic Cason Cottage. I like how the Historical Society is conducting interviews with residents who have insights into local history. I’ve longed felt we have neglected to capture the stories of our pioneers and key contributors so future generations may learn about their hometown. To learn more and get involved visit http://www.delraybeachhistory.org/

Boca Economic Development–Jessica Del Vecchio is a force of nature promoting job growth and corporate achievement in Boca Raton. Is there are a lot to talk about? Oh yes. But there’s also a whole lot to admire about how the City of Boca is messaging its successes. The Economic Development office fosters pride by spotlighting the contributions and achievements of local companies and touting the city as a great place to invest and run a business. Here’s a link to the office https://www.myboca.us/470/Economic-Development  

FAU Research Park–Park leader Andrew Duffel is an economic development rock star who was recently recognized for his stellar work. The Park has become a job engine for the region and the home of a lot of innovation. Bravo! The Research Park’s website is a cornucopia of great information that will get you informed and excited about the future of tech innovation in our backyard.

https://www.research-park.org/

The Arts Garage–since taking the helm, Marjorie Waldo has steadied the ship, engaged the community and continued the great programming. Yes! If you haven’t been to the Arts Garage, make sure to catch a show, you won’t regret it. The venue is intimate and easily accessible.  There’s a lot of ways to get involved visit http://artsgarage.org/ to learn how.

Old School Square–President Rob Steele and Board Chair Bill Branning have gotten the tour of political dysfunction in Delray but through it all have managed to stay positive and focused on the big picture which is and has always been serving as a cultural catalyst and community gathering spot. Rob’s ability to reach out to key community partners is refreshing. Bill’s strength as a leader is inspiring. http://oldschoolsquare.org/

Anthony’s Cold Fire Pizza–you can always count on Pedro Andrade, Anthony’s manager in Delray to step up to help the community. Aside from serving amazing wings and ridiculously good pizza, Anthony’s is a great corporate citizen.
There’s more. A whole lot more.
So much to be thankful for in your Delray Boca.

Housing For Young People Needed

Delray’s Community Land Trust is an innovative organization supported by the Delray CRA and others.

The headline was a grabber: Are You a Millennial Looking to Buy a Home? It Could Take Up to 32 Years.

Only 32% of the country’s largest generation (which consists of 75 million Americans) own homes. Those that do are flocking to interior markets, which tend to be cheaper and more cost-effective than most coastal markets. In our neck of the woods, that might mean the western fringes which creates sprawl and traffic as workers head east for jobs. But even out west, higher end homes seem to be the order of the day and many of the communities cater to the 55 and over crowd. Redfin recently reported that the 33446 area code (west of Delray)  is pacing the nation in price appreciation.

 

As the front line of millennials enter their mid-30s, financial security is not guaranteed. Instead, the generation is beleaguered with student loan debt (which exceeds car and credit card debt) and salaries that are 20% lower than what their baby boomer parents earned at the same age, according to a report by real estate research site Abodo.

 

The average net worth of a millennial is $10,090, or 56% less than what it was for baby boomers at the same point in life, according to Federal Reserve data.

 

Coupled with rising home prices, it could take decades for a millennial to be able to afford a down payment on a house in places like San Diego or San Francisco. This may be why more millennials live with their parents than any other generation in the last 130 years, according to Bisnow Media.

Millennials living in the country’s biggest cities, including New York City, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles are especially challenged.

 

The average millennial makes $40,500 per year. Using that average, were one to save 15% of her income each year, it would take just over 18 years to save enough for a 20% down payment on a home in Boston. It would take 32 years for a millennial to afford the average $112,000 down payment for a home in Los Angeles. And as the father of a few millennials who are gainfully employed (thank goodness) I have a hard time believing that even the most frugal and disciplined young person can save 15% of their income.

The picture in South Florida is not much different than some of the aforementioned hyper expensive markets.

I remember moving here when I was 22 and thinking that relative to New York and the Northeast, Florida was very affordable. My car insurance was lower, home prices were reasonable, there was no income tax and property taxes were much lower than my native Long Island. Even homeowners insurance was nominal at first—before changing after Hurricane Andrew.

Still, according to researchers at Abodo, Florida as a state remains much more affordable than other parts of the United States. It would take 5-10 years for millennials to save up.

Hence, the desire for developers to build apartments and the willingness of underwriters to finance deals. However, finding sites in built-out and expensive Boca and Delray is challenging. With land prices soaring, rental rents are also rising and the uncertain regulatory environment (costly, lengthy and torturous entitlement processes, toxic politics, NIMBYism and an aversion to density) make it even harder for millennials to strike out on their own.

Another headline in USA Today recently also grabbed me: Where Did All The Starter Homes Go?

The article cited a byzantine maze of zoning, environmental, safety and other requirements that has led to a 35% decrease in housing construction across the country from previous levels. According to economists cited by USA Today, the lack of supply has driven up home prices by 40% over the past five years.

Single family home construction suffers from a lack of available land and a lack of skilled construction workers, according to the National Association of Realtors. Banks are also tougher on borrowers as a result of the housing crash in 2008.

The perfect storm has led the National Association of Home Builders to sound the alarm. The NAHB says that from 2011 to 2016, regulatory costs to build the average house has increased from about $65,000 to $85,000 and now represent 25% of the cost of a home.

Of course, we need regulations as long as they are necessary, fairly priced and serve a public purpose.

Still, the inability of millennials to gain a foothold in our community should be pressing concern for public and private sector leaders.

It’s important for companies to be able to recruit workers in order for the economy to grow. Workers, young families, entrepreneurs and established companies look at housing prices, quality of life, quality of schools and cultural amenities before making a decision on where to put down roots.

Unfortunately, the word density has taken on a bad meaning. But, truth be told, density done well (i.e. properly designed for great buildings and public spaces) is essential for cities such as Boca Raton and Delray Beach. Compact and walkable development is better for the environment than traffic producing sprawl which serves the needs of cars over people. It also allows for young people to form households and become part of the community injecting needed ideas, life, energy, monies and volunteer hours which make cities work.

The recent changes to Delray’s land development regulations for the downtown core which capped density at 30 units to the acre, was a big mistake. It virtually guarantees that millennials—who seek walkable environments and don’t want to be car dependent—can’t live downtown. By limiting the supply, you jack up prices and we end up with an eastern core that’s shut off to all but the very wealthy.

The 2001 Downtown Master Plan, which did much to build on the 1990s Decade of Excellence, was a community wide education effort that encouraged well-designed projects versus a fixation on density numbers. We saw visual examples of ugly low density housing and also saw attractive higher density projects which have the added benefit of increasing your tax base while also adding residents who can support local businesses. That was the guiding rationale behind the push to add downtown housing. We wanted a sustainable, year-round downtown.

The other areas that make sense to add attainable housing for millennials and others is North and South Federal Highway, Congress Avenue and the “four corners” of Atlantic and Military, which has zoning allowing for a mix of uses. The four corners zoning—done over a decade ago—will become increasingly important as we see pressure on the retail landscape increase with big box chain stores being driven out of business by ecommerce.

Delray is ready to offer shopping center developers more options for their properties should they decide to invest and change course.

The best incentives are not monetary—which almost always leads to an arms race you can’t win with companies taking the money until a better offer comes along. Rather, the best incentives are zoning, a tough but fair and timely approval process that emphasizes design and good uses and enough density to give the next generation a chance to access your city.

We were always ahead of the curve—which is why Delray succeeded. It’s important we stay there or we will be left behind. Right now, we’re losing ground.

A Return To Bay Street

Greetings from The Bahamas.
About a dozen years ago, I was part of a small group that got invited to The Bahamas to meet business and political leaders looking to improve downtown Nassau.
I was thinking about that trip and a follow up visit by Bahamian officials to Delray this week as I returned to Paradise Island and made a trip to Bay Street.
U.S. Ambassador Ned Siegel asked former Mayor Tom Lynch and I to visit and talk about what we learned from the revitalization of downtown Delray Beach. We were joined by Boca Chamber President Troy McLellan and Kelly Smallridge, the president of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.
It was a memorable trip. And thanks to Ned, we met a who’s who in the Bahamian business world and government.
What struck us was the lack of local government so that the “little things” that mean so much –stuff like potholes and traffic flow –were left to the national government to deal with.
One of the issues at the time for Bay Street business leaders was the magnetic pull of cruise passengers and tourists to Atlantis, the massive resort that kind of has it all from magnificent pools and restaurants, to stores, aquariums and of course a casino.
We were asked to make some recommendations and we did and we later hosted a delegation in Delray, Boca and Palm Beach County.
I’m still in touch with a few of the Bahamians from that trip, mostly on social media.
So it was interesting to go back and ask as many people as I could how downtown was doing.
Of course, when you ask you get the gamut of responses: Bay Street was “thriving”, “struggling”, doing “awesome” and “so-so.”
When we were there we saw four cruise ships and the streets and stores were busy.
Side streets looked the same as a dozen years ago–still in need of some TLC. And parts of Bay Street were doing well and parts were marked by empty stores and blight.
So it goes…but it’s a beautiful place, with nice people, vibrant color, tropical weather, good food and happy music. And the residents…they love it here. Lots and lots of pride.
One thing was notable. Everywhere we went, people seemed to still know and miss Ambassador Siegel. That’s pretty cool. He left a mark here.
I hope he knows that.

 

Pride of the Yankees

Aaron Judge. Where have you gone Mr. O’Connor, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you. 

I have a problem with bullies.
I suspect most of us do.
Bullies are detestable. They hurt people in ways that leave deep and lasting scars.
I don’t know why I have such an aversion to bullies. It’s not like I was bullied as a child outside of a few incidents which usually ended in a bloody nose (either me or the offender). I was taught to stand up to bullies and sometimes that may cost you a bloody nose or a lost tooth, but it usually remedies the situation.
I learned that bullies  will take your lunch money every day until you say no and endure the consequences which are usually less painful than the daily humiliation and stress of having your dignity compromised.
In politics, you run into bullies on a regular basis.
The typical rule is to never feed a troll. It demeans you and gives the troll status.
But there are exceptions…
If the troll/bully gets traction and begins to move public opinion you have a responsibility to stand up for the truth or at least tell the other side of the story.
And if the bully is picking on your staff, community and teammates or those who are suffering you should take a stand and stick up for people. Indifference never  benefits the afflicted.
Frankly, I’m seeing a lot of bullying in Delray these days.
A lot of it occurs on social media where in between posts about dogs, graduations and entertaining memes featuring cats or Chris Christie in a beach chair, a fair amount of hating occurs.
Two recent examples –out of hundreds –are comments relating to Delray’s recovery industry and the proposal to redevelop the Sundy House and related properties.
I get that issues relating to recovery, heroin and sober homes are immensely complex and highly emotional. There are bad operators, scammers, relapses, overdoses, concerns about PTSD among first responders, fraudulent business practices and the list goes on. All are fair game for discussion and worry. These are scary issues and this is a frightening time.
But there are people who recover. There are people who contribute. There are good people who wake up everyday and try to save others.
But if you see some of the comments on social media you’ll be stunned at the lack of empathy. Or maybe you won’t. Maybe we’ve become immune. Maybe we’ve grown so callous and judgmental that we are ok with painting with a broad brush.
Or wishing that addicts would “just die.” Or questioning whether addiction is real or a sign of weakness or bad character.
Friends, we are all weak at times and none of us are getting through life unscathed. A little compassion goes a long way.
I have close friends in recovery. People I respect and adore. I see how they hurt when they read or hear some of the more judgmental and I believe discriminatory comments.
And I think that’s a shame. Because when you paint with a broad brush you smear a lot of good people.
To wit:
I think the Crossroads Club has been a blessing to our city and to thousands of people. I’ve heard wonderful things about Wayside House and Beachcomber and as a young reporter I spent a ton of time “embedded” at the Drug Abuse Foundation and got to know some dedicated counselors.
Civic leaders such as former Mayor Leon Weekes spent years serving on the board of DAF. I really liked Mayor Weekes and admired his dedication to the community.
Speaking of dedication, I have attended meetings of our Drug Task Force and I’m impressed by the passion, commitment and yes love in the room.
All of these responsible operators would love to go away; if it meant the scourge of addiction was solved.
But addiction is a disease and it’s real and it’s here and everywhere across our nation and world.
We can bash. We can label. We can blame. But all that does is polarize. All that does is drive us further apart. It does not solve a thing.
As for Swinton Commons. I don’t know enough about the site plan to render an opinion. Haven’t seen it other than the renderings floating around the internet.
And contrary to some rumors, we’re not involved in the project. I like Rick Gonzalez, the architect. We hired Rick when I was mayor to help us tighten and improve our historic district guidelines. He’s a dedicated preservationist. The real deal.
Still, I don’t know if the project as constituted works or not.
I do know that the Sundy House properties will be redeveloped at some point. The historic homes on the site are in danger and the South Swinton Neighborhood needs a shot in the arm.
Regardless, the trashing on social media of those who support the project and other proposed projects is ridiculous.
I get it. I get the concerns. Too big, too much, too ugly etc. But what about an understanding of  other views? The need for jobs, the need for tax base to fund services, the need for attainable housing and property rights.
There is opportunity in the concerns. It resides in our willingness and our ability to convene all sides and air the concerns, acknowledge them, mitigate or eliminate them.
But too often we choose the opposite. We choose to pick sides and divide.
People have been labeled corrupt, profit motivated (shocking) and my favorite “Yankees.” As in the Yankees ruined our town.
Not the Derek Jeter, Babe Ruth and Aaron Judge (isn’t he amazing) Yankees –but I suppose those of us from the northeast.
Sigh.
For the record, I’m a proud New Yorker. I’ve lived here 30 years but I guess in some eyes, we will always be Yankees.
That’s ok. We’re proud of where we come from and proud of where we live now. We are also proud of our contributions to South Florida. Some of us are actually pretty nice people.
As my old English teacher Mr. O’Connor once said: “ignorance is its own refutation.”
But is it?
In the age of social media, where every Tom, Expert Maven and Self Anointed Avenger has a bullhorn– will facts, context, rule of law, truth and authenticity still carry the day? Is my old English teacher, who looked like Les Nessman from WKRP in Cincinnati (dating myself) but was the coolest teacher at Ward Melville, wrong?
I hope not. But I have some doubts for the first time. I’ve always believed that the truth was a stubborn thing and over time it prevails. I want to hold onto that.
But I do think that we are missing opportunity after opportunity to connect, collaborate and figure out a way to co-exist productively.
I read a blog this morning called “collaboration is the new leadership.”
I hope so, because I don’t see a lot of collaboration. I do see the opposite. And it doesn’t leave us happy. It doesn’t build community.
We can do better. We must.

 

 

 

10 Signs of a Great Organization

You need a north star.

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

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

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

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

A Bright Light in a Dim Crisis

Detective Nicole Lucas speaking at a recent Delray Chamber meeting.

Detective Nicole Lucas is impressive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Finding Hope Among Leaders

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

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