The Truth Is Out There

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blah blah blah…

Are you a fan of Jimmy Kimmel?

I am.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safer– but not safe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That said, we had enemies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The self-regard is off the charts.

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

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

Or maybe they are full of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of good, generous people live and work here.

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

If you called them up, they called you back.

If you invited them to lunch they said sure.

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

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

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

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

Warm. Welcoming. A community.

Back room deals? Plots? Grand schemes?

Oh there have been a few.

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

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

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

If you have the goods, present it.

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

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

A Toast to Two Heroines

Dorothy Ellington

Last week, the ribbon was cut on the new Delray Beach Housing Authority “West Settlers Office Building” at 82 Northwest Fifth Avenue.

It’s a beautiful mixed use building right next to Donnie’s Place.

All of which gives me an excuse to write about Dorothy Ellington, the long time and tremendously awesome executive director of the Delray Beach Housing Authority.

Dorothy came into a troubled agency and righted the ship. She’s been a steady leader from day one and a great public servant. She cares, is passionate about her city, her staff and her clients.

Dorothy has worked extremely well with our Community Improvement Department and Community Redevelopment Agency and other agencies, organizations and departments for decades—leveraging resources and providing a basic human need—housing– which is becoming more and more out of reach for far too many people in our society.

She’s just plain good.

So are many of the public servants who wake up every day, go to work and try their best to make Delray Beach a better place.

It’s largely because of them that it is.

The Housing Authority is one of those agencies quietly making a difference in the lives of their clients. From administering a Section 8 program serving over 1,000 families to a Family Self Sufficiency Program that promotes employment and financial literacy, the Housing Authority is a big part of the Delray fabric.

Stop by the new office building on 5th Ave. You’ll see a part of what Dorothy and her team are accomplishing.

Karen Granger

Karen Granger is another one of those good people.

She resigned last week after a great run at the Chamber.

Immediately, the rumor mill went into motion– as it typically does when someone leaves a high profile position.

Rarely, if ever, are the rumors correct.

As a long time board member of the chamber under three of the five people who have been president of that 92 year old organization, I can tell you that Karen did an excellent job.

The chamber is a beehive of activity and Karen and her staff and volunteers made it happen.

The Lynn University MBA program, entrepreneurs renting rooms, lively committee meetings, fun networking events, great speakers, industry roundtables—the list goes on and on.

I knew Karen when she worked at Levenger, but while I always liked her she became a friend and a confidant during her tenure at the chamber. She serves that role for many people in our community—not just old guys like me, but young entrepreneurs seeking to find their way in business and in Delray.

Karen is always there when you need her—I felt that way about Bill Wood too–only Karen has much better hair. In fact, Karen has hair…but I digress. I just miss roasting Bill. More than I think is healthy.

As I grow older—and worry about my own hair—I find myself feeling a whole lot of gratitude for the people who give their careers and free time to our home town.

They are the ones who make a difference—often times quietly and often for little or no glory. They certainly aren’t in it for the money or because it’s easy work or because they expect a payoff beyond paying their civic rent.

It’s easy to bloviate on social media for all to see. It’s easy to label, disparage, disrespect, dismiss and defame. It’s harder to build something. But it is much more fun.

Dorothy is a builder. So is Karen Granger.

They build people up…they are kind, loving, respectful and hard working.

People often ask me if I miss politics and the answer is no, I don’t like politics. I do however miss the opportunity that politics gives you to help people.

I appreciate people …the ones who help our community; the ones who look out for others and care for them as human beings.

I like working with people and for people.

I like saying thank you and crediting a team for a job well done.

So to my friend Dorothy, congratulations on your latest outstanding project. And to Karen, thank you for being you and for being a friend to so many. Roles may change—but friendship endures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Don’t Come Easy

I spoke to an urban planning class at FAU last night.
Adjunct Professor Glenn Gromann invited me and I enjoy speaking to students so I said yes. (And it doesn’t hurt when the adjunct professor makes your book required reading…wink, I will work for book sales).
It’s not the first time I’ve had the privilege of speaking to college students. Usually I tell the story of modern Delray Beach taking them through the decisions, policies and leadership choices that brought Delray out of the dumps. We cover the ups and downs, the mistakes and triumphs and the rationales behind decisions that to some may seem counter-intuitive.

I don’t have any formal training in urban planning–but I do have real world experience. I am so interested in the subject that I have read everything I could get my hands on and listened to smart planners, architects, urbanists and good developers at every opportunity. I even created a few–by reaching out, by attending seminars, joining the Urban Land Institute, visiting Seaside, joining the Congress for New Urbanism and studying placemakers like Jane Jacobs and Delray’s own part-time resident Fred Kent, founder of the Project for Public Spaces.

I also understand the politics that go into moving an agenda forward–because change and new urbanism isn’t always embraced. Today, I find myself in the strange position of having to defend policies that clearly worked–that created vibrancy, value, quality of life, jobs, opportunities and future potential if we would just open our eyes to the possibilities. Often, I’m debating new residents who moved here attracted by what they saw (I suppose) but vehemently against everything else and resentful of those who played a role in building our town. It reminds me of the phrase: “I’m in the boat, pull up the ladder.” My main point to them: we aren’t done and we have a responsibility to the future to manage change and do it intelligently.
There are many planning and leadership principles to convey to tomorrow’s planners, developers, department heads and architects: the merits of new urbanism, the importance of visioning, the need to engage the community and the value of making investments. Every city needs to be able to provide running water and trash pickup but the cities that make a ruckus are those that do more: art, culture, dynamic downtowns, sports, festivals, food scenes etc.
We did that.
It took 20 years of hard work by a multitude of people. But it happened.
So I shared that journey. And as many times as I share the story, it never fails to move me. Because I know what it took and I have deep respect and admiration for the people who made it happen and I’m privileged and proud to tell their story and I suppose defend their efforts. Some previously important people (PIPS) go away, I’ve decided not too. It’s my town and I love it.
But I’ve started to add to the narrative. I’ve started to talk about what can go wrong. How cities can give back gains and how as aspiring planners or public administrators having great ideas, state of the art policies and stellar execution won’t be enough to make a lasting and permanent  difference.
In fact, you won’t be able to get to the policy part if you don’t understand politics. I shared how good ideas get squashed and how even sound policies suffocate if the wrong elected officials show up to stifle and or choke the life out of progress.
Students need to understand this. As citizens they need to know this and get involved. They need to vote. They need to run. They need to insist that elected officials serve them, not the other way around.

As prospective planners they need to know how corrosive “leadership” can impact their careers and if they go the private sector route they need to know how this can cost them. How it can break their spirits and their bank accounts.
As a result, they need to know that progress can be ephemeral and they need to be able to articulate to citizens why the planning principles they learn are good ways to build communities and manage growth.
But sadly, good planning principles often don’t cut it on their own.  You need to market those policies, constantly sell their rationales and educate voters as to why your plans and visions make sense.
Take for example, new urbanism or the newer “strong towns” movement. Both philosophies have sound thinking behind them and eloquent manifestos.
But…
It don’t come easy, as Ringo once  sang.
Students need to know that and prepare to engage the future communities they will serve.
Because you can guarantee that regardless of how much success you enjoy or how far you’ve come there will always be forces lining up to stop you and in some cases roll it all back.

We used to call it municipal math…30 years to build, two years to screw it all up, no guarantee you can get it back.
That’s the hardest lesson of all to learn and the most important.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

“The hard thing about hard things.”
I overhead that line last week at Donnie’s Place.
I also heard “love is a good thing, but you can’t take it to Winn Dixie” but that’s a subject for another column.
Early morning wisdom over eggs.
I didn’t hear the answer to the first line. So I don’t know what  the hard thing about hard things is about.
But the line struck me. So I thought about it.
I was waiting for my breakfast guests on Northwest Fifth Avenue, a street that was rebuilt and beautified when I was on the commission by the CRA and a group of very committed citizens who came to meeting after meeting to plan the street.
The citizens worked with an artist from Miami on the project. He tried to incorporate the ideas of people into the streetscape including bits of local history inserted in the terrazzo sidewalks.
It was hard work.

To plan, to fund, to engage, to choose and to build. But it’s even harder to create a sustainable local economy on that street to support the effort.
Fifth Avenue has enormous potential. It looks and feels good. There are assets to build on.
The Carolyn Quince Apartments is one of those assets. It looks good, a whole lot better than the derelict building it replaced.

A block over, on Fourth Avenue, sits the historic La France Hotel.  Seniors now get to age in place– thanks to the CRA– on a site of a once neglected hotel that once served a south scarred by segregation and Jim Crow.

But that morning my mind was on the namesake of the Quince Apartments.
The building was named after Carolyn Quince Holder.
She worked for the CRA as a property manager. But before that she was a neighborhood leader, she stood tall against drug dealers who terrorized her street and grew close with police officers who tried to help clean up her part of Delray.
She was a good woman. We shared a birthday and so we spent a few together. She invited us in and we gladly entered her world and learned a lot.
About life in southwest Delray. About what’s it’s like to chase drug dealers off your lawn. About what it means to believe and to be fearless. I lived a mile and a world away –if you know what I mean. Same city. Different experience.
When Carolyn died of cancer, a part of Delray died because it’s all about the people. The people who live in the village. We forget that sometimes. I don’t.
Carolyn understood the hard things about hard things.
When she passed, the CRA named a building after her.
That act of love and respect would probably earn the CRA a tongue lashing from a few of our elected officials these days. They are good at dishing it out.
Good at sitting in judgment, playing politics with each other and engaging in games of gotcha.
Sadly, they aren’t as good at delivering results.
Every ounce of progress in this town was hard fought. I’m not sure that’s recognized in some quarters and that’s a shame.
The mayor loves to send out directives (correctives) lecturing others about the old ways.
He uses big words, drapes himself in words like accountability and aligns himself with the taxpayers.
But his syntax is off and he doesn’t hold himself accountable.
His letter to the CRA chair and director was widely circulated last week. It came less than a week after he voted to keep the agency’s board independent.
In it, he puts down a marker. Do this or else. Or else you can’t count on my support. As if they’ve ever had it.
Fair enough.
The lines are drawn. It’s in writing. You may be “independent” but you are on the shortest of short leashes CRA and if you step off the patio you’re done. Operate this way, my way, or else.
Does bullying encourage innovation and creativity?  I don’t believe so.
Why do you vote to keep something “independent” but then follow up with a letter that spells out exactly how you should operate or else?
Commissioner Shelly Petrolia was quick to line up behind the screed. No surprise there. They have more in common than either would comfortably admit.
She labeled it a directive. Which is spot on. Only  in a council manager form of government, mayors can’t issue directives. At least directives that carry the weight of official city policy.
So where does this leave us?
The CRA, which should be a symbol of civic pride, has been beaten like a piñata.
Volunteers who serve on the board have been maligned by the very people who appointed them. One of the better CRA commissioners took his name out of the running for re-appointment last week because he didn’t like what he was seeing. And so we lose yet another solid contributor. Is that a win? It’s most decidedly not.
Careers have been threatened and the mission goes unserved.
Meanwhile, the house (City Hall) that commissioners are supposed to lead struggles.
And struggle is a charitable word.
Turnover, inability to issue timely permits, endless staff shuffling and lawsuits.
When your house is on fire, most of us would try to douse the flames and save the contents. We probably wouldn’t wander down the block and criticize a neighbor’s wallpaper.
But in this case, the political arsonists are just lighting other agencies on fire.
What we are experiencing is not the strength of confident leaders. It’s the opposite.
You exude strength by standing up for people not beating them down.
The targets of these small people  didn’t suddenly become stupid or incompetent they’ve just been beaten down by bullies who have no game.
And the damage it does is incalculable. And that’s a hard thing to witness, a hard thing indeed.

Inspiration…

We take a break from our regularly scheduled programming to acknowledge graduation season.

As students in Delray Beach and Boca Raton graduate high school and college we wish them well and offer a sampling of our favorite commencement quotes. The first few quotes are from graduations held this year. We also include some of our all-time favorites. We hope they inspire you to do great things. Remember commencement means to begin. So while you may graduate, you are really beginning the journey. Enjoy.

“Summon your compassion, your curiosity, your empathy towards others and your commitment to service. Give more than you receive and I promise you, it will come back to you in ways you can’t possibly imagine.” Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO at Arizona State University.

“Build resilience in yourselves. When tragedy or disappointment strikes, know that you have the ability to get through absolutely anything.” Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO at Virginia Tech.

“No matter what other work you do, every day, if you find the issues that matter to you and you get in the fight, you will build a life with more heart flutters and fewer don’t-make-me-move moments.” U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren at UMass-Amherst.

“Create. Don’t wait around for people to give you things to do. If you’re a writer, write; artist, paint; builder, build! Opportunities will come to you if you create them.” Comedian Maz Jobrani, UC-Berkeley

“No matter how cliché it may sound, you will never truly be successful until you learn to give beyond yourself. Empathy and kindness are the true signs of emotional intelligence.” Actor Will Ferrell at USC.

The Classics…

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” Henry David Thoreau.

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Eleanor Roosevelt

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

 Ralph Waldo Emerson

“It is not the size of the arena in which you find yourself that counts; it is what you do with it.” Dr. Irene C. Kassorla.

Building A Brand

“You stand out when you stand for something— when you go to a place your peers or competitors aren’t prepared to go.” Bernadette Jiwa

There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.”
– Louis L’Amour
Those two quotes struck me for different reasons last week. But both make a case for change, innovation and a willingness to look toward the future.

Australian marketing expert Bernadette Jiwa was referring to brands when she made that comment in a recent blog post. 
But the sentiment can also refer to cities too. 
Cities have brands and identifies too. And if you can establish a positive brand you’ll create enormous value and quality of life. 
Similarly if your brand and identity is negative, you’ll pay a price in terms of investment, quality of life, ability to attract business, staff, tourists and residents. 
So getting your brand and reputation right  is important. Check that, it’s essential. 
If you develop a reputation for dysfunction or corruption you’re cooked. Capital flows where it’s welcome. And similarly smart people migrate to where they feel assured that ideas and aspiration are not only welcome but encouraged. 
I will argue that the success of Boca Raton and Delray Beach stems from a mindset–let’s get it done, let’s build something here, let’s make it happen whatever it may be. 
For example, Boca redeveloped a moribund mall and made it Mizner Park. 
I caught a glimpse of the cover of its soon to be released Economic Development magazine on social media and it knocked me out. The city has depth and that doesn’t happen by accident. 
Similarly Delray Beach didn’t happen by accident either. It took a city, a CRA, a DDA, a marketing cooperative, a police department, homeowners, business owners and key non profits working together to take back a city from blight, crack, crime and disinvestment. 
Much was accomplished. Much remains to be done. 
Which leads me to the relevance of the second quote by Louis L’Amour which really addresses complacency and opportunity. 
Complacency is a killer. If it takes root, your gains will be squandered and competitors will eat you for lunch.
Right now, in Delray, there exists a weird combination of complacency and delusion.
Just take a look at the debate over East and West in Delray. You have some people saying the east is done (it isn’t) and others saying that basically nothing has been done west in The Set (terribly wrong). That’s the delusion part. A lot has been done:  more than $60 million spent on beautification all the way to the Interstate, improvements to Northwest/Southwest Fifth Avenue, a new library, Catherine Strong Park, a thriving Community Land Trust, anti-crime efforts, neighborhood paint-ups, the Spady Museum, the expansion of Village Academy, improved water pressure, dirt roads paved, Atlantic Grove, the Fairfield Inn, the list goes on and on. 
Nobody has ever said it’s been enough or that efforts should stop. Nobody. 
Everybody understands that a large part of the mission remains. And everyone I’ve talked to over the past 30 years is committed to doing it. 
It takes time. But if you look around or asked around you can see it happening before our eyes. A Publix is coming. That’s a big deal my friends. They wouldn’t look at West Atlantic before now. Before all that work and effort. 
East Atlantic took time and it still needs help: pockets of weakness, high rents, not enough year round commerce, a lack of office space and an over reliance on food and beverage. 
The beauty of cities is they are synergistic i.e. not zero sum games. The west wins when the east succeeds, that’s how the money grows and flows. 
Similarly, the east benefits greatly when the west succeeds. 
The first quote talks about going where others don’t dare venture. 
We went there as a city and found success. 
It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t overnight. And just as failure is hardly ever fatal, success is hardly ever final. 
But we don’t get to the promised land, we don’t taste the sweetest fruit if we are complacent and or delusional. 
We get further (but we never arrive because it’s never over) when we work together. We succeed when we acknowledge, respect, collaborate, communicate and cooperate. We get further when our brand is “welcome smart people, let’s get to work and build the best small city in the world.”

 

 

Unpacking the CRA vote

Photo courtesy of Delray Historical Society.

First some disclosures.
My wife ran the Delray CRA for about 13 years.
I think the current executive director and his staff are hard working, dedicated and smart. They are good people who give it all for Delray Beach. I have respect for the volunteers who have served on the CRA board, both past and present.
So if that offends you, upsets your karma or otherwise gives you agita here’s where you should stop reading.
To say I’m not fans of a majority of the current commission would be an understatement. Give me six hours (shorter than most commission meetings and I’ll begin to tell you why, give me a month and we may get through half my list of differences and missed opportunities) but I sense change in Delray.
Eyes are opening. Awareness is forming. People are getting fed up.
Fed up with the hand wringing.

Fed up with the litigation.

Fed up with the criticism.

Fed up with the arrogance.

Fed up with the turnover and the dysfunction.

Fed up with the lack of leadership.
People are calling this commission out. And it’s about time.
Evidence of this came in March with the landslide victories scored by Jim Chard and Shirley Johnson. So when I write about the commission in the paragraphs to come they are not what I’m talking about. I see them as solutions to what ails us and I have hope and faith in them.
It wasn’t lies or “dark money” that carried the day and saw them win by 2-1.

It wasn’t self serving insiders or greedy developers either. It was the voters who spoke loud and clear.

In precinct after precinct. Neighborhood after neighborhood. They chose experience and ideas over negativity and  nastiness and they chose progress and positivity over division. And they will again in March. They’ve had enough.
And that’s  a good thing because if we don’t stand up for the values and strategies that built this town we will surely lose what has been achieved. And we will lose our sense of community too. That ought to scare us more than anything.
We almost lost the CRA this week.

Because handing the board over to this Mayor and commission would ensure that their dysfunction would have metastasized to that agency as well.
But the community organized and spoke out. They talked about the progress the agency has made. The tens of millions invested in neighborhoods, the $58 million spent on city capital improvements that has somehow, inexplicably been missed by people who ought to know better. But it wasn’t missed by the beneficiaries. They came out. They stood up. They spoke out, they led and they set the record straight. They see progress. They know commitment. They are working with their CRA to lift their neighborhoods up–while the majority of the city commission plays politics.
Oh, I know Mayor Glickstein came around. But only after he allowed the floodgates to open. Only after he took his shots. As he always does.
Now it’s our turn.
Our CRA is a great CRA. It should be a point of civic pride. But our “leaders” won’t allow us to celebrate or to feel good. And that’s a shame. That is not leadership.
Our CRA has helped to transform this city.
And that’s a fact lost on several members of the commission who pressed this issue and have been pressing and bullying the CRA for years now.

And it’s lost on many members of the senior staff who are so new to Delray they couldn’t tell you the difference between Linton and Swinton.
They should ask around before they opine publicly. They should talk to the contributors in this community because they might learn something.
My bet is the prevailing message would be: don’t fix what isn’t broken and please fix your own house. Hire good staff, empower them and get out of the way. Work with the community on a vision and have the guts to follow through.
Some of these so called leaders up there on the dais can’t stop talking about the past. They are so busy rewriting history that they have lost control of the present and they have endangered the future.
But guess what?
The truth is a stubborn thing.

And try as they might to disparage past decisions, staffs and elected officials they keep falling short. They make themselves seem small in the process.
Because the truth is, they don’t measure up and we need them too. Because we have challenges and opportunities that are being missed.
They ought to know better.

The mayor did pretty well here as the dreaded developer of his day, Commissioner Katz moved here as a result of the vision and decisions of a past commission that bought land and made it available for workforce housing (was that resident welfare?) and Commissioner Petrolia enjoyed success selling real estate in a hot market. A market made hot–in large part– by a CRA they criticize and past commissions they whine about.
After a week of emotions and misinformation the independent volunteer board of the CRA was saved. Hallelujah.
Truly.
But….
We spent a week fighting not fixing. Defending not uniting. Treading water not progressing.
We lost another week.
We’ve lost many with this mayor and commission–Mrs. Johnson and Mr. Chard excluded. Thank goodness for them.
We spent almost two years negotiating a lease with Old School Square exchanging nasty emails instead of focusing on the arts and culture.
We spent two years creating an events policy that few understand and most feel is unworkable instead of sitting down and improving events not hacking them to pieces or exporting them to other cities.
We spent nearly a year devising a  plan for Congress Avenue that is gathering dust instead of being marketed, implemented and driven.
We are mired in lawsuits, we waste time arguing with our chamber over an effort to sit down with recovery providers (so that we might better understand the issue), we spend money on consultants and out of town lawyers  but somehow we couldn’t find the money to hire a director for the drug task force.
We downzoned our most valuable real estate without an economic analysis, ignored parking studies and engineering studies and a litany of guest speakers on a slew or topics but somehow we have time to attack the best CRA in the state.
But we don’t have time to celebrate the addition of a corporate tenant to Delray which also provides a welcome and needed family entertainment option.
Ipic finally, mercifully closed this week and actually got a building permit. They paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for the permit. They will create jobs. They will pay taxes and they will clean up a derelict property.
But we don’t get to celebrate.  Nope we get to relitigate and relitigate until every ounce of joy is drained out of landing this company.
What a shame.
So, Ok. I realize this is a rant. But let me assure you this represents the tip of the proverbial iceberg. These are only some of the complaints I hear among people I work with and run into in this City.
I don’t hang with the angry crowd. I spend time with those who have built this city and continue to build this city.
The business owners, entrepreneurs, investors, residents, volunteers, cops, firefighters, city staff, retirees and  young people who aspire and who want to see this place they love thrive.
They want to feel good about where they live. They want to celebrate. They want to dream. They are tired of having to defend every single thing. Especially when major issues remain unaddressed. Homelessness, heroin, staff turnover, rising tides, lack of housing options, lack of workforce housing, schools that struggle and a need to diversify our economy beyond food, beverage and service jobs.
The last two weeks were spent jousting over an ad in Sober World announcing a Recovery Business Council and whether we should continue to have a CRA that kicks ass and runs circles around the city these days.
What will we squander next week on? Maybe we should shut down Friday Night concerts at Old School Square? Too many people seem to smile when the band shell lights up. We can’t have that can we?
We have to do better. We must.
And we will.

Until We Meet Again…

Sister Mary Clare greets a friend–she’s made many.

When we got up to leave Caffe Luna Rosa last week after a wonderful evening, Sister Mary Clare Fennell drew us close and grabbed our hands. Then, in her soft, sweet brogue she recited an Irish blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields. 

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Sister is leaving Delray on May 30 to go back home to Ireland and she’s busy making the rounds not to say goodbye, but to say thank you. And that’s what makes her so special.

Sister came to Delray in 1968 and in the nearly 50 years she has spent teaching and serving in Delray she has touched countless hearts and souls. But when I asked her if she ever thought about all the lives she has touched—through all those years leading St. Vincent Ferrer School and then serving at Emmanuel Catholic Church—she didn’t hesitate to answer:  “No. I think of all the people who have touched my life in a positive way.”

That answer, stopped those of us at the table cold. And if you can get Fran Marincola to stop talking about parking,,well you know you’ve struck a chord (just kidding Fran).

It was just the start of a wide ranging conversation that touched on heroes—Pope Francis, Dorothy Day, Mandela, Gandhi—and love, acceptance and the pure joy of dining at a truly great restaurant with friends on a spectacular night in a great little city.

Sitting with Sister Mary Clare is like sitting with a rock star. People walking by recognize her, smile from ear and ear and come over to hug, kiss and chat.

When Sister came to Delray nearly 50 years ago this was a vastly different place. She remembers the heat, the lack of air conditioning and a few restaurants–places like the Patio Delray and Arcade Tap Room. Things have changed. 

Over the years she built a school that children and families loved and made many friends along the way. 

My wife and I are two of them. 

When I served as a commissioner and later mayor, I found myself going to St. Vincent Ferrer School for various events and programs including a memorable discussion with students about homelessness in Palm Beach County. 

I felt drawn to Sister. I appreciated her warmth and humor and sensed her intelligence and big heart. 

She believed in love and community and making everyone feel welcome and cared for. 

She has been a big part of Delray Beach. The Delray Beach we all fell in love with. 

Because it’s not about the latest political controversy–they come and go. The sky has been falling for as long as I remember. 

But it is about special people who bless us with their hearts, minds, talents and intellect. 

Sister Mary Clare is one of those people. And she made a lasting difference in her corner of the universe —which lucky for us, was Delray Beach. 

When the evening ended, we didn’t say goodbye. We said so long. 

I hope to see Sister again. We all do. Hopefully, it will be in Ireland where she will take a little piece of Delray with her. 

Until then, many of us will be forever grateful for the love and kindness of a wonderful friend. 

 

10 Signs: Houston We Have A Problem

Ten signs of electile dysfunction. (Or how to know if an elected official has jumped the shark).

 

  1. An inability to lose a vote. In an ideal world when the vote is called, you state your position yay or nay. Then you accept the decision and move on. If your elected official can’t accept that he or she may lose an occasional vote you’ve got a problem. Key signs of being a sore loser: endlessly litigating the same issue, looking for loopholes to reverse the decision, attacking opponents, whining, blocking and bloviating. Sadly, there is no known cure other than beating the offender at the polls the next election cycle.
  2. Above it All Syndrome– Symptoms include pretending to be separate from your staff. So when a citizen approaches the mic and complains about an issue or problem you immediately blame staff and take no ownership of said issue.
  3.  Rule of Law Disease-A deeply fatal condition in which elected officials pretend that ordinances, processes and policies are mere “guidelines” or “suggestions” to be applied only when convenient or relating to people they like or who back them. Leads to symptom four.
  4. Litigation fever–An expensive malady in which: armed with taxpayer (i.e. your) money elected officials hire attorneys to battle anyone who doesn’t bend to their will regardless of rules, laws, processes and policies.
  5. Narcissistic Personality Disease–Those afflicted suffer from multiple of the above symptoms. It’s about them and only them. Do not. We repeat. Do not dare feed this affliction lest you become its victim. Symptoms include: Repeated use of the word “I” , a strong belief that you were sent to right all past “wrongs” and only you can fix things. This disease is accompanied by a deep seated belief that every idea has to be yours in order to be worthy of consideration or valid. Those suffering from this serious malady believe time began when they took their seats. Hint: It didn’t.
  6. My Way or the Highway Disease—This refers to elected officials who believe their personal preferences should take precedence over community input which is treated as annoying or inconvenient. Symptoms: town halls become lecture series and presentations replace community input sessions.
  7. That Won’t Work Here Disease. Symptoms include a bedrock belief that their city, village, town, hamlet or burg is somehow immune from facts, best practices and what has been demonstrated to work elsewhere. Frequently used to reject policies related to development, parking, civic engagement and or anything innovative or new.
  8. The Precedent Test. Closely related to that won’t work here disease. Easily determined by how your elected officials treat new or novel ideas. If the word precedent is used this way you have problems: “We can’t do that. It will set a precedent.” If the official answers with: “let’s set a new precedent, that’s how we find progress.” He or she does not suffer from the malady.
  9. Seeking perfection disease. Symptoms include an inability to compromise, an inability to trust staff and an unwillingness to accept even 9/10ths of a loaf.
  10. Grandstanding Disease. Symptoms include grand speeches at public meetings, blindsiding colleagues, inflating minor issues into major imbroglios and calling the press every time you lose a vote to allege a taxpayer rip-off knowing that your blindsided opponents will either be unprepared, unavailable or afraid to refute you.

If you are an elected official with one or more of these symptoms you won’t seek help and your “service” (sigh) won’t amount to much.

If you serve alongside any of these characters and fail to stand up to them you will be swept up in their dysfunction and also fail to move the needle on behalf of the community.

And if you are a community that has to endure any one of these types you are out of luck–unless of course you ditch them. If you don’t….

It won’t be fun to volunteer. It won’t be fun or productive to work for such a city and it won’t be safe to invest.

The antidote is to organize and insist on better leadership and ultimately to have the courage to step forward and take them out at the ballot box.

Remember: you stand for what you tolerate.

 

Ready, Fire Aim

Over time, political bodies develop personalities.
They tend to adopt the personalities of its strongest member or members and that can be a good thing or it can be a nightmare.
It all depends on the personality (or lack thereof) of the leadership.
I’ve observed 30 years of city commission’s in Delray Beach and have watched neighboring cities too. I’ve also paid attention to School Boards and County Commission’s.
Over that time, I’ve seen a lot.
We all have.
We’ve seen larger than life county commissioners and quieter but effective public servants.
Before Steven Abrams and Melissa McKinlay we had commissioners who loomed so large they were  known by their first names–kind of like Cher or Madonna. Everyone knew who Burt, Tony and Karen were–surnames were superfluous.
In 1980s Delray we saw rivalries and factions on the dais and tons of intrigue too. It was a volatile time. But despite the infighting at City Hall we saw the formation of historic districts, the start of community policing, the first “visions” and the creation of the CRA. Not bad.
But it was accompanied by turbulence and sadly that’s what people remember.
The 90s was an era of stability and accomplishment–a Decade of Excellence seeded by the visions and bond dollars of the 80s. The early 2000s was an era of ambition and civic entrepreneurship building on the solid foundation of the 90s.
Along the way, the progress we’ve seen–assuming you acknowledge we’ve made progress–has been driven by a wide range of stakeholders including our CRA.
If you look at any civic achievement in our eastern core over the past 32 years you can be assured that our CRA played a role–often an outsize role in making it happen.
Across the state, it’s viewed as one of the best CRA’s around and over the years scores of cities have visited Delray to pick up redevelopment tips.
But the agency’s PR has always lagged behind it’s achievements. And not for lack of effort by a variety of people who have done a solid job promoting the good works of the agency.
A common complaint over the years has been a lack of investment and focus on the West Atlantic corridor now known as The Set.
Sorry but it’s just not true.
Much has been done over the past 20 years or so and much more is planned.
Nobody has ever declared victory and said the job was done. Nobody on the CRA has ever said too much was spent–and truth is the corridors and neighborhoods west of Swinton have been a focus since at least 2000 and tens of millions have been spent that proves it.
So when I read a commissioners blog claiming that the area has been “ignored” or hear about a resolution calling for the city to take over the governance of the agency I shake my head. But I’m not surprised.
The CRA has been under assault for a long time now. And it’s a shame. It started with a politically motivated audit a few years back that found next to nothing wrong with its administration, financial stewardship and governance and has continued for the past few years with a series of threats to the agency’s role.
First it was an attempt to trim the CRA’s boundaries (a costly study that concluded the obvious: cutting the boundaries would suck county funds out of Delray which makes no sense), then it was the Monday morning quarterbacking on RFP’s and past plans and the constant pecking at the iPic project.
I can go on. But you get the picture.
It’s a shame. Because the CRA is an invaluable economic development tool, a driver of progress, a source of cash for needed projects and a proven performer.
Which brings us back to personality.
The modus operandi of late seems to be ready, fire, aim on issue after issue.

Consider the following:
–When it came time to renew the Highland Beach Fire contract (which has worked well for both cities for two decades) what do you do?  Blow it up and insult your neighbors or inquire about the deal before drawing a conclusion?
Wouldn’t it have been easier to investigate to see why it might make sense? It’s not too hard to find past fire chiefs, past city managers etc who might be able to explain why it works? If you have to raise the fee you charge– so be it. Why not explain to your neighbors that you can’t lose money providing the service? You might find you get more with honey than vinegar.
Ready, fire aim.
–How about last week’s kerfuffle over a letter from an attorney that mentioned making Delray the recovery capital of the world again?
Wouldn’t it have been easier to make a call to the chamber of commerce rather than put the issue on two TV stations, several newspapers and all over social media? Doesn’t that level of attention brand the city more than a phone call to inquire about the intention of the Recovery Business Council? Which is a good idea, by the way. You don’t improve problems by ignoring them.
And then there was the shot by the mayor that he doesn’t know who was sitting in the commission seats in 2007 when the New York Times typed the words “recovery capital” and Delray in the same sentence but by golly this commission sure wouldn’t sit by and allow it.
Well, I know the five people who were there in late ’07 (Rita Ellis, Fred Fetzer, Brenda Montague et. al) and I doubt that they either embraced the recovery capital tagline or could control what the Times writes.
Ready, fire aim.
As for taking over the CRA, it appears the leadership of The Set is united in opposition to the idea and was taken by surprise. That’s a pretty big surprise to spring on a valued constituency.
Ready, fire aim.
So what are the personality traits we are seeing? I see bullying, I see a lack of communication, I see going off without first getting facts, I see an unwillingness to stop and understand issues and determine rationales before setting a course that upsets key people in the community.
Ready, fire aim.
You may not agree with past decisions and the reasons why they were made. And you may despise the folks who made those decisions. But history is important. Time did not start on your watch.  Daniel Boorstin, a former librarian of Congress once said: “trying to plan for the future without a sense of the past was like trying to plant cut flowers.”

Indeed.
You may think those decisions were wrong or ruined the city. But plenty of people would disagree with you. I think the last election spoke volumes. People love this town. They want to see progress. Again.
So mock the past, label and disparage those who served and volunteered.
But those folks got results. They achieved outcomes.
It wasn’t blind luck. And it wasn’t ready, fire aim.
It was decisions based on citizen driven plans and assigned to agencies and departments like the CRA. And  things got done. And commission’s had control and there was accountability.
A southwest plan, the Village Academy, Catherine Strong Park, beautification from Swinton to 95, improvements to Northwest/Southwest Fifth Avenue, the creation of a successful Community Land Trust, a race relations initiative, Atlantic Grove, the Fairfield Inn, a roadway bond that paved streets, an ATP tennis tournament, a reduction in crime rates, the S.D. Spady Museum, a new library, courthouse expansion, the mitigation of sinking homes and on and on and on. Doesn’t seem like the CRA has ignored the area–but nor have they declared victory either.

Pretending those accomplishments didn’t happen and that you can’t build on them unless you take over ignores and disrespects a lot of hard work, investment, risk and leadership that has been exercised over the years and today.
Ready,fire aim is a lousy way to “lead” a city. In fact, it’s not leadership at all.
I’m told of rampant heartache at City Hall. That heartache manifests itself with unprecedented turnover. People don’t leave a place like Delray if they are happy or productive.
I also understand I’m persona non grata with certain people in power (for now anyway).
That’s ok. I’m proud of that fact.
I’m going to speak my mind. I’m going to write. I’m going to help publish a newspaper. I’m going to serve on non profit boards and try to encourage leaders to emerge. I’m also going to continue to invest here–time, money, emotion, ideas and I hope you do too. Because it’s our town too.
Those who want to see jobs, better schools, a strong, happy city staff, investment, tourism, festivals, art, culture and a sustainable city deserve better than ready, fire aim.
We deserve a voice. We deserve collaboration and we deserve kindness and respect.
Taking over the CRA would be a bad move. It’s worked for 28 years for mayor’s, commissioners, city managers and city attorneys. For some reason it’s not working for some members of this group.
You wonder if they are capable of asking themselves why.
Ready fire aim is not a sustainable strategy. We deserve a better personality. Before it’s too late.