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.

Comments

  1. Bill Wood says:

    Spot on!! Thanks for being the voice of reason and common sense.

  2. Bern Ryab says:

    Bullseye!

  3. RITA ELLIS says:

    Watching city board meetings (all of them) has become agonizing at times and also inspiring. My swearing in as Mayor was to be the first recorded commission meeting. It didn’t work at all that first meeting and still leaves a lot to be desired by the viewer, but I encourage all to listen in when they have the opportunity. It lets you see our elected and appointed board members as they deliberate and discuss city issues. Being informed is our obligation to this city that we all love. Thanks Jeff for your continued efforts to get all sides of the issue out for discussion.

  4. Susan Ruby says:

    Well said.

  5. Chuck Ridley says:

    Boom Shakalaka

  6. fran marincola says:

    Are you kidding me–Of course you are right–And i am sick of the people that come here & dont give a darn on how we got this way and who was complicate in helping get here—

  7. Yvonne Odom says:

    Loved everyone. I could have written this article but you beat me to it.

  8. Angie Gray says:

    Thank you Mayor Perlman, for your leadership, insights and the history of the city that we all love. I have served with honor on both the city and the CRA Board and have lived in Delray Beach for over 42 years, never have I seen such division and lack of leadership. I’m really happy to see people like you and I who are not afraid to speak up and to speak the truth. Getting rid of is easy, coming together and working a plan, Well… it requires true leadership and real solutions.

  9. Jack Warner says:

    One cannot fault Mayor Perlman’s overview of City history or his comments on Commission personalities. And he is of course correct in listing the historical contribution of the CRA. Where he goes astray is in making the current decision one of politics and personalities. Listening to him, one would understand that we are being asked simply to substitute one set of board members for another.

    Having recently spent 30 months enmeshed in the City’s plans and finances, I suggest a different context and basis for decision. As we all know, the CRA spends $ 25 million of taxpayer funds annually. The City spends $ 250 million, almost all for required City services such as police, fire, parks and rec, and infrastructure repair and rehabilitation. Much of this spending is in the CRA district and is within the CRA’s legislative mandate. The City’s annual budget process is a continuing balancing act between funding these services and the desire to avoid raising City property and other taxes. The CRA spending is at the sole discretion of its board.

    Staff’s analyses have repeatedly shown that the CRA has the ability to increase its annual share of the City’s services and capital budget, without in any way impeding its economic development or renewal role. Attempts, through discussion with the CRA board, to achieve this increased coordination of CRA programs with the needs of the City have been only partially successful. Increasing Commission representation on the CRA board, as is common statewide, is a logical alternative and should not be dismissed as politics or as the product of a few personalities.

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      Thanks for your comments Jack. But I’m afraid you’ve misdiagnosed the situation.
      First, this is all about politics and personalities and therein lies the problem.
      As CFO you went astray when you failed to see the value of the CRA not only in growing values, investment and vibrancy in its district, but citywide as well.
      I doubt we would have seen property values soar in Lake Ida, Seacrest, Tropic Isles and my own neighborhood Delray Lakes without a strong central core fueled by CRA investment.
      The CRA has spent millions of dollars on infrastructure, capital improvement projects, clean and safe initiatives, policing, engineering, planning and on key non-profits freeing up city resources to be spent elsewhere.
      From sidewalks and alleys to parks improvements and assistance to small businesses, the CRA has done a stellar job and we would not have near the city we have without their leadership and performance.
      All of this seems to have worked for every other commission, mayor, manager etc., until this group came along. For nearly 30 years there was collaboration, communication, cooperation and vision. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t debate or mistakes, but if you need to see proof of concept simply look around. This town was circling the bowl, before it was rescued by hard work, collaboration and leadership.
      The city has numerous tools and levers to employ to fund services…
      Here are a few:
      The ability to bond: Since the 90s, the city has worked hard to build reserves and earn a good bond rating. For years, interest rates have been near zero and we have enough economic activity to service debt yet we continue to complain about a poor infrastructure and blame the CRA for crumbling roads, pipes and sea walls. Are we waiting for rates to go up before we bond for some of the large scale needs we have?
      Parking revenue: This city has spent years and hundreds of thousands of dollars on parking studies and yet we have not moved forward on a parking management and revenue plan that could share the taxpayers burden with users. A parking revenue stream could be designed that benefits taxpayers, monetizes assets and allows for turnover of spaces downtown helping merchants.
      Development: Well-planned growth pays bills and yet we treat investors like invading armies even when they play by the rules and don’t seek waivers or variances. Is delaying Atlantic Crossing a victory? Depends on how you view it. But we lost years of tax and TIF revenue, a donation to the park, several hundred thousand dollars in legal fees paid to Broward County attorneys, spent money on outside engineers (only to ignore their advice) and lost years of economic activity not only on the site but in the area only to end up with a site plan that the city’s engineers recommended not approving.
      Legal fees: Expensive lawsuits fought by outside lawyers cost taxpayers dearly and damage our reputation among investors.
      Turnover: There’s a huge cost to staff turnover. Anyone who has ever run a business understands that.
      Efficiency: The inability to efficiently deliver services such as permits also costs the taxpayers when people proceed without them or go to other cities to open businesses etc.
      Congress Avenue: I spent 10 months chairing a task force of well over 30 dedicated volunteers, mostly all professionals who donated their time and talents. We submitted a solid plan and warned about complacency. Nearly a year and a half later, many of the recommendations have not been implemented. Why not? As a result, we are seeing the private sector consider spot zoning which is precisely what we don’t want while long-awaited investments on the corridor languish waiting for the city to move forward. Congress was viewed as a key piece of the city’s financial future without a pesky CRA to worry about.
      I could go on and I will in future blogs.
      Thanks, Jack.
      P.S. CRA spending is technically at the sole discretion of its board, but the budget is brought to the Commission for review and follows an adopted CRA plan also brought to the commission. Spending has to be legal under state statutes and the agency is audited. I doubt, if there was sincere disagreement with the city that the CRA board (all of whom have been appointed by the commission) would proceed.

      • Jack Warner says:

        Mayor – You repeat a litany of historical City progress, which you attribute to the accomplishments of the CRA. But, this is no longer 1985. Despite the progress achieved, the City has fundamental infrastructure and services deficiencies. This was not the fault of the CRA, which was carrying out its mission. Rather it was successive Commissions that focused on the short term while ignoring the future. This discussion should focus on the future rather than on the past.

        The future need is to begin to address the $ 250+ million in investment needs for neighborhoods, parks, roads, buildings and seawalls. Of course bond financing will be one funding vehicle; but this will require additional debt service payments. In addition to the sources you cite and which with I agree, some of this funding can come from the CRA, which is budgeted to spend $ 29 million this year.

        Are you really saying that literally none of this could be redirected to support City needs?

        The CRA governance proposal is intended to increase coordination between CRA spending and these City needs; it will not, as you imply, cripple the CRAs ability to continue to carry out its mission.

        As to the comment that this is about personalities and politics, it shouldn’t be. Both personalities and politics are transient, as we have learned since 2013. What is proposed is a structural change that will outlast both the results of the four July CRA board appointments and of the March 2018 Commission election.

        We should all stop hyperventilating and prepare for a reasoned and fact-based discussion Tuesday night.

        • Jeff Perlman says:

          Jack, unfortunately your response proves my point. People talking past each other rather than communicating. Sadly, this is the story of America these days. Delray used to be different. That’s not pining for the past, that’s merely saying that the command and control model isn’t working and that you don’t fix what isn’t broken.
          Nobody that I know is “hyperventilating” but we are guilty of caring and of not wanting to see any more damage done to our city.
          If you read my blog and my response carefully you would know that I believe that the CRA can and has supported city needs. But there seems to be a political agenda designed to make the CRA the enemy and I find that sad and totally inaccurate. The CRA is a tool-a valuable tool, not a competitor and not a drain on the city like it has been inaccurately portrayed by people that are smart enough to know better and frankly some politicians who aren’t.
          This should not be about politics and personalities but it has become almost solely about politics and personalities.
          These so-called intractable problems can be solved with a combination of math and emotional intelligence.
          The number related to the city’s needs is a math problem–why not work with your agencies and community to figure it out. I can’t let the knock on past commission’s go, because past commission’s were not focused on the short term they were focused on the long term. It’s called vision. We used to have that in this town. It’s what made us great. We were also focused on landing the plane, aka implementation.
          So millions were invested in roads, sidewalks, alleys, pipes, parks and personnel–as well as festivals, tennis tournaments, downtown promotion, historic preservation and destination marketing because in order to grow revenue you can’t be just about flushing toilets and picking up trash (and yes, those contracts should be bid). City building is not a zero sum game, you can bid on the Davis Cup and invest in your sewage treatment plant (we did both). But if you don’t do the “frills” it’s hard to attract investment. And vice versa.
          In my opinion as a 30 year observer and participant, introducing political players to a volunteer board leads to trouble “structurally” as you put it. I respect your opinion that it doesn’t, but I disagree with it. I also feel strongly that the city manager and the CRA director should work closely on meeting the city’s needs. The offices are across the street so that should be easy to facilitate.
          But none of this will happen until the politics stop and the communication begins. We are on the same team–that’s where I would start. Both entities are important and have needs. They should be able to work together–they have for three decades.

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