Parkland

Editor’s note: The sadness in South Florida is palpable. We watched coverage of funeral services in Boca Raton and Parkland filled with the tears of parents, students, teachers and friends left grief stricken. We are all touched and connected in more ways than we know. On our social media feeds we saw people we knew whose children were friends with those lost in the mass shooting. A man I used to coach in Little League many, many years ago, shared his grief over losing a friend of his son that he once coached. The circle. Connections. Humanity. We hope we find ways to act and to connect. I hope this is the tipping point. The students left behind at Douglas High are resolved to make lasting and positive change. I wouldn’t bet against them.

When my daughter told us she wanted to be a teacher we were proud and delighted.

We are a family that cherishes education—especially public education.

Our daughter Sam went to public elementary schools, a private middle school in Delray that we felt would help her with a learning disability and graduated from Atlantic High School. She went to Palm Beach State College and earned an associate’s degree before heading off to the University of South Florida to study Exceptional Student Education.

USF has a great program because Sam spent a whole lot of time in the classroom working with ESE students before she was hired to teach in Hillsborough County. She started her career with a fair amount of experience and exposure as a result of internships and student teaching. She knew what she was signing up for. And as a student who overcame a learning disability, she had the heart for students who are exceptional.

I’m not sure that our family knew as much as she did despite our long term involvement in education as volunteers and parents.

I never thought that teaching was a dangerous profession. I knew it was a difficult and stressful job, but I never felt that my daughter would be in danger working in a public school.

How naïve, I was.

Although it shouldn’t be considered dangerous and I don’t think she’s unsafe, we are now well aware that there are dangers.

School shootings—mass shootings—massacres have been a part of our national conversation since Columbine in 1999.

“How Many Times”, blared the headline in the New York Post just above a picture of a crying mother and her daughter outside of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in picturesque and upscale Parkland where 17 people were murdered by a deranged former student carrying an AR-15 assault rifle.

Since Sandy Hook in December 2012 (still the worse mass school shooting in U.S. history with 20 dead) there have been 273 school shootings in America. Twelve of those shootings are considered “mass” events. Overall, 473 people have been shot and 112 people have been killed.

According to the New York Times there are 7 school shooting incidents on average every month in America.

So yes, I now think my daughter has a dangerous job as well as a difficult job.

When I was a kid, we used to drill for a nuclear war by hiding under our desks. We didn’t really know what we were doing and I don’t remember a lot of worries about being bombed. Maybe my teachers were scared but I didn’t pick up on it.

A few years back, teachers would prep for tornados in areas prone to those, but that has morphed into active shooter drills all over the country.

By all accounts, the students and teachers at Douglas High were aware of and prepared for a shooting. They had drilled. They had talked about being vigilant and paying attention to students making threats. But it’s hard to prepare for someone coming at you with a lot of ammunition and a weapon that is lethal.

 

Jim Cavanaugh — a former ATF agent who is an MSNBC law-enforcement expert — points out that if someone can walk across your parking lot with a long gun and enter your school or business, “You don’t have security.” I get that. But how many places in America are prepared for that scenario and what would we be giving up if somehow we were?

Being a parent these days is a nerve wracking endeavor.

I remember talking to my daughter about roofies (date rape drugs), drinking and driving, peer pressure, inappropriate behavior and a whole host of other things awaiting her out there.

For years, we slept with one eye open, waiting for our children to come home at curfew.

But I thought she would be safe teaching young children in a cute little elementary school in Tampa.

When you talk to teachers—you hear stories. Stories about community and family dysfunction—violence, abuse, drugs, alcohol, financial stress, neglect.

When I was involved with Dare 2 Be Great, a charitable organization that gave scholarships to Delray children we heard a litany of stories during our interviews. We kept tissues close by because what our children go through breaks your heart. Right down the street from $30 hamburgers and expensive real estate are countless stories of neglect and violence.

And we know that society doesn’t stop at the doors of our schools. We also know that teachers and support staff provide love, attention, social services, an ear, nutrition and even clothing to the children they work with every day.

I don’t see answers coming from Washington. Forget gun control. It has been made an all or nothing argument. If you favor restrictions on assault weapons and background checks on sales you are against the Second Amendment.

I tell some of my friends who lean more conservative than I ever will, that I support the right to bear arms, I just don’t think there is any need to have military grade weapons with more firepower than our Police Department possesses or that people with histories of mental illness or violence should have them.

Most of my conservative friends get that. Most of them agree, but Congress can’t act.

Did they address “bump stocks” after Las Vegas? Did anything meaningful happen nationally after Sandy Hook?

Congress is a joke. The Founding Fathers would be ashamed. They can’t solve a problem or seize an opportunity and that’s on us. We stand for what we tolerate. And we tolerate a ridiculously partisan system awash in special interest cash. I think partisanship that values victories over the opposition is unpatriotic. It’s a disgusting disgrace.

I think most people agree since Congress has approval ratings in the single digits. I’d like to know who the 9 percent of Americans that think they are doing a good job are.

I know a few members of Congress and they don’t think the House or Senate works.

But we stand for it.

So I think the answers can be found locally. On the city and county level.

We can prepare and we can drill and we should. We can add metal detectors and security guards and we should. We can take a look at our mental health services and rush to bring more social services to those who need it. And we should.

But there’s something fundamental happening here.

In our society.

In our homes.

In our neighborhoods.

On social media. On cable TV and on the Internet.

There’s something that our humanity has to address.

Until then, our sons and daughters, our teachers, administrators, support staff and everyone in between—including concert goers at a Country Music Festival are at risk.

We are not safe.

And dammit, we should be.

A North Star Is Essential

As a close observer–and one time participant in city government– the biggest lesson I have learned is that cities get in trouble when they don’t have a ‘North Star’ to chase.

A North Star is another term for vision—an overarching set of goals that is compelling enough to include and excite just about everyone.

The vision should be citizen -driven, i.e. it must originate from a cross section of people in your city and it must be big enough to inspire as many stakeholders as possible.

The North Star must appeal to young and old, black and white, retiree and young professional.

Again, it can’t come from on high (elected officials or senior staff) it must come from the grass roots.

But it’s up to the grass tops (elected officials and senior staff) to deliver results. Elected leaders can lead the effort, they just can’t dominate it. If it’s going to last, it can’t be about them. It has to be about the community.

Having a compelling vision is your best economic development incentive and the best marketing possible for your city. If you sell the vision and that vision makes sense, it will attract investment, draw residents to your city and spark civic involvement.

How do I know this?
Because I saw it happen in Delray Beach.

There are several Delray examples of North Stars and if we value history and we should, now is a good time to take a look back so that we can find a way forward past division, dysfunction and inertia.

The Mayor’s 1984 Atlantic Avenue Task Force focused Delray on the potential of its historic downtown and on the threat of a DOT plan to convert the avenue into a high speed hurricane evacuation route.

The Mayor and Commission at the time wisely knew that a high speed road would ruin any chance of redeveloping the avenue into a pedestrian friendly warm and inviting place.  As a result, it was a hugely valuable effort—that warded off the state’s plans and gave our downtown a chance to succeed.

But, it was Visions 2000 that would prove transformational.

A cross section of citizens came together in the late 1980s to envision a better future for all of Delray Beach.

At roughly the same time, a citizen driven movement—launched by a home builder/developer but quickly joined by a large coalition of the willing—focused the city on the need to upgrade local schools.  The North Star spoke to the need and the potential: Delray schools needed help if we were ever going to attract families and businesses and if we worked together and partnered with the School Board we could make things happen.

“Sharing for Excellence”—spearheaded by Tom Fleming but embraced by citizens and the city’s leadership–gave us magnet programs such as the Montessori at Spady, a new Carver Middle School and a range of other upgrades. It positioned Delray as an active participant in local schools and we became the first city to hire an Education Coordinator and form an Education Advisory Board. I still remember a fateful lunch at the old Annex in Pineapple Grove when Janet Meeks, then a planner, presented her ideas to be our first ever Education Coordinator. We made the move and Janet has delivered remarkable results, including a third All America City thanks to the success of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading that she has led.

We had the confidence to experiment because of Sharing for Excellence’s vison and the momentum and culture it created.

The spirit of the times and the excitement of the possibilities spurred the Chamber of Commerce to raise money for schools through an Education Foundation and created inspiration for building a new high school with career academies, including a Criminal Justice Academy staffed by local police officers. And the list goes on; including a vocational charter school created by our two employees of our Police Department (first ever in the state to do so I believe) and programs such as Eagle’s Nest, in which students in Atlantic’s High School Construction Career Academy built affordable homes on lots donated by the city and financed by the CRA. That’s cool stuff. And it changes lives—students found careers and productive lives as a result of these programs.

Creating a citizen driven North Star provides a clarion call for involvement and also inspires people to get off the sidelines and get involved in the community.

Visions 2000 had an even more profound impact leading to the Decade of Excellence bond—a huge investment that taxpayers overwhelmingly approved. Imagine that: taxpayers voting to go into debt and raise their taxes so that they can improve their city. Those types of votes go down in flames if they are driven by elected leaders and staff without public involvement and buy-in.

While the investment was huge–$21.5 million for infrastructure and beautification, the equivalent of $42.7 million in today’s dollars—the city successfully implemented the list of projects giving citizens’ confidence in their local government’s ability to deliver. That’s invaluable, because it allowed future commission’s to make other big bets and it’s the big bets that distinguished Delray as a great place to live, work, play and invest.

The successful implementation of the Decade of Excellence bond allowed a commission that I served on to move forward with an ambitious Downtown Master Plan, Cultural Plan, Southwest Plan, Congress Avenue Plan etc. Every one of those efforts included and were driven by grassroots involvement and passion, especially the Downtown Master Plan and Southwest Plan—the grassroots telling the grasstops what to do.

As a policymaker, it’s wonderful to have a North Star—a vision plan that you can follow.

First, it helps you prioritize spending/investment and it helps you make hard decisions. For example, when faced with a tough vote— on say a development project —it helps if you can tie the decision to the vision. It also helps you say no to things that just don’t fit.

Elected officials get in trouble when they fly without a net—and often times you see them lean on personal preferences, their own pet peeves, personal agendas etc. in the absence of an agreed upon vision. You also see them begin to squabble, because it’s hard to be a “team” if you don’t have a playbook. Commission tension leads to dysfunction, inefficiencies, wasteful spending and a dispirited staff. When scared, bureaucracies freeze. It’s safer to do nothing than to make a decision that may upset a faction on the commission. This type of culture is not a recipe for progress or problem solving.

The worst officials use their positions to exert retribution—which leads to all sorts of issues including a form of ‘pay to play’ in which individuals and business owners feel they have to spread money around at election time or risk seeing their projects killed as payback for failing to pony up. Cities without an adopted vision or North Star create vacuums that are often filled by political bosses who lurk in the shadows to reward friends and punish enemies. Serious investors shun these types of cities because the risk is just too large and the price of playing ball is too high—both financially and ethically.

 

Still, even if you are in service to a vision there is ample room for personal judgment and discretion if you are a mayor or council member. And it doesn’t mean you can’t pursue some of your own ideas if you are talented enough to convince your colleagues and lead the public to a new understanding on issues. That’s called leadership.

It’s also important to note that North Stars and vision plans –even when created by lots of people –are not immune to political opposition.

The Downtown Master Plan is a case in point. We had hundreds of participants involved in the plan from all parts of the city but when it came time to vote on projects that supported the plan, we still had vocal opposition, typically from people who didn’t bother to show up at the variety of charrettes, workshops and presentations held throughout the community.

That’s OK. But it’s also a test of leadership.

Do you abandon the plan at the first sign of opposition?
Or do you use the occasion as a “teachable moment” to defend the plan, explain why it works and vote accordingly?
Delray was known as the city that stuck to its plans and didn’t let them gather dust on some shelf in the back corner of the Planning Department.

That’s why we came from where we were in the 80s—blighted and desolate—to where we are today.

I know that modern day Delray is not everyone’s idea of a good place. But what we see is largely what was planned (by citizens and implemented by staff and elected officials over a long period of time).

Sure not everything turned out the way we thought it would—and that is inevitable too. Economic conditions, changing trends, private property rights and the free market play a major role too. For example, I don’t think anyone anticipated rents on the avenue that in some cases exceed $100 per square foot or commercial properties selling for over $1,300 a foot. In the 80s, we had a high vacancy rate and rents were $6-$8 a foot.

Still, by and large, we envisioned, planned and worked to create a vibrant small city—and we got one.

I happen to love it. So do many, many others.

But all cities are works in progress and visions and North Stars need to be renewed.

My friends Chris Brown and Kim Briesemeister wrote a book about just that called “Reinventing Your City”. Their theory is that cities have to be reinvented every 20-25 years.

If you reinvent and find a North Star to strive for, you’ll thrive. If you fail to do so, you’ll drift…dangerously I venture to say.

We are overdo. We need a North Star, a unifying vision that can bring a divided community together.

We also need citizens to participate and leadership to defend the people’s vision. That’s the formula for a happy and successful community. Easy to articulate, hard to attain. But it has been done and we can do it again.

Restoring The Trust

The Sun-Sentinel ran an interesting editorial last week on the lack of affordable housing in Florida.

Affordable housing is an interesting and sometimes loaded term.

But the Sentinel offered a practical definition: if you spend more than 30 percent of your income on housing (rent or mortgage) your home is not affordable.

The editorial went on to lament that the state legislature is raiding a fund designed to create more affordable housing to pay for other things including pet projects, staff salaries and tax cuts.

The William Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund has about $322 million socked away for its intended purpose. But Gov. Scott’s 2018-19 budget plan recommends taking $154 million out of the fund for other state expenses. Mind you, these are good times. Imagine what could happen if/when the state falls into a recession.

Ultimately, Scott’s budget is a proposal. It’s now time for the State Legislature to weigh in.

It has been more than a decade since I traversed the hallways of Tallahassee meeting with State Senators and State Representatives and sometimes state department heads. Many of our local elected officials are in Tallahassee this week making the rounds.

Local mayors and city commissioners make the always difficult trek to Tallahassee (conveniently located in a place that’s a long drive for many Floridians with expensive and often ridiculous plane routes that included a stop in Atlanta). I used to wonder if the powers that be wanted to be remotely located so as to avoid the public they were trying to serve. But that’s a cynical view— I’m sure there are plenty of dedicated public servants doing their best to serve the Sunshine State. The proof– as they say– will be determined by the results they produce at the end of the legislative session.

While some of the specific issues we went to lobby for have faded from memory (an ability to design our own stretch of A1A, canker, help with some of our parks, reclaimed water etc. are some issues I remember) two themes seemed to be perennials.

  • Home rule—which is an elegant way of saying: please leave local government alone because we believe that the government closest to the people best serve our communities. Please no unfunded mandates and stop choking off our revenues so you can look good by cutting taxes. Cities and counties have needs, obligations and aspirations that have to be funded—and a partnership with the state would be ideal. And if we can’t partner…well then… don’t hurt us.
  • The Sadowski Fund—Don’t raid it, so you can look good; use it for its intended purpose.

 

The fund was established in 1992 and uses doc stamp taxes (generated through real estate documents such as titles) to help create affordable housing.

It seemed to work fairly well for about a decade, but than in 2003, the legislature decided to make it a piggy bank to pay for its own budget. Those raids increased during the historic recession that hit Florida a little earlier than most states.

It seems that the practice has become a habit, even during boom times.

Last year, the doc stamp tax generated over $290 million for the affordable housing trust fund. But the legislature grabbed $130 million of those funds to help balance the budget.

For the past 14 years—and if the Governor has his way 15 years—that raid has occurred—even as the legislature has passed tax cut after cut.

While nobody loves paying taxes—they are necessary if we are to have a functioning government. And while tax cuts feel good—the reality is they are often a bait and switch with the onus being placed on local governments to pick up the slack.

Local governments have nobody below them to stick with the bill—other than taxpayers.

That said, we all know there is colossal waste in government operations—at every level federal, state, county and city.

So it is impossible and disingenuous to argue that every dollar raised is needed or spent wisely. It isn’t.

But…

That doesn’t mean that a trust fund set up to provide affordable housing should be raided for other purposes. And it doesn’t mean that the issue/problem doesn’t exist because it does.

Florida has an affordable housing challenge/crisis.

Some might say—“well just wait for the next recession and poof the problem goes away”—but it’s not that simple.

People and families of all ages are having a hard time getting traction in Florida and especially in our communities Boca Raton and Delray Beach.

While long time homeowners are thrilled with the price appreciation they have experienced (often a home is our most significant asset) we must be cognizant that others would like to access our cities because of the quality of life/opportunities we offer.

An “I’m in the boat, pull up the ladder” mentality is not only selfish, it’s short-sighted.

To maintain our quality of life and to be economically sustainable—we need to provide housing options that are attainable for working people and families.

Companies will not be able to locate or grow here if their workers cannot find housing that they can afford. And our children will not be able to live here either.

Economic sustainability is a complicated equation that also requires good schools, excellent health care, recreational options, culture, open space, job opportunities, safe streets, mobility, a clean environment and reasonable taxation.

P.S. that list goes on.

All the more reason why we need quality elected officials and talented staff at all levels of government who see the big picture, know how to create sustainable economies and craft policies that aren’t just politically expedient but also address long term needs.

Raiding the Sadowski fund so you can send out a mail piece that says you cut taxes misses the mark on a slew of levels. It puts off the need to create efficiencies in the state’s operations or grow revenue in other ways and it leaves families struggling to pay their bills and keep a roof over their heads.

Call your legislator and tell them to stop raiding the trust and start solving the problem.

As for local governments, they play a role too.

Nimbyism—(not in my backyard) that prevents the creation of housing opportunities restrains supply.  And if you took an economics course you know what happens next—prices rise.

We are certainly not advocating out of control growth (or unsustainable traffic choking sprawl either) but we are advocating smart growth and new urbanism. Google “Strong Towns” or the Congress for New Urbanism—there are solutions that offer compelling math for taxpayers that back up these philosophies.

 

 

Catching Up On Ideas

Five years ago, we published a blog post outlining 25 ideas for Delray.

We stumbled upon the post this week and thought we’d take a look to see whether any of these ideas came to life.

25 Ideas …

1.Brand Delray Beach as a mecca for entrepreneurs—Progress: Delray has attracted a fair amount of interesting entrepreneurs including The Downtowner, Delivery Dudes, House of Perna and Rooster among others. There also several social entrepreneurial efforts including WiseTribe, Space of Mind, One Million Cups, Creative Mornings Palm Beach (not Delray based per se, but active in the city).

2.To accomplish the above, create a business incubator downtown and invite entrepreneurs to grow in Delray. Progress:  Not yet. There are a few co-working efforts—the Kitchn etc., but a true incubator has yet to be established. Perhaps, overlooking the Old School Square Park? Great opportunity.

3.Create a business accelerator in Delray so that once companies are incubated they have someplace to go for the extra needed help. Progress: Not yet.

4.Help existing businesses grow by offering classes and low or no-cost business advice at our own Old School Square. Progress: Not yet.

5.Speaking of Old School Square, offer executive education, certificate and graduate programs in the classrooms. Revenue for Old School Square and another tool for economic development. Progress: Not on the drawing board.

6.Program the Old School Square Park—add shade, music and a few tasteful vendors. Progress: Work has been done to forge a vision for the park, but not yet accomplished. Bond issue establishing the park was passed almost 13 years ago. Lots of discussion around what to fund.

7.At holiday time, create a holiday village at the Old School Square park and allow kiosks and “pop-up” stores to capture crowds heading to the 100 foot tree. Give local retailers a free or reduced stall and charge others for the month—use funds to offset holiday costs. Progress: A new tree, no pop-ups.

8.Creatively partner with the Elev 8 Sports Institute and bring “fantasy camps” to Delray. With the school’s extensive MLB contacts, tourists would come to Delray to play with their childhood heroes and enjoy the downtown after the game is over. Progress: Didn’t happen.

9.Install LED lighting in parking lots and parking garages. It’s green and it saves money. Progress: Several entrepreneurs interested in making it happen.

10.Create a leadership academy to train the next generation of local leaders. Teach the Delray success story. Progress: In 2016, Chamber ran a civics academy. It was well attended. But a follow-up has not yet occurred.

11.Create a local Business Development Corporation enabling local residents to buy “shares” in local businesses and invest in growing our own economy. Progress: Not on the radar.

12.Reinvigorate the Southwest Plan by borrowing a page from Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Empowerment Zone playbook. Seek foundation monies to move beyond infrastructure to developing Delray’s vast human capital. Progress: WARC working on a transformation plan, efforts to rebrand the area as The Set underway.

13.Arm the economic development director with a reasonable budget to market Delray. We have to get in the game and that takes marketing and… Progress: Nope.

14.Public Relations. Delray needs a publicity strategy outside the local papers to attract investment and build awareness of our assets and opportunities. After all, we are the jewel of Palm Beach County. Progress: Downtown Marketing Cooperative, Chamber and Downtown Development Authority do a great job.

15.Tie the new Arts Warehouse to a broader strategy to create an artists and artisans “village within a village” in the Third Avenue area. Progress: Five years later, we just attended the grand opening of the long-awaited warehouse. Better late than never, and it’s fabulous.

16.Help Delray’s Prep and Sports develop a national reputation for elite football training and make the 7 on 7 event one of the premier tournaments in the USA. Progress: Prep and Sports’ founder T.J. Jackson was hired to coach Atlantic High. He took them to the state finals this year.

17.Convene an economic development charrette to discuss our fiscal future and job creation—let the community decide the priorities and tie our spending to those priorities. Progress: Economic development will be a part of the comp plan. Yay!

18.Team up with our neighbors Boca Raton and Boynton wherever possible:  economic development, marketing to save money and leverage our strengths. Progress: An alliance has been discussed around government affairs on regional issues with area chambers.

19.Get serious about jumpstarting investment on Congress Avenue. The vision and zoning is in place, what’s needed is execution and beautification. Progress: Years after handing in a report, the Task Force plan has been largely shelved by the commission. Vice Mayor Chard has kept the flame burning with meetings among property owners and investors. Kaufman Lynn located to Congress, transforming a derelict property into a great new headquarters. Investor interest remains high on the corridor. The city could help by implementing the plan and amending the LDR’s as promised.

20.Add a Middle School of the Arts at Carver Middle School and tie it into all of our arts activities from Old School Square to the Creative City Collaborative to the new Plumosa School of the Arts. Progress: Hasn’t happened.

21.Bring a branch of a university downtown and one to Congress Avenue. Progress: Lynn University has partnered with the Delray chamber. Stay tuned.

22.Revisit the North Federal Highway Plan and come up with a new vision for the 21st Century. Progress: Hasn’t happened.

23.Host a competition and have our local techies develop some interesting local apps. Progress: Hasn’t happened. The city of Tallahassee and the Florida League of Cities has had success with this approach.

24.Develop a formal, aggressive and powerful Shop Local Campaign. Progress: Small Business Saturday has become a big deal in recent years.

25.Add entrepreneurship academies to Atlantic High and Village Academy. Progress: Hasn’t happened yet.

Rankings, Ratings & Quality of Life

Leawood, Kansas seems like a great place but…

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

It’s interesting and provocative.

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

First the highlights:

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

 

Top 20 Small Cities in America    

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

6 .Los Altos, CA   16. Saratoga, CA

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

 

Best vs. Worst

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

So where do we rank?

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

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

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

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

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

On safety, Delray scored number 924 and Boca 543.

Lots to chew on certainly.

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

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

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

 

Wanted: Civic Giants With Heart & Vision

Terry Stiles

Terry Stiles died Sept 11.
He was 70 and was a civic giant.
He was also a developer.
His success as a builder enabled him to give back to his beloved Fort Lauderdale.
We need more of his kind.
More people willing to step up and give. More people willing to step up and make it happen.

Mr. Stiles was one of the people credited with transforming Fort Lauderdale from a small beach town into a thriving city.
Some people like what’s happened. I’m sure some long for the  good old days.

But regardless of what side of that divide you fall on, there’s no denying the impact Stiles Corporation has had on Fort Lauderdale. But it wasn’t just the skyline that was impacted, it was the entire business community, the arts scene, health care, education and economic development that was forever changed via one man’s involvement, passion and commitment.

I met Mr. Stiles a few times over the years. I know people who worked for him and we have a few friends in common who knew him far better than I did. But I’m impressed and awed by these civic giants–these local icons who make a dent in their corners of the universe.

Compared to Fort Lauderdale, Delray is a small city. We have had our share of civic icons. And several have been generous.
But we need more.

Boca Raton has been blessed with some incredible philanthropy. Christine Lynn, the Schmidt Family Foundation, Dick Siemens, the Snyder’s, the Drummond’s et al.
They’ve made a profound and lasting difference.

But right about now, Delray can use a few folks to step up and make some things happen.

Old School Square can be a national cultural treasure, the Arts Garage needs angels, the Library, Historical Society, Spady Museum, Achievement Center, Caring Kitchen, Milagro Center, Miracle League, Sandoway House, Impact 100 all need financial support and commitment.

The list of worthy non profits and causes goes on and on. All of them need people willing to say: We need to solve this problem, we need to seize this opportunity or we need to rescue kids, animals, families etc. The city itself is a cause: we need people to step up and devote themselves to making a difference in Delray.
You get the picture.
And it’s not just charity.
Civic leadership also means people willing to commit to designing great parks, improving local schools, building affordable housing, creating jobs and opportunities for all, solving the scourge of substance use disorder, giving entrepreneurs a chance to succeed and artists a place to create etc.
We need civic giants.

Those people who move the needle are those who think long term and have ambition not for just themselves but for others.

We have enough naysayers. We have enough complainers. We have enough armchair quarterbacks playing gotcha, spouting off on social media, second guessing decisions and casting blame.
We need more leaders, angels, healers, supporters, investors, mentors and visionaries.

Yes, it matters who sits on the City Commission. Good mayor’s move the needle, they sell their city. They build civic pride. They evangelize and they nurture and support and still find a way to hold people to account without destroying their spirit.

They build, they fix. They don’t tear down.
And they inspire. They make you want to get involved. They make you want to be a citizen.
But…
We need more.
We can’t rely on five people serving for three years at a time.
We need long term players. People who are committed to creating something positive and important.

Such as:
Reinvent Congress Avenue.
Make Delray a cultural capital.
Create a sports and food Mecca.
Make our schools great, not good, but freaking great.
Vastly improve race relations so we are viewed as a beacon for the rest of America.
Break the cycle of poverty in this town. Learn from other cities but blaze our own  trail of greatness.

We need serious people.
Adults.
We need civic giants, people who  change the game.

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s To The Winners

Delray Beach won another All America City Award last week and that’s  a good excuse to write a whole lot of nice things about Janet Meeks.
Prior to winning last week, Delray had won the award twice before in 1993 and 2001.
Back then, the award recognized cities for three community projects. These days the award recognizes strides communities make for advancing reading scores.

Janet’s leadership on behalf of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading gained real, quantifiable results sustained over time.
When she asked a few people to serve as peer reviewers to look at other cities efforts, we all said yes.
After I read and reviewed the applications from a few communities I knew Delray would win.
We know how a city can impact education and based on the applications we read it was easy to tell that Delray is a pacesetter.
We should be. We’ve been at this a long time.

Since at least the late 80s when Tom Fleming led an effort called Sharing for Excellence.

Back in those days, Tom was a home builder and he became frustrated by the negative perceptions enveloping Delray’s schools. Young families weren’t buying homes in the beautiful Andover development because they didn’t want to send their children to Delray schools.
Realtors called it the “Delray Dilemma.”
So Tom and members of the community crafted a vision for education in Delray. It called for magnet schools, a new middle school, upgraded facilities and more. The City  got it done.

Mayors Tom Lynch and Jay Alperin were passionate advocates for education investing city monies to help improve neighborhoods near schools. Tom went on to serve on the School Board for 8 years, including 7 years as chair. He did a lot for education during his tenure.
Mayor David Schmidt was also a champion for education leading the city’s efforts to work with the School Board to build a new Atlantic High School, which the opening of career academies including an innovative Criminal Justice Academy in partnership with our Police Department.

The leadership around education in Delray came from all segments of the community. Residents of the Southwest Neighborhood pushed for a new school and the Village Academy was born.

The Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce raised funds through a foundation to support local schools and teachers. Parents, volunteers, non-profits, business leaders all rolled up their sleeves to support better schools. It has made a difference.

Janet was there for many if not all of these efforts.
She became our education coordinator, served as the staff for the city’s Education Board and became our advocate at the School Board fighting for resources, boundaries, facilities, programs and to make sure our schools had solid principals.
The campaign for Grade level reading built on literacy efforts, chamber programs, the work of key non profits and other community partners.
She’s a huge asset to Delray.
Along the way, I’ve been lucky to call her a friend. She’s a fountain of knowledge, does her homework and cares passionately for kids and for Delray Beach.
Over the years, there have been whispers of cutting the position. Luckily they did not come to fruition because Janet Meeks has provided tremendous value.
Delray’s leaders have long recognized that schools are an important part of our community.
We have had our struggles but also our triumphs.
From an award-winning Montessori program at Spady Elementary and the IB and career programs at Atlantic to the creation and growth of the Village Academy to the terrific gifted program at Banyan Creek and so much more we have come a long way.
Obviously, there is more to do. Much much more to do.
But Delray has shown over and over again that a city can impact education, even when it’s not its direct responsibility. If we make the investment, we get the return. It’s just that simple.

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.

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.