Choices

“The refusal of Democrats and Republicans to cooperate with one another is not some mysterious force beyond our control. It’s a decision. A choice we make. And if we can decide not to cooperate, then we can decide to cooperate.” President-elect Joe Biden Jr.

History is fascinating.
It delivers us moments in time where if we make a choice we can make progress, squander an opportunity or make a colossal mistake that will set us back.
Good leaders don’t miss the moments. They get them right.
Like most of you, I watched a blizzard of pundits opine on the election and what it means for America.
My personal read on the election is that moderation won and divisiveness lost.
One of the commentators noted that voters determine the direction of our Democracy and I agree. Government of the people, by the people and for the people is our American DNA.
But while the people have the ultimate say at the ballot box, those we choose to lead us play an outsize role in our society.
Their style, personalities and demeanor make a difference.
If our leaders have empathy, our communities feel a little more empathetic. If our leaders strive to listen, our communities will feel heard, not marginalized.
I had lunch with an old friend last week. He did a lot for Delray Beach over many, many years.
We talked about what’s happened in recent years: the vitriol of social media, the turnover at City Hall, the infighting on the commission dais.
And we talked about what works too—civic engagement, team work, goal setting.

Somewhere along the way, we as a country and a city decided to demonize those with whom we disagree. We chose not to listen. We chose to bully, marginalize, divide, disparage  and spread misinformation.
This choice—and it was a choice—has done a lot of damage to America and to our hometown of Delray Beach.
Nationally, we the people have watched helplessly as America has become tribal and we have paid a price as we watch the tribes do battle.
We have lost our unity, ceded our leadership position in the world and watched our problems pile up.
Problems can’t be solved if we can’t compromise and find a way forward together. They don’t go away either, they fester and grow in complexity.
Same in  our communities.
There was a time when other cities made pilgrimages to Delray to learn how it was done. How to rejuvenate a downtown. How to implement community policing and how to leverage culture to build community. We were a leading municipality; a place where talent longed work.
I miss those days. So do many others.
Partisan politics aside, I invite someone to argue with President-elect Biden’s statement that he will work as hard for those who didn’t vote for him as those who did.
That’s how it’s supposed to be.
In my hometown, I have friends who live in fear of retribution  if they back the wrong candidate—therefore the one who loses.
So rather than choose the candidate they feel will be best for Delray they try and pick winners. This isn’t good.
We shouldn’t feel threatened by our endorsements or lack thereof.
We should elect leaders who work as hard for their supporters as they do for those who didn’t support them. We should elect leaders who follow our codes and make decisions based on what’s best for our town. Period.
We can have those leaders.  It’s a choice.
There is no mysterious force keeping us apart. We just have to recognize each other’s humanity and good will and vote out those who divide.

In Zero We Trust….

Trust is the foundation of pretty much everything.

Without trust, it’s hard to have either a personal or business relationship.

It’s also hard to build a civil society, because lack of trust undermines the willingness of citizens to engage and get involved.

This week, the Edelman Trust Survey was released and while the results were not surprising, the findings were pretty dismal.

The public’s trust in key societal organizations—government, business and the media, has taken a nosedive from already low levels.

The decline in trust in government was greatest, falling 14 percentage points, while trust in business fell 10 points, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) 9 points, and media 5 points. The survey was taken before this week’s brief government shutdown and can kicking to early February.  The last time this stunt was pulled the U.S. economy lost an estimated $20 billion…that’s billion with a b.

The survey was conducted in 28 nations and none experienced the decline in trust that the U.S. has endured.

“The United States is enduring an unprecedented crisis of trust,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of the communications firm that conducts the survey. “This is the first time that a massive drop in trust has not been linked to a pressing economic issue or catastrophe like the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In fact, it’s the ultimate irony that it’s happening at a time of prosperity, with the stock market and employment rates in the U.S. at record highs.”

The root cause of the fall, says Edelman: lack of objective facts and rational discourse in the U.S.

To see the full report visit this link: https://www.edelman.com/trust-barometer/

No country saw steeper declines than the United States, with a 37-point aggregate drop in trust across all institutions. At the opposite end of the spectrum, China experienced a 27-point gain, more than any other country. I find that odd, but I guess all the Communist Party has to do is demand trust in order to get it.

The collapse of trust in the U.S. is driven by a staggering lack of faith in government, which fell 14 points to 33 percent among the general population, and 30 points to 33 percent among the informed public. The remaining institutions of business, media and NGOs also experienced declines of 10 to 20 points. Why does this matter?

Because it’s hard to rally a nation if ‘we the people’ don’t have trust, are divided politically and walk around touting our own facts.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once admonished a colleague that while it was Ok to have his own opinions, he certainly was not entitled to his own facts. That old saw seems to have been abandoned.

So what do we do?
I think an answer is what is being called “new localism”—which essentially believes that if we can’t fix the nitwits in Washington maybe we can solve problems and build trust in our communities.

 

While Washington has struggled with its most basic functions (passing a budget, keeping the government’s lights on etc.) there are cities of all sizes throughout America that have created vibrant economies, fixed distressed neighborhoods, improved public safety, reformed schools and created a better quality of life for its citizens.

Local government is where the opportunities lie—but only if we can attract talented policymakers, leaders and professional staff. Because let’s face it, building great cities isn’t easy either. But it is possible.

I have long told prospective elected officials that local government provides a rich soil for achievement and innovation. But they have to do a few things in order to succeed and if they skipped those things they would surely fail or fall far short of their potential.

So what is the secret sauce?

How do you succeed locally?

We’re glad you asked…(and that’s not just an aside, I do appreciate your emails).

First, it helps to have a vision or a North Star that the community creates, develops and defends against the inevitable push back from those who fight change, don’t bother to show up or adopt a mindset of now that I have moved to town—nothing else should ever change. We call it: “I’m in the boat, pull up the ladder.”

Elected officials are successful when they want to get things done; when they shape change rather than resist it.

They get in trouble when they see themselves as “goalies” there to block any and all ideas—or any and all ideas that aren’t theirs.

Now that doesn’t mean that good elected officials don’t have a role to play in defending their cities from change that would be harmful, hurtful or out of character. The best ones know the difference between the former –which is needed in order to grow and survive–and the latter which can ruin a community.

The best elected officials build trust by being inclusive, open-minded and fair. They serve more than their base. They know that once elected they have to shift from campaigning to governing which demands decisions and those decisions should respect the rule of law, support community visions and take in the long term interests of the community not their short term political needs.

They understand that they will be called on to make and defend tough decisions but once those decisions are made they need to move on. In politics and in life, you win some and lose some.

The best leaders listen. And while almost every politician claims to be a listener, you can easily tell who is truly listening and learning and who is merely paying lip service.

But if you do truly listen, you will reap the rewards. Listening builds trust.

But listening doesn’t mean obedience—it just means you respect people enough to hear their concerns. When the roll call vote is called, you have to vote your conscience which sometimes will aggravate your friends and neighbors. So it helps if you acknowledge their concerns and where possible try and find a way to compromise so that decisions can be win-win, not a zero sum game.

My test for local success is whether you are supported by the doers in your community—the volunteers, the business owners, rank and file employees, senior level staff, key organizations and important community groups. If you can earn and keep their support you know you’re doing a good job. Again, that doesn’t mean blind loyalty—it just means that you have made enough decisions that they support so that they respect your work, trust your judgment and go to sleep at night knowing that on most issues you will do the right thing.

 

Time to Vote

Delray elections are Tuesday, March 14.

“Apathy is the most important political force in the United States. In the 2016 election, the most important in your and my lifetime, about half of Americans didn’t think it was worth voting.” Ian Bremmer, founder of a risk assessment group.

Tomorrow is Election Day in Delray Beach and Boca Raton.

Thank goodness.

In Delray, fewer people are likely to vote than in 1990 when Tom Lynch ran for Mayor against two opponents or in 2000 when David Schmidt was elected also in a three way race.

I sure hope I’m wrong because local elections are important and the people we elect matter.

Get it right and you have a chance for progress and community happiness.

Get it wrong and you can wipe out decades of success in a few months time.

Local government consultant Lyle Sumek  who worked in Delray and Boca used to call it municipal math: it can take 20 years to build something of significance and only a year or two to wipe it out. It might take a decade to get it back and that’s never a certainty.

So that’s why I’m supporting Jim Chard for Seat 2 and Shirley Johnson for Seat 4. I don’t want to go back. We’ve slipped far enough.

That’s the sentiment of most of the people that I know and they are the very ones who have worked so hard to help Delray over the years.

They are supporting Jim and Shirley too.

They are former mayors and commissioners, board members at key non-profits, business leaders, neighborhood leaders and those involved in our schools. Our police officers and firefighters also support Jim and Shirley.

This kind of support is important.

These are the people who get up every day and work or volunteer on behalf of Delray.

I trust their judgment.

They’ve built a pretty good little city and they are worried about the future. They should be.

Because Delray is at a crossroads.

We’re in trouble. And we need to strengthen the commission not hand more votes to those who have given us division, turnover and costly dysfunction. And make no mistake, dysfunction is expensive.

It costs us opportunities and investment and it costs us emotionally too as good contributors leave or invest their time elsewhere.

Jim Chard is a dedicated community volunteer with a distinguished resume and a skill set that we need. He’s thoughtful and he listens. That’s an important trait—because “leadership”  that keeps its own counsel and is cut off from those volunteering and investing in Delray is not really leadership at all. It’s an echo chamber and it leads to frustration and lost opportunity.

Jim’s been involved in many of the most important issues facing Delray as a member of Delray’s Drug Task Force and Congress Avenue Task Force. I chaired the Congress Avenue Task Force. Jim was an invaluable contributor, a hard worker and a fountain of ideas. I watched him build relationships with our large and diverse task force and build bridges that led to a great final report and solid, actionable recommendations.

As Vice Chair of our Site Plan Review and Appearance Board he is well versed in projects coming through the pipeline and has been a champion of walkability, sustainability and placemaking. If elected tomorrow, he will hit the ground running with a deep understanding of the issues.

He is also a level headed adult. And we need that now.

Shirley Johnson is also a warm and caring individual. She’s hard working and is embraced by the northwest and southwest alliance; neighborhoods that are critically important to our city.

She will provide needed maturity to the commission and will help bring civility and warmth to City Hall.

And for those who don’t think that’s important, I respectfully disagree. People perform best when they feel supported. A culture driven by fear or micromanagement might get short term results. But you’ll never soar unless you inspire, lead, motivate and support those doing the work. Right now, many contributors feel estranged, bullied, disrespected and ignored by their elected leaders. That’s an unsustainable arrangement and needs to change.

I believe that Jim and Shirley are equipped to support staff and lead our community. I believe they have the emotional intelligence to reconnect us.

We need them.

Because Delray has been been damaged.

Some say key parts are broken.

I never thought I would see a day where volunteers from neighborhood associations would feel estranged from their city commissioners.  I never thought I’d see a day where Old School Square would have to spend over a year to get a lease or where we would beat up corporate headquarters that we invited to our city or watch as we lose events that built downtown Delray and supported key non-profits. And the list goes on and on.

People react to the word broken–because it’s a harsh word and it sounds final.

But success is never final and failure is never permanent unless we allow it to be.

So let’s put the word aside for a moment and survey the landscape before tomorrow’s important election.

Let’s start at City Hall.

A friend posted on social media last week that over 300 city staffers (not including those who retired) have left in the past four years. It’s an astonishing number in a city our size with roughly 900 positions.

There has been tremendous turnover among senior staff with a dizzying array of managers, assistant managers, city attorneys, chiefs and department heads coming and going.

Some will say that’s Ok or call it growing pains. But it is not the sign of a healthy or stable culture. And when you lose institutional memory—and send messages that the past was terrible—you risk losing the good (and there was a ton of good). Value was created here. Good work was done. Period. Let’s take pride in our history and get to work on building a better future.

I’m hearing good things about interim city manager Neal DeJesus and Assistant City Manager Dale Sugerman but city staff can only succeed if leadership supports them, sets policy, holds them accountable and gets out of the way.

The greatest gift leaders can give their people is clarity but when your commission is split—as it has been –that’s impossible.

Debate is good. Division is not. There’s a difference.

Division does not allow for collaboration and it takes collaboration to move a city forward—which in my view means you are capable of working together to solve problems and to seize opportunities. It also means you are capable of moving on–even if, especially if–you don’t get your way.

When Delray was clicking it was because we had a diverse group of stakeholders from all parts of our city who were hard at work collaborating on building a Better Delray.

Yes. We were a Better Delray before there was a Better Boulder –and it was the leadership of this city who were invited to speak across the country on how to revitalize a city.

That was our brand. And it created enormous value. It’s why our homes in Lake Ida are worth 5 times more than 25 years ago or why developers were able to sell $500-$1mm townhomes on U.S. 1.

“Best Run Town in Florida” said Florida Trend magazine when Mayor Lynch presided civilly at meetings and was happy to make decisions which included building a tennis stadium downtown and challenging city staff to implement the Decade of Excellence –projects that put us on track and were adopted as a result of visioning done during Mayor Doak Campbell’s term.

And City Staff delivered.

 

Now we’re challenged to get a kitchen permit before styles change.

That’s not a shot at staff. Because I’ve been told by contractors that our building department is excellent. That is a shot at our politics and our “process” which our elected officials have labeled torturous but nobody seems to find the time to sit down and fix. Why not?

It also may be a symptom of culture. And elected leaders own culture.

 

The best leaders empower. They don’t micromanage.

The best leaders inspire and get out of the way.

The best leaders instill pride and spread praise.

It’s not happening.

If you read certain candidates literature (the barrage I wrote about) and take a look at social media you’d think Delray was war torn Beirut. It isn’t. We have our issues and challenges, but nothing that good leadership and community collaboration can’t solve or positively impact.

And so if we are not “broken”, then we are certainly exhausted and at risk.

At risk of losing our civic pride.

At risk of losing our brand.

At risk of losing the sense of community that is the true measure of a village. It’s not whether you have a building that’s 54 feet tall or 48 feet tall or gasp 60 feet tall. Most people—even architects– can’t tell the difference anyway.

It’s about how we debate issues and how we approach opportunities and problems. And it’s about how we disagree with each other because it’s easy to agree. The test comes when we don’t.

Do we rip each other to shreds on social media? Do we bully and intimidate? Do we demonize?

When citizens say “we’ve had enough and we’d like a Better Delray” do we embrace that aspiration or do we make snide remarks and buy up similar website URL’s in a snarky attempt to undermine a sincere effort?

When someone wants to invest in our community do we work with them or do we beat the tar out of them and their supporters?

Do we label them shills and challenge their integrity?

If someone wants to see jobs and downtown housing to support locally owned businesses and grow our tax base are we corrupt?

Yet we have Facebook phenoms—none of whom I’ve seen contribute much if anything—disparage the people who do.

Again, I’m far from perfect. I’ve labeled and I’ve gotten angry. But mostly I’ve held back. So have others I know.

I understand how change and growth can be scary and agree that there is a need to preserve our charm. There is also a need to create opportunities for young people and an economy that is deeper than food, beverage and recovery.

I honestly believe that most people want what’s best; but we just have different visions for what makes a sustainable city sustainable. I also believe there are some cranks who just want to sow division and create problems from the comfort of their couch. Ignore them. But embrace those willing to listen and compromise.

Leaders need to be willing to listen, evolve, include and reach out.  They need to be able to gather facts and make decisions. You can’t lead if your mind is closed.

But I don’t see a desire for compromise among certain people. I do see a desire to discredit and disparage others. Especially those who are hard at work in our city. And that’s dangerous. That’s a recipe for dysfunction, instability, bullying, destruction and incivility.

That’s how cities plummet. That’s how we give it all back. Remember municipal math…

That’s why I’m supporting Jim Chard for Seat 2 and Shirley Johnson for Seat 4 on Tuesday.

I think they are capable of listening. I think they are kind and able to compromise.

I think they are mature community servants and promising leaders.

I think they can be healers and we need healing.

I just pray that it’s possible.

Vote March 14. It’s important.

 

 

Moments…Define Leaders

Leaders not only seize the day, they seize the moments.

Leaders not only seize the day, they seize the important moments.

There are so many nuances to leadership that I’m not sure if it’s possible to fully grasp even a fraction of what there is to know about the subject.

But one thing effective leaders seem to grasp is the power of moments.

The best leaders seem to know when to act.

The best leaders seem to know when to compromise.

The best leaders seem to know when it’s the  best time to seize opportunity.

And the best leaders seem to know the precise moment to frame an issue and make a lasting impression.

We have seen it on a national level during moments of crisis when our country seems ready to learn and ready to move.

Today, is just such a moment and I’m hopeful that Washington can overcome partisanship and politics and do something positive in the wake of the tragedy in Orlando. A moment was missed after Newtown, Connecticut and many moments since then. Each time a moment is missed, people lose faith in their leaders.

On a local level, mayors and city council members also are given moments to seize on issues of far less gravity than what occurred in Orlando a few weeks back. But they are moments nonetheless and they aren’t leaders if they don’t recognize them and do something positive with them.

Often they come in the wake of pitched battles, which can be very personal when waged on a local level because we are often debating our neighbors and friends on sensitive issues.

In Delray, the recent iPic showdown provided a moment and so does the immediate battle over special events in Delray and the hiring of a city attorney.

The iPic moment was missed. There was an opportunity  to acknowledge and address the angst over change and development but also to embrace the opportunity to welcome a new company, jobs, investment and the cleaning up of a derelict property. Sadly, it was missed but there’s still a chance to grab an opportunity.

While certain approvals have been granted, it has been reported that a developer agreement that would actually enable the project to proceed remains elusive. Who is helping to make that happen? That’s a moment to be seized and a chance to make a project better by working together. Because once a legislative decision is made, it’s incumbent to make the most of it. Even if you– especially if you– as an individual elected official voted against something. Because unless it’s immoral, dangerous, illegal, discriminatory or unethical– once a decision is made  you are duty bound to accept it if we are to be a society that respects the decisions made by governing bodies. And if we don’t, then those decisions will never be accepted and we will never be able to rely on a governmental action.

As for special events, the city commission made a point. Actually, several: quality is better than quantity, where possible events should be contained and events come with a cost. The event producers get it and they should be credited with stepping up and redesigning and rethinking many long time events. This is the moment where you declare victory, thank people for compromising, credit them for proposing solutions and move on. There are bigger problems to deal with than Garlic Fest, which many would argue does not even constitute a problem.

Like heroin.

I attended a drug task force meeting last week led by the impressive Suzanne Spencer.

It was an extraordinary experience. In the room, were all the major front line players–treatment providers, business leaders, cops, firefighters, code enforcement personnel, hospital officials and legislative aides.

Folks, we are in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. People are dying and it’s not just kids it’s middle age people too. Opioid and heroin Abuse is rampant and scary. And it’s here in our community–and elsewhere too as evidenced by the presence of top-level officials from Boynton Beach and Pompano Beach.

While the stats are depressing and terrifying and the stories of exploitation and death horrifying it was heartening to see grassroots leaders working together.

Information and advice is being shared, people on the front lines seem to be cooperating and they appear to be working on the problem on all ends–prevention, treatment and everything in between. They are leaders seizing a moment.

They deserve our prayers, support, hearts, minds and resources. There are opportunities in crisis and the very best leaders recognize the moment and heed the call.