Mingling With Some Mayors

Lots of stories inside this building.

Recently, six Delray Beach mayors had lunch with the new class of Leadership Delray at the Delray Beach Golf Club.

The mayors spent 90 minutes sharing, listening and answering questions from the next generation of local leaders. It was a lot of fun.

Leadership Delray is a program of the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce.

I graduated many moons ago and the program has included future commissioners, mayors, business, city and non-profit leaders. It’s a good program. And an important one because we desperately need leadership in our community.

The mayors brought a perspective from 1990 to the present, but since all were active in local affairs before being elected, the history represented really dates to the late 1960s and early 70s.

Considering the city is still young–the town was incorporated in October 1911—so covering 50 plus years of local history is pretty significant.

Which means we were here for the tumultuous 80s—which was marked by political division, crime and drugs —but also by great vision and the establishment of important institutions such as the CRA and Old School Square.

Tom Lynch and Jay Alperin, who led our city through the Decade of Excellence, were in the room to tell the Leadership class about their triumphs and struggles as they beautified the downtown, laying the ground work for the renaissance that came as a result of a lot of hard work and immense public investment.

David Schmidt and I were there to share stories about the Downtown Master Plan, the move of Atlantic High School, the rezoning of Congress Avenue and our desire to improve schools and race relations.

More recent history was covered by Tom Carney and our current Mayor Shelly Petrolia.

Tom Lynch and I were seated together at a table with an engaging group of emerging leaders who worked for the city, CRA and Police Department. Many were fairly new to Delray but they asked really great questions.

I think the mayors who attended would agree that it is important to share local history and the context that informed certain key decisions.

It’s also important to listen to the views of emerging leaders and so we asked our lunch table for one word that they felt was essential for successful leadership. We heard words like integrity, courage, commitment and compassion. Those words sum it up.

As we ended the lunch, I was sad to see the Leadership Delray class go and the mayors—my predecessors and successors— scatter back to their lives.

I think that history can be used as an educational and community building tool.

We don’t have to look far for a great example: Boca.

The same week the Delray mayors gathered, the Downtown Boca Raton Rotary Club held its 5th annual “Mayors Ball.”

Here’s how the Boca Rotary describes the event.

“The Boca Raton Mayors Ball is the one of the signature annual fundraising events of the Rotary Club Downtown Boca Raton. This enchanting black-tie event celebrates all that is great about Boca Raton. Through our partnership with the Boca Raton Historical Society we highlight the storied history of our favorite Florida small town. Each year at the Mayors Ball we present the George Long Awards to individuals and institutions that have gone above and beyond to make Boca Raton the greatest place to live, work and play.

 Proceeds from the Boca Raton Mayors Ball are directed to local nonprofits focused on health and wellness initiatives through our “Service Above Self” grant program. “

I’m told that the event raises six figures for charity. Six figures!

I know Delray has the need. Maybe, we ought to do our own event and support Delray charities.

Twice before, Delray Mayors past and present gathered for an evening to raise money for the Delray Public Library and the Delray Beach Historical Society. These “Mingle With the Mayors” events were staged kind of the like the TV show “Inside the Actor’s Studio” allowing audience members to ask questions. They were fun events and well attended.

The concept doesn’t have to be limited to mayors—but could include evenings with locals who can provide a historical perspective on past and current issues.

These are bonding and educational opportunities. These types of celebrations build community—which is never a bad thing.

 

 

 

A Gathering Of Mayors

“It’s possible to be fierce, fierce in your dedication to change, to what’s right, to making things better–without finding the source of your power in the destruction of others.”– Seth Godin

 

Last week, thanks to the efforts of the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce and the talented Suzanne Spencer, seven former Delray Beach mayors met with the new class of Leadership Delray for a roundtable discussion on leadership and local history.

It was a blast.

And the Seth Godin quote above was a common thread for these mayors who represented local history from the 1980s through today.

Doak Campbell, Tom Lynch, Jay Alperin, Dave Schmidt, Tom Carney, current Mayor Shelly Petrolia and I shared stories, challenges and experiences from our days and nights in the trenches of local government.

It was a special afternoon and we need more of these types of get togethers because local history is special and relevant to the issues that we face today. The gathering was recorded by the class and will be given to the Delray Beach Historical Society. I look forward to seeing and sharing it with you someday soon. Each mayor brings a unique perspective to the job. My theory is that public office is much like an MRI–it reveals who you truly are. Your good qualities are revealed and your weaknesses too as expressed in decisions you make and your leadership style.

Doak Campbell presided over a somewhat tumultuous time in the 80s, with a revolving door of city managers and department heads, worries about crime and concerns about how to revive a desolate downtown. Despite a fair amount of political infighting, Doak’s commission made some huge and important moves: establishing a CRA, forming the first historic districts, agreeing to restore Old School Square, focusing on downtown and passing a landmark bond issue which led to tremendous improvements in the city’s infrastructure and how we viewed our future prospects. Mayor Campbell left his successors with money, a vision and some very promising seeds. He was a successful mayor.

Tom Lynch and Jay Alperin followed Doak. They successfully implemented the Decade of Excellence bond and brought needed stability to City Hall and to politics itself. On their watch, the Tennis Stadium was built and the seeds were planted for a downtown renaissance. Stability is very important to success. We tend not to appreciate stability until we lose it and we see the damage that volatility can bring to a community. Tom and Jay were gentlemen and they treated city staff and the public with respect; challenging both to bring solutions not just complaints to Commission chambers. I respect their leadership skills and learned a lot from watching them as a young reporter covering city government.

David Schmidt and I followed and we emphasized community engagement and citizen driven planning which led to a downtown master plan, a cultural plan, a parks plan, an effort to improve race relations and a continued focus on education. I learned a lot from sitting on the dais next to David. The commission’s we served on were ambitious and energetic–we wanted to bring about positive change and work to advance what other mayors had started. We saw ourselves as civic entrepreneurs and wanted very much to engage and involve the community. David empowered those who sat next to him on the dais and was always a calm and reasonable voice even amidst heated controversy.

Tom Carney wasn’t mayor for very long but he has been involved for many years serving on the Housing Authority, CRA and as founding president of the Arts Garage. We were glad he was at the roundtable to lend his long term perspective.

Newly elected Mayor Petrolia was gracious in her remarks referring to the success of Delray and her role as a steward giving the analogy that she was handed a golden egg and it’s her responsibility not to break it.

She also outlined the pressures facing current leadership ranging from crime concerns, schools, how much growth there should be (and where) and the need to shore up our infrastructure.

Based on the questions that Leadership Delray students asked, I think there was a good appreciation for the challenges of being a mayor of a town like Delray.

I often consulted with my predecessors because I knew that they loved Delray, had relevant experience in the issues we were facing and would understand the unique pressures of the job.

I saw former mayors and commissioners as resources that I could tap into in order to understand the genesis of issues and what paths were possible.

To their credit, they gave advice willingly knowing that ultimately I would make my own decision but that it would be informed by their valuable input and perspective.

I couldn’t imagine not tapping into the wealth of knowledge that exists here and I’m sure in other communities as well. Of course, you want a range of opinion and so the most effective elected officials seek out all sorts of voices—young and old, business owners, people from different parts of the city etc.

That’s how you succeed in what is a very difficult and all-consuming job.

Delray is a dynamic and challenging city. There are incredible opportunities and a lot of daunting challenges as well.

We need people with passion, a love for the town, humility, emotional intelligence, strength, foresight and courage to step up and lead.

Last week, I found myself in a room with a bunch of those types of people and I left feeling connected, happy and excited about our past, present and future.

Thanks Chamber, thanks Suzanne Spencer, thanks Leadership Delray and thanks to my fellow mayors for being so inspirational.

 

 

Water Cooler Wednesday: A Legacy of Leadership

Tom Lynch: A lifetime of achievement

Tom Lynch: A lifetime of achievement

A few weeks ago, I got a call from Tom Lynch’s assistant Paula Post asking if I would be interested in being part of a tribute video for Tom being produced on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber honored Tom last week with a much deserved “Lifetime Achievement Award” and the Red Pepper Group was tasked with recording a video that would try and capture Tom’s influence and contributions to Delray Beach.

I was honored and jumped at the chance to join Tom’s sons Brendan and Connor and Business Development Board CEO Kelly Smallridge on the video.

But then panic set in.

How can you sum up, in two minutes or less, Tom’s profound influence on the development and creation of modern Delray Beach? After all, if not for Tom, I’m not so we’d have a website devoted to Delray, because Atlantic Avenue and Delray Beach was a far different place when he became the founding chair of the CRA in 1985 and mayor of Delray in 1990.

Sure, there are many authors to the Delray success story, people we have mentioned on this blog who have done great things in areas ranging from the arts and business to government and philanthropy, but few who have left his lasting imprint.

Real Leadership Lasts

The real question then was why? Why was Tom Lynch–who served as mayor for three terms then went on to the School Board for 8 years before becoming mayor of the tiny Village of Golf –so important to modern Delray?

After all, he has been gone from office for 18 years, a lifetime in local politics and yet, smart politicians, entrepreneurs, economic development experts and others still seek him out for advice even if they have to search for him in Biltmore Forest N.C., where he spends a lot of time these days.

The answer, in my opinion, was because Tom stood for and implemented ideas and principles that set the stage for much of the success that Delray has achieved since he served on Mayor Doak Campbell’s Atlantic Avenue Task Force 30 years ago.

Sure he accomplished a lot of concrete things during his active years in Delray Beach. Among them:

•             Successful implementation of the pivotal Decade of Excellence Bond which beautified Atlantic Avenue among other important projects.

•             The decision to build a tennis stadium downtown to attract the Virginia Slims to Delray. While the Slims didn’t last, the Stadium did; eventually attracting an ATP event, major junior events, the Champions Tour, Fed Cup and Davis Cup. The decision to build downtown was an important branding decision for Delray giving the city international publicity and attracting people to Delray at a time when crowds were not the norm.

•             Successfully launching the CRA, which has become a major economic development tool for the city ushering in millions and millions in private sector investment.

•             Winning the first of Delray’s two All America City Awards in 1993, a major recognition of the city’s progress. A year later, Florida Trend Magazine named Delray the best run town in Florida.

And there were more accomplishments, but while important, over time people forget who did what and Tom was never the type to seek credit anyway.

 But what lasts are values and principles and that’s the “secret sauce” that separates a Tom Lynch from others who hold titles such as mayor. People come and go in these positions, but values and principles tend to last and if you stray as a community they can serve as guideposts to get back to where you need to be.

So what were those values and principles that Tom championed before, during and after he left office.

•             Delray should come first, before personal agendas and egos.

•             The job of an elected official is to do the right thing regardless of short term political considerations. Don’t kick the can down the road, think long term and have the courage to act.

•             Appointments to city advisory boards are important, take the time to put the right people in the right spots because they provide the commission with the advice they need to make decisions. Don’t reward friends or political cronies; look for people who have the skill sets to add value. P.S. if they perform they can become your future leaders.

•             City Commission is not an entry level position, it’s important for candidates to have experience in this community before you entrust them with the public’s purse and important decisions. Do they work well with others? Are they single issue candidates? Do they do their homework? Are they willing to make tough decisions or do they just want to cut ribbons and ride in parades? Tom taught us to ask those questions and more.

•             Government can run like a business by being responsive to customers, entrepreneurial, efficient and fiscally responsible with taxpayer money. Like businesses, cities should make investments that yield returns, such as in the arts, sports and culture.

•             Government should not impose answers but act as a facilitator to assist  businesses and or resolve disputes and issues between neighbors.

And there are more, many more values and principles that Tom’s leadership epitomized.

So that’s what I thought of when I walked into the Red Pepper Group’s studios and tried to give my two-minute testimonial.

Times Have Changed

When I moved here as a 22 year-old reporter in 1987, Delray was a far different place. There were few restaurants, virtually no nightlife, lots of vacancies on Atlantic Ave and a tremendous amount of crime and drug dealing. The politics were divisive and City Hall was suffering from instability and turnover. By the time Tom left the mayor’s office in 1996, Delray was well on the way but still had a long way to go. That’s the other lesson he and others imparted: cities are never done; they are always works in progress. But Tom’s under stated but strong leadership gave Delray its confidence back, we were a community that worked together, that acknowledged its problems and were willing to try innovative strategies to find solutions. We were no longer Dull Ray, the poor neighbor of Boca where nobody wanted to be, but a town on the rise that believed in itself.

That’s what great leadership does, it engages, unites and excites stakeholders and leave you with hope for a better tomorrow. And so it was. Great leaders touch people and leave a mark.  They make us think about what we can become and they lead the way despite the obstacles. Tom Lynch’s brand of leadership continues to pay dividends.