Wanted: A Great Manager Who Can Lead

“Managers watch over our numbers, our time and our results. Leaders watch over us.” Simon Sinek


Delray Beach finds itself in the market for a city manager these days.


They may not have to look too far, as City Commissioner Ryan Boylston has suggested lifting the “acting” tag in front of Neal DeJesus’ name and giving him the permanent position.

We may see where that idea goes this week. Stay tuned.

But this blog isn’t about that idea and it’s not about the continuing instability at City Hall although that should concern everyone who cares about Delray Beach. Instability is costly; in many many ways.

But rather than dig into that subject, this post is about what we should be looking for in our next City Manager. Get that piece right and a lot of other pieces fall into place.

First, let’s just outline some givens: having a stand out city manager in a council manager system is critical.

The CM is the government equivalent of a CEO and sets the tone for the entire organization.

A good CM can attract and motivate talented people. And once you get the people equation right anything is possible.

I think the next city manager will need to succeed in three distinct worlds: the political, the external and the internal.

Let’s look at all three:

Ideally, you want an apolitical City Manager who will leave the policy making to the elected officials, as the charter mandates. The job is to implement commission policy, goals and community visions and to do so efficiently and cost effectively.

While this may seem basic, in the real world it can be complicated. Delray is a complicated city and the job of City Manager is a hard one.

While policy makers are responsible for coming up with coherent and innovative policy and goals, the manager does have a role as a coordinator of that policy and to encourage the development of goals and visions.

A neighboring community’s city manager once told me this.

“Look at me as your driver. You tell me where you want to go and give me the resources to get there. If I don’t think I have enough gas, I will tell you before we embark on the trip. Once you give me the destination, hop in the back.  My job is to get you there, on time and within budget. If I crash, run out of gas, drive erratically and get tickets along the way get a new driver. But please let me drive.”

I thought that was a pretty good explanation.

To navigate effectively in the political arena, it’s incumbent on the manager to develop relationships with all elected officials while also understanding the myriad of constituencies in Delray: business community, neighborhoods etc.

City Managers who play favorites, don’t communicate equality with all of their bosses and spend too much time with politicos and gadflies are at risk and won’t survive.

The best defense against politics is performance. Do the job. Do it well and stay in your lane. That’s good advice for both elected officials and senior staff.

As for the external, I think good city managers are accessible (with limits because if you scratch every itch the big stuff doesn’t get done), responsive to citizens and have an ability to build and empower a good team that will make him or her look good.

We leaves us with the internal world.

A great city manager will have both formidable managerial skills and solid leadership credentials. They will be able to hire well, develop talent once they are on board and motivate and inspire. They are team builders who understand the importance of accountability but who score well in the areas of communication and emotional intelligence.

It’s a tough, tough job and this isn’t the easiest town in which to succeed as we have seen. But it’s important that we get someone who can succeed. It’s important that we find and support someone who can be a great CEO.

Of course, nobody has all the skills necessary to succeed. But the great ones know what they don’t know and surround themselves with a capable team.

It’s difficult but it can be done.

Decision Time

Well…we did it again.

We managed to go through an election season without a substantive debate on the issues or a respectful discussion of ideas.

We did however manage to lie, label, disrespect, disparage and sling vitriol at each other with great fervor. And we wonder why people won’t run for public office…

Still, there are some emerging trends we should pay attention too if our goal is to be a stronger community.  One in particular that I think we ought to pay closer attention to are the attacks on a candidate’s supporters and their motives.

This year it has been open season on those who endorse or contribute financially to campaigns. But what if your goal is not to corrupt, but to support someone you believe in? What if your motive is good government? Are we that cynical that we preclude those motives as a possibility. As for economic interests, are we that myopic to label donors selfish just because they may wish to invest in our community and they support candidates that they believe will be reasonable or at least follow the local rules?

That said, I want to share with you a list of some (NOT ALL) of my civic heroes. Many of whom were subject to cynical remarks on social media this  cycle by people– who for the most part–  we’ve never seen serve our community. If they weren’t attacked,  many were dismissed as being unimportant as if endorsements and support don’t matter. I disagree. Here’s why:

Frances Bourque-words can’t describe Frances’ impact on Delray Beach. The founder of Old School Square, lifetime achievement award winner, historic preservation icon. Her vision gave us a place to gather and with it a sense of community.

Tom Lynch—three term mayor, School Board Chair, founding chairman of the CRA, lifetime achievement award winner, accomplished businessman and visionary. We recovered our civic pride as a result of his leadership.  Delray won its first All America City Award and was named the “Best Run Town in Florida” on his watch.

Doak Campbell-former mayor and commissioner. The Atlantic Avenue Task Force, Visions 2000, the creation of the CRA and the establishment of the first historic districts happened during Doak’s era.

Jay Alperin-former mayor and commissioner. 10 plus years service on the city commission. Past chair of Old School Square and the Chamber.

David Schmidt—former mayor and commissioner, president of Sister Cities, long time contributor to the Morikami Museum and someone who I sat next to on the commission for three years. David was a terrific mayor with a model temperament.

Yvonne Odom—civic icon who was the first African American to attend Atlantic High. Mentor to hundreds of young people for decades.

Rita Ellis—my successor as mayor. Past Chamber Chair, past chair of the Downtown Development Authority, longtime Beach Property Owners Association leader and successful business owner.

Bill Branning-two time chair of Old School Square, one of the best CRA commissioners ever, Vice chair of the Chamber, successful businessman and dedicated volunteer. Bill is devoted to all things Delray.

Cathy Balestriere– Past chair of the chamber, CRA commissioner, driving force behind Crane’s Beach House and growing Delray as a “destination.” Active in scores of Delray non-profits.

Scott Porten—a dreaded developer, who took a drive through car wash and gave us Citywalk with places like Brule and took a troubled area of town and gave us The Estuary. Scott is a devoted volunteer serving on City boards, chairing Old School Square and the Chamber and helping to lead the Beach Property Owners for years. He loves this city and gives back constantly. You WANT developers with Scott’s level of concern and passion for the city. Because they care about what they build.

Bill Morris—another developer who chairs Old School Square, supports FAU, the Boys and Girls Club and loves this city with all his heart.

Joe Gillie—longtime president of Old School Square who helped us win all three All America City Awards. Joe is Delray. Period.

Fran Marincola—longtime proprietor of the landmark Caffe Luna Rosa, 19 years on the Parking Management Advisory Board, past chair of the DDA, past chair of the Sandoway House Nature Center and longtime BPOA leader, Fran has a heart of gold. He’s devoted to Delray.

Jestena Boughton—historic preservationist and owner of the historic Colony Hotel, Jestena is a delight who has done so much for our town.

Susan Ruby—former City Attorney, leader in Del Ida and a personal touchstone of mine.

Ann Gannon– Palm Beach County’s Tax Collector, former state legislator, devoted to Delray and good government.

Chuck Halberg– I don’t know anyone who loves Delray more or who gives more than Chuck.

Dave Henninger–gave so much to this community especially the Achievement Center, Chamber, Lake Ida neighborhood etc.

David Randolph—long time city commissioner and mentor to so many.

Zack Staghn–decades of service to the community, mentor to countless leaders and devoted civil rights champion.

The list of people and organizations involved in this year’s campaign goes on and on. Amazing young leaders: Connor Lynch, Craig Spodak, Emanuel Dupree Jackson Jr., Lee Cohen, Sgt. Gary Ferreri, Rob Long, Kate Volman, Jason Bregman, Joe Collard, Rob Posillico, Amanda Perna, Matt Shipley, Steve Mackey and more.  Neighborhood leaders from WARC, the Northwest/Southwest Alliance, Del Ida, Seacrest, etc. etc.  Unions representing Fire, Police, general employees–the people who protect and serve us.  Organizations ranging from the realtors association to the Human Rights Council and more. Stellar long time contributors such as Fred Fetzer, Jon Levinson, Gary Eliopoulos, Nancy Dockerty, Bob Currie, Bill Nix, Zack Straghn, Cathy Weil, Shirl Fields, Mark Sauer, Suzanne Spencer, Joycelyn Patrick, Rick Caster, Christina Morrison, Bruce Bastian, Ingrid Kennemer and more.
Many of these people and organizations have been labeled: special interests, good old boys, the Establishment and worse.
But they are the people and the groups that are Delray. They represent the past, the present and the  future of our city.
They are the volunteers devoted to this community. The ones who give their time, their talents and their treasure to this town.
They back Jim Chard for Mayor. Most of the above also back Ryan Boylston for commissioner. (Fire backed his opponent, Police stayed out).
Can they all be wrong?
I don’t think so.
They know Delray. They care about Delray.
They’re not special interests. They are the backbone of this City.
And like me they want change. Unity not division. Progress not indecision and infighting. Leadership not bullying.
Tomorrow we have a chance to help Delray.
It’s Election Day.
Please vote.

Leadership Is The Answer


Fortune Magazine just released its list of the world’s top leaders.

Interestingly, no candidate running for president on either side of the divide made the list which was topped—somewhat controversially—by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Bezos was the recent focus of a New York Times expose’ detailing some pretty tough working conditions at the Seattle based company. Fortune’s editors acknowledged the piece and said that Amazon will probably never make the list of `best places to work’ but noted Bezos’ business acumen and the disruptive business model he has employed to challenge and or beat everyone from Walmart to Barnes & Noble.

While there’s no doubt that Bezos has changed the world, I find it hard to fully admire someone who doesn’t create a good culture in the workplace. While Amazon may be an outlier in terms of performance, my guess is that most companies, organizations or governments can’t thrive unless they get their culture right.

A friend recently asked me what I felt were the biggest issues facing Boca Raton and Delray Beach.

Was it education? Drug addiction? Crime? The sober house/ rehab industry? Overdevelopment? Traffic? Affordable housing?


The biggest challenge we face as a community and as a nation is leadership, or the lack thereof.

Leadership matters.

If you attract, retain, cultivate, grow and support leadership in your schools, companies, organizations, non-profits and communities you can pick the problem and be assured that good leadership will either solve it or make a noticeable difference.

Good leadership makes the intractable, tractable. And the opposite is also true. Without solid leadership it’s hard to make a dent in problems and just as hard to seize opportunities.

On the national level, this election is certainly unlike any other we’ve seen. I have friends who are all over the philosophical map—conservatives, liberals, moderates and people who usually don’t pay any attention to politics. But this year it seems everybody is paying at least some attention and most of the people I know cannot believe what they are witnessing.

Regardless of your views, it’s hard to make an argument that this is a contest between our best and brightest minds—leaders who are equipped to tackle an increasingly complex and dangerous world.

I’ve heard the words “scary” “surreal” and “embarrassing” used frequently.

This brings us to the local level; where government is closest to the people.

One of the scary trends I’ve seen is the diminishing number of people who vote despite increases in population.

When the universe shrinks, a small number of people can exercise control over the many that choose—inexplicably– not to have a voice.

Consider these numbers in Delray Beach.

In 1990, there were 26,330 registered voters in Delray. The landmark vote that elected Tom Lynch mayor and Jay Alperin and David Randolph to the commission attracted 41.54 percent of eligible voters. Randolph earned 7,720 votes.

In 2014, less than 6,500 votes were cast in the Delray municipal election. In 2015, less than 7,000 votes were cast in a hotly contested mayoral election. The winner had less than half the votes that Randolph earned 25 years prior in a city that had far less people. The turnout was 16 percent.

That’s not a sign of civic health.

Boca’s not any better. In 2015, there were slightly less votes cast in Boca than in Delray, despite Boca being a much larger city.

In 2014, about 11,000 votes were cast. There are nearly 60,000 registered voters in Boca.

Low voter turnout is not necessarily a symptom of poor leadership, but the more people that pay attention to local issues the better. And if they pay attention they may get involved and that should certainly improve the pool of candidates.

If we want to solve problems and seize opportunities, we need good people at all levels of government participating in our Democracy. It’s that simple and that hard.




Debate and Dysfunction


'We figure out the city or we fail'--David Simon creator of The Wire and Show Me a Hero.
We used to have some tough meetings. 
There were ugly incidents; episodes of incivility. 
There were nights when you came home and you couldn't sleep. Some nights you would leave a meeting and just drive hoping the night air would allow you to breathe again.
Local politics can be as ugly and as petty as national politics. In many ways it's even tougher because on a local level its personal. We know the people involved. We know where they live, have common friends, see them downtown, know their spouses. 
I know all five elected officials in Delray Beach; have known everyone who has served here since 1987. I've liked many, didn't care for a few.
When I first started writing about Delray Beach nearly 30 years ago, City Hall was a lion's den of intrigue. It was great to be a reporter back then, it wasn't so great to be a resident or a business owner.
Then Tom Lynch came along.
The tone of the meetings changed dramatically. Tom had help from people like Jay Alperin and David Randolph and later gentlemen like Ken Ellingsworth and Armand Mouw. There were some kind female elected leaders as well: Barbara Smith, Rita Ellis, Brenda Montague, Alberta McCarthy and Pat Archer come to mind. There were others.
We had 17 years of commission peace and strong leadership; it allowed progress to happen. 
Peace doesn't mean no skirmishes or that everyone loved each other. It also doesn't mean that were wasn't heated debate and passionate arguments. But it does mean that when the question is called and a vote is taken, you move on. You win some and lose some, but you try not to let bad feelings carry over to the next issue.
We've been off course for a while now. If you don't believe me, take a gander at the last meeting. Watch 20 minutes or so (if you can stomach it) of an issue relating to whether the city should accept a million dollars from the CRA for the old library site or fast forward to commission comments. Go ahead...we'll wait a few minutes.
For those who watched the meeting, it was a microcosm of what ails us as a community.
I saw mistrust and disdain among commissioners for each other and for key staff and agencies. I saw anger. I saw frustration and I saw dysfunction.
I don't watch meetings and haven't since leaving office in March 2007, but I was sitting on my couch watching a ballgame when I started getting texts from employees and others who were at the meeting.
"You gotta see this," one wrote.
"Hurry, tune in," wrote another. "It's like Jerry Springer."
So I did, I tuned in. And while the Springer references were an exaggeration, it was a poor display. If this was an aberration, I would chalk it up to a full moon. But this is a pattern and it shows a commission that's deeply divided. They can't even agree to cash a million dollar check without a split vote, a tongue lashing from the finance director (not a good move for an employee) and a full on attack on the City Attorney that was labeled an organized lynching by the mayor.
Most fun city? Indeed.
Every mayor and commission have their crosses to bear. We dealt with several hurricanes, a racially charged shooting of a 15 year-old child, a few hot development issues and a wildly controversial and deeply complicated move of Atlantic High School.
So far, at least in my view, this commission has had it easy. If you're biggest problem is whether to approve a downtown movie theater and a corporate headquarters, I'd say you were a damn lucky city.
But if I learned one thing about public life is that you never know what's coming down the pike.
It's a smart move to get your house in order, so that if something more serious than cashing a check comes before you, you'll be able to work together.
I'm sure this column will rub a few partisans the wrong way. That's OK. I'm not a partisan player...I've had favorites but Delray has always come first for me and for many others. So if my friends are screwing up, I don't think it's wise to ignore it. I don't think that's what a good friend does or a good citizen either. See no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil is no way to run a railroad.
I've been friends or friendly with all five elected officials sitting on that dais as temporary stewards...with the emphasis on temporary and especially on stewardship.
 It's hard to be productive when you can't get along or when there is no trust. You don't have to be buddies, but you do have to find a way to be productive because this city has serious issues.
I see a problem up there.
You will too, if you tune in or  listen to the chatter around town.
Tomorrow: iPic.