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: The People Equation

Investing in leadership

Investing in leadership

If I’ve learned one thing in my career, it’s that you can have the best systems, the best platform, a great idea, plenty of money and every other advantage but you’ll fail if you don’t attract and keep the right people.

It’s a simple concept, really.

But very difficult to achieve.

Yet, whether you are running a business, a city, a school or a non-profit you will not be able to achieve lasting success unless you create a culture that attracts, nurtures, rewards, ignites and inspires people. Good people.

And if you work hard enough and create just such an environment, you have to realize that your creation is fragile and will not survive complacency or lack of accountability. If you fail to constantly iterate, engage and assess, the gains you made will erode.

Achieving success is just one part of the journey; the key is to sustain success. That’s the prize and it is hard to attain. But worth the effort.

For many years, the cities of Boca Raton and Delray Beach worked with a consultant named Lyle Sumek. Lyle was a former assistant city manager in San Diego and he worked with cities across the country on goal setting and implementation. Lyle had a concept he called “municipal math”; which essentially said it could take 20 plus years to build something of value, but only a year or two to squander what was built if you make the wrong decisions or hire/elect the wrong people. The sad part of municipal math is that once you mess up, it could take 10 years or more to get something back and there were guarantees you would.

Muni math was a sobering concept and it stuck with me. Leadership matters. People matter.

I’m a firm believer that leadership is the key ingredient to success in any endeavor, but  I also believe that we do a poor job of training and developing leaders.

We don’t teach leadership in schools, we don’t study why leaders succeed or stumble, but yet we long for great leaders.

I can think of no other scenario in life in which we yearn for something but don’t take steps to make it happen.

If we want better medical outcomes, we invest in science. If we want better educators, we invest in teacher training. In business, we invest in products and technology. But yet we don’t make a similar investment in identifying, training and developing leaders.

As a result, we watch helplessly as Congress fails miserably to serve our country. We shake our heads when presidents, governors, mayors and other elected officials fail our communities.

In business, we see investments go down the drain; victims of egotistical CEO’s or watch in disgust as a manufacturer looks the other way and produces cars that endanger their customers all because of a culture that enabled people to look the other way.

All are symptoms of poor or inadequate leadership.

I believe that we need to start studying and investing in leadership education and that we need to make such courses available far and wide, in all industries and endeavors.

We live in a great nation. Imagine how much better it would be, how many problems would be solved, how many people would be positively impacted if we were able to develop leaders as accomplished as our best coders, financial minds and scientists. Just imagine.