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.

November 4 Matters

Governing matters more than campaigning.

There was a time ,when win or lose , when we accepted the outcome.

We wished the winner well and went about our lives. And if we were patriotic, we hoped that whoever won would succeed.

Elections had consequences for sure. But we accepted them and hoped for the best.
We moved on.

If the winners were smart and magnanimous (and it’s smart to be magnanimous) they reached across the aisle and assured the opposition  that their interests would matter and their voices would be heard and respected.
We don’t seem to do these things anymore and it’s killing us.

It’s killing our spirit, our sense of unity and our hopes for a better future.
It doesn’t have to be with this way.

How we treat and view each other is a choice.

We can—if we want to—summon  our ‘better angels’ as Abraham Lincoln advised.

I have friends on both sides of our national political divide.

We will remain friends although we have struggled to understand how and why we think the way we do.

For the life of me, I can’t see what they are seeing and they can’t see what I am seeing but our affection for each other trumps (no pun intended) any ill will.
That’s how it should be.

But I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that at times it has been a strain to maintain these relationships.

I think the reason is that both sides see each other as existential threats to our way of life.

Democrats fear Republicans will role back rights and ignore climate change and science to the detriment of our planet and our health.
Republicans see Democrats as hell bent on rolling back rights they enjoy and endangering our capitalist system.

Those beliefs make it hard to accept outcomes that don’t favor your side.

But somehow we have to figure out how to live together.

If we don’t, this experiment in Democracy can’t survive. A house divided cannot stand to quote Honest Abe again.

I happen to think we are at the breaking point and the next few weeks or months may well determine the future of our nation.
We can decide to stick together or we can agree to blow it apart.
That’s our choice.

Sadly, it’s easier to destroy something than it is to build and sustain.
So the easier choice will be to indulge our anger and exercise our grievances.
But the better choice is always to seek common ground, learn to compromise, listen to each other and work to keep it together.
It’s not easy.
The differences are real and they are deep. The mistrust and hatred we are experiencing is also very real.

The formula to turn this around is not readily apparent. It is the leadership challenge of a lifetime.
But we need to meet that challenge. Or at least try.

In my opinion, whoever is elected —if they are serious about bridging the divisions, or if they even want to—should start by reminding us about what binds us. There are things we all agree on and we need to insist that those issues be addressed.
Our national leadership—both Democrats and Republicans—have let us down by failing to address problems or seize opportunities.
Washington is dysfunctional and the fact that we can’t find a way to work together to address health care, infrastructure, immigration and environmental issues is a disgrace. So is our response to COVID which is not going away November 4. Oh, how I wish it would.
There are scores of other issues that have gone unaddressed.
Most of these issues can be solved– but only if we work together. A good leader will focus on what binds us, not what divides us.

Still, this blog focuses on local life so here goes.

There are parallels between our toxic national scene and what we are seeing right here  in Delray.

I can and maybe will write a book about how we went astray. How we went all the way up the mountain and then decided to give it back.

And it was a decision. Or rather a slew of decisions that threaten to undo a whole lot of good work.

Imagine, if you will, a quilt. Then imagine pulling a thread and then another and another and all of sudden your quilt falls apart.
Cities are like quilts—pull a thread here and a thread there and suddenly you don’t know why your reclaimed water project is a mess or your reputation has gone from best run town in Florida to a place where every headline seems to scream scandal and dysfunction.

The parallels with our national scene are eerie and rooted in divides.
One faction thinks the other will or has ruined Delray.
Again, this kind of division is dangerous and unproductive.

The battle doesn’t play out on Cable TV like it does nationally but on social media with charges lobbed like bombs on a daily basis.
It gets us nowhere.

It creates a mess and it prevents us from solving problems or seizing opportunities.

It also plays on our mood. Civic pride, once strong ,weakens. Trust in local government also weakens and with it we lose something very fundamental.

We lose respect for the past, hope for the present. and faith in the future.
Sound familiar?
Sounds like America.

If you love your country and your city—as many of us do; you want to see us fulfill our vast potential. You want to see progress, jobs, opportunity, safety and happiness.
Cities and nations need North Stars. We need a common set of values that we fight for, cherish and protect.

When you lose your North Star, you get lost at sea. You drift, you fight and you waste time and resources.

We need leaders who understand the importance of values and a North Star. We need leaders who strive to bring us together. We don’t need to be labeled, libeled and let down. We need to be inspired, motivated and united.
Yes, that’s a very tall order. And it can’t be accomplished easily or readily. But it needs to start somewhere.

We put a lot of burden on our leaders, but we citizens have an even more important role.
We have a responsibility to vote and vote wisely. We have a responsibility to be informed on the issues and to speak truth to power.

Remember, we stand for what we tolerate. We have a responsibility to work for a better tomorrow and to insist on performance and accountability.
Our lives depend on it and future generations are depending on us to do better.

We need to do better.

And we can.

How To Lead

An easy to read primer on leadership.

 

I saw an interview with the philanthropist David Rubenstein on Face The Nation recently.
Mr. Rubenstein just released a book on leadership that waits for me patiently on my night stand each evening.
In the book, Rubenstein talks with a variety of successful leaders and distills some of the things they’ve learned along the way.
I was sold on the book by his answer to this question by host John Dickerson.
“What do you look for in a leader?”

DAVID RUBENSTEIN: I’m looking for their ability to focus, their ability to communicate well, their ability to have some sense of priority of what’s most important to them, their ability to inspire people, their ability to rise to the occasion. And I also think humility is important. Anybody that is really a successful leader I think has failed in life. And you have to persist after your failures. But failure gives you some humility.”


Isn’t that cool? I mean, doesn’t that sum it up?
Let’s break it down.
Focus: the best leaders I’ve seen are focused on goals. They don’t get distracted by bright shiny objects and they don’t let distractions throw them off their game. In other words, they don’t major in the minor. A good local example is former Mayor Dave Schmidt.
I learned many things sitting next to David for my first three years on the commission. Mayor Dave was focused on the big picture and always exhibited calm under fire. And he faced some raging ones: protests against the move of Atlantic High School and the discovery that several of the 9/11 terrorists were living in Delray which put an international media spotlight on our town. Regardless of what was thrown at him, Mayor Schmidt kept his eyes on the prize and made sure his fellow commissioners did so as well. 
Communication: Good leaders communicate. They have an ability to explain their positions and views. And they take the time to do so.
I thought former Mayor Tom Lynch did a great job articulating the city’s goals, aspirations and potential when he served from 1990-1996. I was a young reporter back then, assigned to cover city government. I always knew where the city was headed because Tom was a consistent and reliable communicator.
A sense of what’s important: Great leaders want to accomplish something. They don’t seek power for power’s sake. For the good ones, it’s a job to do, not a job to have.
I kept that phrase in my wallet through my term in office. It means that you are willing to lose your seat if it means doing the right thing for the city. Sometimes that means taking positions that are not the most popular at the time but that you know is the right thing to do for the community long term. Great leaders are willing to plant trees knowing they won’t be the ones to enjoy the shade.
An ability to inspire: I’ve seen some good leaders who were lacking in charisma, but that’s not the same as inspiration. A solid steady leader can be quietly inspiring. Why? Because they are solid and steady.
Former Chamber President Bill Wood did have charisma. And he was also very inspiring because he was reliably optimistic, had a wonderful sense of humor and a warmth that made everyone in his presence feel good. Consequently, he made businesses feel good about being in Delray. That’s an intangible that is hard to place a value on.

Rising to the Occasion: Good leaders have a way of meeting the challenges they are presented with. So if tragedy strikes they meet the moment with compassion. If there’s some sort of disaster (man made or natural) they have a way of handling it that calms the community and helps inspire confidence in the future. My local examples for this item are former police chief Rick Overman and former fire chief Kerry Koen. 
Both leaders were battle tested and enjoyed widespread support among the troops and the broader community. So during hurricanes or difficult incidents —which are par for the course in their line of work —they always rose to the occasion and you felt that everything would be OK. Steady hands during stormy seas..invaluable. 
Leaders who rise to the occasion find ways to create wins even when the going gets tough. 
Consequently, if there’s an opportunity they can seal the deal.

Humility and Failure: The best leaders are humble, real, honest and service oriented. I also happen to think a sense of humor is enormously important. The best leaders can admit when they are wrong and are committed to personal and professional growth. They have an ability to evolve. They know they aren’t the smartest person in the room and seek to surround themselves with people they can learn from. I call it intellectual humility. Those that have it can learn from others. Those who think they know it all, really don’t. 
I also think that failure is an important life experience. Failure informs. It keeps us humble and enables us to learn critical lessons. 
A good leader knows that as long as you learn from mistakes and don’t repeat them the experience is not really a failure at all.
As we edge toward national, state and local elections in November and again in March it may be helpful to review this list of traits and see how the candidates measure up. 
 
 

 

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

A culture is strong when people work with each other, for each other. A culture is weak when people work against each other, for themselves. –Simon Sinek

Word came last week that a Delray Beach city employee was cleared of wrongdoing after more than a year of innuendo and uncertainty.

Former Assistant Community Improvement Director Jamael Stewart was given an all clear by the Palm Beach County Ethics Commission. His boss, Michael Coleman, who got caught up in the situation, resigned when this whole thing went down. To date, he’s  never been charged with anything. He’s got a lawsuit pending against the city he served and loved.
But the damage has been done.
Two careers were ended. Two people who have served our city admirably were badly hurt.
And if you care about your town, what happened to Michael and Jamael ought to piss you off. (Excuse my language).
And they are not the only ones who have been hurt in recent years as a wide range of city employees saw their careers and lives upended— in many cases —for no good reason. When I asked a few of them what they were charged with their answer was consistent: they have no idea.
Even today, in the wake of the Ethics Commission ruling, there remains a cloud. What about other agencies some ask? Aren’t they looking too?
Nobody seems to be sure. In fact, there’s a theory that all of this is some bizarre political payback scheme.
And that’s a problem, because this is supposed to be America after all. People should have the right to face their accusers and they should know what their being accused of, especially after more than a year. All of this starts at home, at City Hall with either a demand to resign or a termination order. That’s the good news, because if the problem is local it can be solved with leadership. The buck stops with the commission. Either it tolerates this kind of behavior/culture or it doesn’t. It’s really that simple.
I guess the fate of wrongly accused employees is not as acute an issue as to whether or not the water is safe to drink or whether our infrastructure can handle sea level rise but it’s still a problem.
If you pay taxes and rely on municipal services the quality of city staff is important.

And if you have a culture that eats people up and spits them out it doesn’t take a management degree to understand that it’s going to be hard to attract and keep a talented staff.

I spent seven years on the city commission and have been following local government here and elsewhere for almost 35 years. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that a good staff makes a world of difference and a poor staff can cost you dearly.

Michael and Jamael are good men. They care about this community and they have touched a lot of lives in our city. Many of the people they impacted were young people. A few were heading in the wrong direction before they were mentored by these gentlemen and taught that there was another way.
What’s happened to them—forced out of their positions, maligned and thrown out with the trash—has sent a chilling message to these young people I’ve been told. Here’s what they’re thinking.
If it can happen to department heads, a decorated cop (Mr. Coleman was a police captain before becoming director) what chance do we have?
As a result, I know a few promising young people who have taken their talents elsewhere unwilling to put up with the toxic culture that has taken root at City Hall and permeated every corner of our city. That toxicity has convinced more than a few people to start their lives and careers elsewhere.
Who can blame them? But isn’t that tragic?
And while Michael and Jamael have been the subject of a lot of discussion and publicity because of their high profiles in town, there are others who have suffered by affiliation that we never talk about.
Donna Quinlan, a wonderful person,  worked for the city for 39 years. She was shown the door for no good reason. In fact, for no reason at all.
I guess she was guilty of being Michael’s assistant.
Jennifer Costello, a 31 year employee and another wonderful person, was also forced out for no good reason.
I worked with both Donna and Jen. They were invaluable.
Donna’s husband Tom, served for 30 years in our Police Department. He was a great officer. That family gave 70 years to this city.
Is this the way we should treat people? What message does that send to the other 900 employees?
I’ve seen the pain this kind of treatment causes families. It’s severe. Losing your livelihood, —in many ways your identity— suddenly, publicly and unfairly is a shock to the soul.
Sadly, it’s become fashionable to belittle public servants. We shouldn’t.
We seem to have forgotten that they are people with families, career aspirations, pride in their city and a strong desire to serve.
It’s wrong to hurt them.
We can’t be a good community if we treat people this way.
These kind of situations ought to trigger some deep soul searching.
This cannot be allowed to happen again and the people who have been hurt need to be made whole.
This is a teachable moment but only if we choose to learn and do better.
We should not tolerate a culture that ruins people for no good reason.
Why did this happen?
What kind of culture allows this?
What has changed? Because it wasn’t always like this.
If we just look the other way and carry on as we often do, we won’t figure out a better way.
And there has to be a better way.
A toxic culture is expensive.
Both in terms of legal fees (which we pay as taxpayers) but more importantly in terms of the toll it takes on victims and all who know and love them.
Throwing people away is just not right.
It leaves wounds that never heal and like a virus it affects every pore of our city.

Going To Be A Long Walk Home

Our beach is a prized asset. Protecting it must be based on science not politics.

“ Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

There’s a lot happening in Delray Beach these days.

Water quality issues, controversy over sea grapes, budget shortfalls, lawsuits and an ill timed raise for city commissioners.
As mom used to say: Oy!
When you sit alone in a hospital room for six weeks fighting Covid, you have a lot of time to think. You wrestle with issues large and small as the hours and days tick away.
Weighed against issues such as life and death, the dysfunction at Delray City Hall doesn’t mean a whole lot. This too shall pass as they say, although, to be honest, the nonsense has lasted a very long time and has done untold damage to our beloved city.
So while “sea grape gate” and “raise gate” doesn’t rise to the level of dealing with a pandemic, an economic crisis or racial strife, if you love your town —as I do —the state of affairs should alarm you.
We have strayed far, far away from the days when Florida Trend magazine put Delray on its cover with the headline: Florida’s Best Run Town.
There was a time when Delray Beach was not only well run but it was well led too.
We were aspirational and visionary. There was a sense of possibility, we knew if we put our minds to it, we could do anything.
You could feel the civic pride and the confidence that goes with it. It was palpable and that confidence was a key to our success.
Pick your issue and there was a plan and more important action being taken to make things better.
Crime problems fueled by drug sales were met by groundbreaking efforts in community policing. Community leaders, foundation executives and academics came from far and wide to study Delray’s police department and its efforts to connect to the community.
When city leaders decided to tackle educational issues they adopted an ambitious plan that called for new facilities, magnet programs, summer enrichment activities and partnerships to try and raise the quality of education in our community.
And guess what? It got done.
S.D. Spady Elementary was rebuilt and added an award winning Montessori magnet, Village Academy was built, a brand new high school with career academies was also built and partnerships with stellar non-profits such as the Achievement Center for Children and Families were created to launch initiatives to help the most vulnerable children in our community.
The CRA, ridiculously maligned by people who either don’t know or should know better, revitalized a once moribund downtown and also invested tens of millions of dollars into distressed neighborhoods.
And the list goes on.
Old School Square, Pineapple Grove, the Arts Garage, signature events, world class tennis, successful beach renourishment efforts, innovative housing initiatives such as the Community Land Trust and more.
Now this is not to say that everything was perfect.
Our schools still have a long way to go, our neighborhoods still need investment, reclaimed water was a great idea but there’s obvious managerial and operational issues that need to be addressed  and like the rest of America we struggle and always have struggled with inequality and racial division.

But the difference I see is that back in the day there was a recognition of our deficiencies and a resolve to get after it.
There was a hunger to solve problems, involve the community and innovate. There was a willingness to experiment and yes a willingness to fail.
Delray’s culture was one of “civic entrepreneurship” which is the opposite of a “gotcha” culture in which fear reigns and everyone is afraid to proffer an idea lest they get ripped by trolls on social media or drummed out of town by toxic politics.

So while I spent 98 percent of my recent Covid experience trying to stay alive and pondering how much I loved my family and friends I spent two percent of my time thinking about the town where I live.
Why?
Because I love my city.
I love it enough to criticize it because I want to see it do better.
I cringe when I see story after story of turnover and dysfunction. Others do too. I hear from many of you who can’t believe what they are seeing.
They don’t relish or take joy in the nonsense. They worry because they too love their town.
They want to see an effective and efficient city government that uses their tax dollars wisely.
They want to see a thriving local economy and opportunities created for those who live here or may want to live here.
They want a safe town and to see their elected officials work collaboratively.
It’s OK to debate passionately but once the vote is called they want to see their leaders move on and not hold grudges. Washington take note. People can’t stand Congress because the Dems and Republicans can’t work together.
Therefore, problems never get solved and opportunities are hard to seize.
Same thing right here in little old Delray.
So yes, I spent some time thinking about Delray. When you live in a place, own a home, have a business, raised a family here and dedicated years of your life to a town  you can’t help but care. A lot.
It’s going to be a long walk home as the song says. Because we’ve strayed far from the ideals that created a wonderful little city.

We have to learn to work together again.
We have to stop labeling, dividing and sowing fear.
We have to want to do better and to be better.
Not every elected official is on the take. Not every developer is here to pillage the village. Not every business is a special interest with only profits in mind.
There’s talent at city hall, but I’m not sure there’s a culture here that encourages staff to be creative or to even do their jobs effectively. For goodness sakes, let them loose to create value.

Last week, I saw the Beach Property Owners unfairly maligned for wanting to protect the dunes at the beach.
Friends, the  Beach Property Owners Association has been a force for good in this town for a long, long time.
If they differ with others on the height of sea grapes we ought to listen and ask why instead of assuming that they selfishly want a better view and that they are willing to risk the beach to get it.
I know the leaders of that association. They love Delray, they are not selfish.
The ‘Delray way’ as we once called it,  would be to listen, seek understanding and find a way to protect our dune system based on a full understanding of the science.

Yes, it’s going to be a long walk home.
But we need to take the first steps toward restoring civility, vision, collaboration and stability.
The first rule when you are in a hole is to stop digging.
Our town deserves better.
And all of us have a role to play and a stake in the outcome. We have to speak out. We have to get involved.
As John Lewis wrote in his posthumously-published essay, “When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.”
Amen.
The same goes for cities.

Ya Gotta Believe

I was young in ‘93. We all were.

I stumbled across a memory last week and it stayed with me.

I have this app called Time Hop and each day it reminds you of events and photos from your past.
It’s pretty cool.
Well last week, an old column I had written for the Delray Beach Times resurfaced. It was from 1993 and it was in the immediate aftermath of Delray winning its first All America City Award in Tampa.
I wrote about how the city planned to capitalize on the win with a marketing blitz that would hopefully capture the eyes of investors looking to build in Delray and companies that may want to move to Delray.

What followed were All America city buttons, bumper stickers, license plates, key chains etc.
The effort may have seemed hokey but it was effective and the results produced positive press and civic pride.
Let’s spend a minute on those two things: positive press and civic pride. They are often linked together—and it makes sense. Positive press creates civic pride.
So in 1993, when residents saw their city make the cover of Florida Trend, they felt good about their city. The headline on the magazine: Florida’s Best Run City.
It doesn’t get better than that.
Only it did—for awhile at least.
Delray in the 90s and early 2000s seemed to to be a magical place.  Every year seemed to be better than the last.
There was a confidence about the town, a sense that by working together the community could accomplish anything it set its mind too.
Want to lower the crime rate?
Ok, let’s commit to community policing.
Want to create a vibrant downtown?
Let’s invest in a streetscape (Decade of Excellence) and innovative policy (Downtown Master Plan) and events and  sure enough—with a ton of hard work— we have the “it” downtown in the region and beyond.

There were some amazing civic projects too: Old School Square, the Sandoway House, the Cason Cottage and the Spady Museum.
There were true collaborations with the Achievement Center for Children and Families, the Beach Property Owners Association, the formation of the West Settlers Historic District, the opening of the Youth Enrichment Vocational Center, successful bids for the Davis and Fed Cups, model beach renourishment projects, the founding of the county’s first land trust, the introduction of public art, dozens of citizen engagement initiatives and landmark programs designed to help Delray Beach schools.
Looking back, civic pride and confidence may be the key factor in success.
As Tug McGraw, the great reliever for the Mets once said: “Ya gotta believe.”
And we did.
We believed.
We acted.
We experimented.
We were entrepreneurial and we took calculated risks. We didn’t fear precedents; we wanted to set them.
I recently watched an ESPN documentary that examined last year’s Wimbledon match up between Delray’s Coco Gauff and Venus Williams, who also played a lot of tennis over the years in Delray.
Two things struck me.
One was Coco’s confidence that she could play with Venus. She believed that she belonged.
You don’t win without that belief.
Second, as ESPN’s Chris Fowler interviewed Coco at our downtown tennis center, I recalled the decision made to keep the center downtown and add a stadium court. That took confidence. It was a prescient decision.
And because of it, a young champion was able to walk to the courts and dream. A generation later, she’s talking from the veranda of the pro shop with ESPN about what it was like to beat a legend on centre court at Wimbledon. Very cool.
Anyway, this is a riff on confidence, civic pride, dreams, aspiration and accomplishment.
Wouldn’t it be nice to do/have all of those things again?
As we sit home enduring this awful pandemic, we ought to spend some of our time dreaming about a better future and taking some steps to make those dreams come true.
We are going to need bold new ideas to survive the post coronavirus world, which will surely be different.
The first order of business is to survive. The second is to recover and thrive. The cities that dream and act will be the ones that thrive.
The ones that wallow in despair and enable dysfunction will sink.
Let’s be the former.
Ya gotta believe.

Culture is Everything

Something is wrong in Delray Beach.

I’ve been saying this for awhile now. Sometimes I’ve been vilified by the usual suspects for pointing out the obvious but we’ve had eight city managers in eight years and that’s not good. We’ve also had a slew of department heads and City Attorney’s come and go too.
It’s not a sign of health. It’s a sign of sickness.
And if you don’t think this affects you—well with all due respect, you’re mistaken because it does.
Turnover costs money. Tax money.
Lawsuits cost money too.
It’s hard to deliver efficient services with an ever changing cast of characters.
It’s also hard if you work for the city or are trying to do business in town.

Dysfunction chases away investment and when you are known as a hard place to work it’s no surprise when you can’t attract or retain talent.
I’m writing this in the wake of the firing of George Gretsas, the latest in a long line of City Managers who have come here with high hopes only to leave beaten and battered. Every time that happens, we drive the price up for the next contestant brave or crazy enough to apply for the job.
So far, none of the previous eight contestants have left here with their reputations entirely intact.
We seem to have factions not only on the City Commission but also on the staff level with a few bad actors sowing division. That’s a relatively new and troubling development.

The next round of head hunting ought to be fascinating. The commission has already been told that Delray has a toxic reputation. Before they go out to the market again there needs to be some serious soul searching or we will pay another premium price for a CM who also won’t last.
One glaring deficiency is a lack of vision. Successful Mayors and commission’s strive to create a unified vision and shared goals. This way if there is division at least you have your common goals to fall back on.  This helps City Manager’s and staff because they have a North Star to guide them. The most recent Comp Plan exercise was lacking because it largely cut out the  public. Plus, Comp Plan updates typically happen after a visioning process not in lieu of one.
From the outside, I don’t see any goals or vision. So I asked a few prominent citizens  to tell me if they knew the city’s goals. Nobody could name one goal. Now they may exist, but if nobody knows what they are or can see progress on those goals you’ve got a problem.
The absence of common goals leads to ala Carte policymaking and a whole lot of 3-2 votes.
That leads to hard feelings and a lack of progress.
Cities (and nations) go off the rails when it starts to become about personalities and factions rather than community driven goals and plans.
 That’s where we are my friends.
Does this get fixed?
Only if we demand it does and to date we haven’t. Major institutions in town have been silent. Where are the associations? Where is the business community?
Granted, we are in a pandemic and preoccupied. But dysfunction in City Hall in a pandemic, during hurricane season with a projected budget shortfall of $10 million won’t make it easier to recover. We need to be paying attention and we need to demand better results and offer our help.
We stand for what we tolerate.
And right now we are standing for a whole lot of dysfunction.

Planning Is Great; Action Is Better

Don’t let your plans gather dust. If you do, you burn public trust which is the most valuable currency.

 

It happened a long time ago, so I guess it’s safe to tell the story.

It was the early 2000s and Delray Beach was still reeling from a bruising battle over Worthing Place—the apartment building that also houses Park Tavern and Salt 7.
The city commission agreed to a Downtown Master Plan process and we got some funding from the MacArthur Foundation to hire a slew of planning and design consultants.
A large cross section of the community turned out for meetings that surfaced a bunch of cool ideas.
It was a true community building experience.
We felt  a lot of civic pride, it was exciting and we felt as if we could do anything we set our minds too. It was a special time.
Then the plan was sent to the commission for adoption with a list of priority projects.
But despite the enthusiasm and effort, the commission never adopted the plan. They ignored years of advocacy from residents pleading for the plan to be adopted. And nothing happened.

The gateway wasn’t built. None of the downtown garages were ever built, and we never got Old School Square Park.
All of the innovative policy ideas that enabled restaurants to thrive, the grid system to flow and events to take root vanished along with our hopes.
Northwest/Southwest Fifth Avenue which we had hoped would include public art, small businesses and interesting streetscapes never happened.
Downtown housing, which we had wanted so that we could add vibrancy and support for local businesses didn’t happen either. The plan was placed on a shelf where it gathered dust.
And all of the participants who gave their time and energy to our town went back home disappointed. Some moved away. Many never participated in anything “civic” related ever again.
Instead, we watched neighboring towns flower and attract investment and entrepreneurial energy.

Eventually, our talented staff began to send their resumes out hoping to catch on in a place where they could make something happen and feel that their careers were meaningful.

Property values stagnated. The momentum we started to feel in the late 80s and 90s faded away like so many other things we hoped to do.

At this point in the story, I can share that all of this is bunk.
The plan was not only adopted it was largely implemented in a blizzard of civic projects and investment that helped our town blossom.
Oh some people didn’t like what happened. One guy referred to our vibrant downtown as a “concrete jungle.”  I’m not sure what he was referring to, it is a downtown of course. We have concrete. We also have open space, art, culture, sports,
music.  restaurants and nightlife that cities all over the country envy.

But hey, you can’t please them all.
The downtown master plan was the first to expand the boundaries of our downtown from the ocean to I-95, an important symbolic step.
But it wasn’t just symbolism.
We added an attractive “gateway” feature just East of 95 because the citizens who participated in the process felt it was important to send the world a message. When you exited the Interstate at Atlantic Avenue you were entering a special place. We wanted people to know it.
Some criticized the art work and lighting that decorated our gateway. It was too expensive they said. They always say that by the way. And they are always wrong.
My friends cities work when you invest in them.
You get a return on that investment in the form of increased property values and civic pride. If you fail to invest, you fail your citizens in ways that you can measure and in ways that you cannot.
Atlantic Grove got built—“they” said it couldn’t be done. Nobody would build market rate housing in “that neighborhood.”
Once again, they were wrong. The market rate and the affordable housing sold.
So did the commercial portion of the project and for the first time in a long time—maybe ever—we saw people from all parts of Delray mingling at places like Ziree, a wonderful Thai restaurant.
The streetscape that made East Atlantic so trendy was extended all the way out to 95, a new library was built where it was needed —again despite some people coming up to the microphone and saying you can’t put the library “out there” because people will be afraid to go. Once again they were wrong. Lots of people use the library.

There were other plans that were implemented too.
The southwest plan called for infrastructure  upgrades that were funded and done. The plan called for an expansion of The Village Academy and that was done too.

The parks plan added a splash park named after our first female mayor Catherine Strong, becoming the first park in the long neglected Southwest neighborhood.

A community land trust was formed, I think it was the first in the county, and they built some adorable homes for first time buyers.
We had an independent CRA back then, and by the way it was independent in name only because it worked collaboratively with the City Commission. The agency won a ton of awards and was recognized as one of the very best in the state before a mayor came along a few years back and used it as a punching bag.
That was shameful. Truly was.

How smart is it to take your best economic development tool and put cheese in the engine? Answer: not very.
Oh well, thankfully so much got done before the dysfunction set in.
Which is a good segue I suppose.
Last week, after four years of trying, a neighborhood calling itself “The Set” finally got their plan on the Commission agenda thanks to Vice Mayor Ryan Boylston. The neighborhood, which used to be called the southwest and northwest sections of the city, came together to work on  “The Set Transformation Plan.”

Of course, you might not know that because when it hit the agenda the word “Set” was removed. Kind of like when the Egyptians removed the name Moses from their history books when they discovered he was Jewish.
It struck me as odd, petty, political, small and disrespectful.
It struck others that way too.
Anyway, it’s a good plan. I’ve read a bunch over the years and this is solid. But it needs to be adopted, funded and implemented. Otherwise, it’s just platitudes on paper.
Unfortunately last week, after four years and after many a campaign promise to get moving, the adoption of the plan was postponed so it can be workshopped.
Interesting.
The decision or lack thereof, smells.
It just does. And it smells worse considering where we are as a nation right now wrestling with issues of equity and racism.
There are some players tied to the plan who are controversial.
So what?
One of the guys spews a lot on social media as is his right. He gets some things right and he is way way way off on other things. For example, he’s wrong when he says nothing has ever been accomplished by the city or CRA in or for his community. A whole lot has been done. And nobody has ever said that things were finished.

But it’s really not about him or his friends. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
Is the plan worthy? Is it supported by the neighborhood it aspires to help? Is it good for Delray?
If the answer is yes, it ought to be adopted and put into action not put on a shelf.
If the answer is no, well then we need another plan and leadership ought to make that happen. But they better be able to explain why the plan falls short. And the answer can’t be because a few people who run their mouths on Facebook are behind it.
We are at an inflection point in this City and this country.
I don’t watch city meetings but my phone sure blew up when the plan’s adoption was postponed.
I’m not a bellwether. I’m just a middle aged white guy sitting at home watching Netflix riding out the pandemic.
But I’m feeling something and it ain’t COVID. People want change. They want progress. They want to be heard and respected. Those are not unreasonable demands.
Many are not feeling like they are being heard.
That’s not healthy.
It’s time for the plan to be adopted, funded and implemented.
It’s past time really.
As Sam Cooke sang, “a change is gonna come.”
Even in sleepy ole Delray.

Father & Sons

My dad celebrates his birthday June 15 with Riley his great grand retriever.

 

My father and I have a lot in common.

We love to talk politics, like to follow current events, enjoy sports —especially tennis —and love dogs. We never run out of things to talk about, enjoy each other’s company and I feel incredibly grateful to have had a father who has been nothing short of remarkable for 55 plus years.

Even today, at an age where I carry an AARP card and have had a fair amount of life experience, I wouldn’t make a major move without seeking his advice and counsel.
I’m lucky he’s still here to give it. And because he’s smart and caring, I’d be foolish not to seek out his counsel. And my dad and mom didn’t raise a fool. (Wink wink).
I’m writing about my dad, because this is his birthday week and we are fast approaching Father’s Day.
It’s a wonderful holiday; a chance to celebrate fatherhood and the important roles dad’s play in our lives and in our society.
My dad set an early and consistent example. He just seemed to always be doing the right things—taking care of our family, working hard and making my mother very happy.
He never sought the spotlight but just quietly provided for his family and served his community by running the local pharmacy.
He instilled in me and my sister a great love of Jewish culture, made sure we listened to the wonderful stories our grandparents told us and also gave us a deep appreciation for where we lived by taking on us on nice vacations where we mixed fun with history by visiting places like Gettysburg and Plymouth Rock.
He went to my Little League games, played tennis with me and took me to my first baseball game, Mets versus Pirates in 1973.
He never pushed me—like other dad’s did in sports. He wanted me to be a good sport and to enjoy the game.
That’s good advice for life by the way.
I may have rebelled a time or two (hundred) but I was listening. I paid attention. I tried to absorb what he was teaching me not through lectures but by living the right way.
I can’t speak for daughters but sons really want to earn their father’s attention and praise. My drive comes from wanting to get my father’s attention. It took me years to figure that out. I’ve been grateful for his inspiration.
I’ve lived my life way outside of my natural comfort zone as a result. Again, he never pushed. I just wanted him to be proud of me.
So much of what is wrong in   our world today can be traced to poor parenting and it’s my hunch that a whole lot of dysfunction can be traced to bad fathers or absentee ones.
So I was lucky. I had a great father and a great mother.
What an advantage.
But I’m very conscious that others weren’t as fortunate as I was.
Which is why as we approach Father’s Day I’d like to ask your indulgence to consider reaching out and helping three local non-profits—the Achievement Center for Children and Families, 4Kids and the EJS Project.
There are a slew of other great non-profits that focus on children and I don’t mean to slight any of them.
But I’ve been taken by the three I’ve mentioned because of their emphasis on helping children from homes that struggle financially or spiritually or emotionally. Or sometimes all three.
The Achievement Center started in a church basement in Delray more than 50 years ago. I became involved because I became spellbound by the talent, passion and skill of founder Nancy Hurd. I served on the board for many years and saw firsthand how the lives of the most vulnerable children in our community were transformed by the nurturing they received from a talented and committed staff. That legacy of excellence continued after Nancy retired and passed the baton to the equally amazing Stephanie Siebel. Visit www.achievementcentersfl.org.Take a deeper look, you’ll be amazed.
I’ve also been impressed by the passion and commitment of Emanuel “Dupree” Jackson whose EJS Project is working wonders in Delray. The organization is mentoring a generation of young leaders, something our community and our country sorely needs.
Check out the EJS project at www.ejsproject.org.
Readers of this blog know how we feel about 4 Kids, which does wonders with foster children.
This is an organization addressing a critical need in our community with compassion, competence and love.
Visit www.4kids.us for more information.
Meanwhile, we wish wish you all a Happy Father’s Day. I will be spending mine with my dad and the kids who live locally. It’s a day to treasure.