An Opportunity to Learn


Editor’s Note: This is our last blog of 2015, we are going to enjoy the holidays and take a break. We do want to wish our readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Safe New Year. We have enjoyed the conversation and look forward to more dialogue in 2016. But before we sign off, we want to wish our old friend Randal Krejcarek, Delray’s Environmental Services Director a fond farewell as he leaves for a terrific opportunity. Randal was always a class act, a talented professional and a pleasure to work with. He went above and beyond and he will be deeply missed. He’s just a great guy.

I had lived in Delray Beach for 13 years when I ran for the City Commission in 2000.

For a decade, my job was to cover city government, which meant I attended just about every City Commission meeting, CRA meeting, planning and zoning meeting, DDA meeting and community gathering that occurred.

I rode with cops and firefighters, was involved with the Chamber of Commerce, non-profits such as Old School Square and Pineapple Grove Main Street and served on the Sister Cities Committee. I knew just about every community leader from neighborhood association presidents and union bosses to city department heads and prominent local business leaders. I even knew a great many of the city’s most notorious criminals—and interviewed a few of them in prison.

When I left the paper around ’97, I started my own publications that covered schools, sports, crime and education and got know teachers, principals, School Board members, coaches, athletes, boosters and more cops , volunteers and criminals.

So I thought I knew a lot about Delray Beach when I got elected and I did, sort of.

But I also had gaps in my knowledge a mile wide and 10 miles deep.

I was a well-trained rookie, but I was still a rookie.

I remember an orientation meeting with then City Manager David Harden, where I was handed a copy of the City Charter, a thick budget book and a giant copy of the city’s land development regulations, comp plan and other documents. I barely made it back to the car. I had a similar meeting with then City Attorney Susan Ruby.

When you get elected you are expected to learn the following: municipal finance, land use law, labor relations, pensions, budgets, capital improvement plans, county/city relations, community development block grants, how debt works, municipal law, historic preservation, emergency management policies, municipal insurance and a whole lot more.

The formal education was just beginning—the informal one begins once you’re on the job and truthfully you never stop learning the nuances of leadership. That piece is ongoing with lessons earned and learned from every issue and interaction. It’s a remarkable experience.

Local government even has its own language: LDR’s, the difference between a waiver and a variance, conditional use, something called “smoothing” (a pension term) and my favorite: effluent flows (look it up) because a perk of the job is you also sit on the sewer board for Boynton Beach and Delray.

Some of it fascinated me. Some of it confused me. Some of it made me yawn and some of it was so cool that I wanted to learn as much as possible.

In my opinion, the two areas where city officials should spend their time and develop some chops are land use and budgeting.

Like in any business, cash flow, revenues, expenses, debt service and all that happy stuff is critically important. While you have a city manager, a few assistant city managers, outside auditors and a finance department you cannot be an effective elected official without an understanding of how you fund and charge for government services.

So you need learn to read and understand budgets, monthly financial analyses and year end reports.

I had managed newspaper budgets for a corporate parent and my own small publishing company so I had a basic understanding of finances. In fact, we were so lean I knew my cash position every moment of every day. I knew if I didn’t collect receivables in a timely fashion, those who worked with me wouldn’t be able to pay their bills.

As an elected official, you are in an oversight capacity, so the checkbook resides elsewhere but you learn quickly that you have a fiduciary responsibility and that 60,000 people and all the businesses in your town will come looking for you if things go wrong.

But my favorite part of my municipal education was in the land use arena; planning and redevelopment. I absolutely fell in love with it all—architecture, urban design, streetscapes and what it takes to create a successful downtown.

I read everything I could find—books, articles, magazines, the works of New Urbanist thought leaders –and began to look at cities differently when I travelled. The national Main Street program, Florida League of Cities, Urban Land Institute and American Planning Association were also sources I mined for information and insights.

Back in those days, we would travel to other cities for conferences and to glean ideas and learn from communities that had wrestled with similar challenges. More often than not, we’d take neighborhood leaders and city staff with us so we could learn together. We bonded during these trips which took us out of our everyday surroundings and exposed us to new ideas, approaches and ways to solve problems. We made friends across the country and talked up our city everywhere we went.

In short order, we were hosting groups in Delray to show them what we had done here—hits and misses, triumphs, defeats and lessons learned. It’s gratifying to share experiences with others on a similar path.

Over the years I have been visited by several people who aspire to be elected officials. They ask to meet for endorsements, campaign donations or to see if I would introduce them to people who might get them votes, more cash and endorsements.

I get it. It’s a necessary part of the process. But increasingly, I’m running into people who seem to be less interested in the subject matter and more interested in attaining the office. They seem sadly unaware of the opportunity to make a difference and more interested in personal power.

I pine for those aspirants who do more listening than talking; I observe whether they can stop long enough to seek information rather than just tell me how great and smart they are.

I look for people hungry to learn—who ask questions, who have done their homework about the community’s they seek to serve. How can you serve if you aren’t curious or willing to learn? How can you lead without first seeking to understand?

I run into a lot of people who think they are the smartest people in the room; regardless of which room they are in. I try to avoid them. They can’t learn, because if you are smarter than everyone else what can you learn?

I was uniquely prepared as a result of my newspaper job, but in hindsight, I knew very little. But I did know enough to ask questions and seek knowledge—that’s what reporters do. The better ones anyway.

How else do you learn? How else can you serve? How can you lead if you keep your own counsel?

The answer is you can’t.




  1. Spot on! Have a great holiday and get some rest.

  2. Excellent. We still have much to learn. Enjoy the holidays with your family. See you back next year!

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.