Heroes & Friends

Bill Branning and Frances Bourque have volunteered for decades.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” MLK.

Last Tuesday night, I sat in a room in the Cornell Museum at Old School Square surrounded by beautiful art and even more beautiful people.

It was the end of a long day, and I was exhausted.

I had been up since 4:30 a.m. worried about a friend who has Covid. I went to the gym and had a busy day at work. All I wanted to do was go home and curl up on the couch with the new puppy.

But I went to Old School Square to talk about the future of the organization with some of the best people I’ve ever met.

And I realized that this is where I should be.

I was home.

I was a few yards from the fieldhouse where I was married, a few feet away from the Crest Theatre where we held Town Hall meetings and where my family and I watched so many memorable shows.

In a few weeks— unless some common sense and a spirit of compromise shows up like a miracle—the beautiful art will come down off the walls. And the special people who created and largely funded Old School Square will be gone too. Some, I fear, will be gone forever. That would be a loss that would do more damage to Delray Beach than just about anything I can think of.

Yes, the city or some museum in Boca can swoop in with lots and lots of (taxpayer?) money and re-open the doors.

The City Manager and Parks Director can make a bunch of snappy and happy YouTube videos telling you that all is well and that things will be “better than ever” at Old School Square.

But they would be wrong.

They don’t know.

They are just good soldiers following orders. They are paid staff, who seem to come and go like the breeze these days, tasked with putting perfume on a decision that smells.

Thanks to a 3-2 vote of the City Commission, 32 years of hard work and passion for this community will be evicted in February.

I thought about that hard work and that passion when I looked around the room Tuesday evening.

There was Frances Bourque, the founder of Old School Square, a hero and inspiration to so many people.

If we lived in a kind place, there would be a statue to Frances on the grounds she saved 32 years ago. Not that Frances would want that, but her friends would, because we would want future generations to know about this wonderful woman who looked at a collection of dilapidated buildings behind a rusted chain link fence and saw so much more.

A few years back, I worked with Frances’ sister Judy and others to nominate Mrs. Bourque for a statewide award given by the University of Florida to honor Floridians for “exceptional achievement, impact, and leadership”.

Frances won.

We weren’t surprised, but she was, and the first thing she did was credit others.

“No MAN (or WOMAN) is an island,” she wrote in an email. “This recognition belongs to ALL of us!”

Typical Frances. The truly great ones are humble. Real leaders share credit.

Sitting next to Frances was the amazing Deborah Dowd.

Deborah is a retired teacher. She worked with students in Title 1 Schools, helping children who lived in poverty learn how to read. I visited her classroom a time or two. Watching her with kids could bring tears to your eyes.

Deborah is an amazing volunteer. She has done so much for wonderful non-profits such as the Achievement Center and served on many important city boards. Deborah won the “Woman of Grace” Award given by Bethesda Hospital a few years back. That award honors the best of us and Deborah is the best of us.

I looked across the room and saw Elise Johnson.

Elise and her husband Charles are generous donors and kind people. They own Putt N’ Around, one of the best places to take your family in Delray Beach. When my sister-in-law passed away recently, we took my nephew to Putt N’ Around to lift everyone’s mood. It was a memorable day—I’m sure so many other families have built memories around the landmark.

In years past, before Covid and this nonsense we are dealing with now, Charles and Elise coordinated the “Santas” who volunteered at Old School Square. We went to their home for Santa training and to receive freshly ordered Santa suits. I can’t think of better or more giving people.

A few feet away from Elise, sat Patty Jones, the chair of Old School Square. Patty and her family just suffered a devastating loss, but she hasn’t missed a beat. She loves OSS so much that she just keeps going. Her devotion moves me to my core. She is a wonderful person.

Next to Patty sat a young man named Malik Ramelize. Malik is an attorney and social justice advocate. I’m so impressed with this guy that I Googled him to learn more. I found an article from the University of Miami Law School that discussed his “wayward” path to the law, how he ran the streets in Delray, saw a whole lot of violence and became determined to make a difference. His middle name is Thurgood, as in Thurgood Marshall.

The article says that when his father gave him the middle name Thurgood, “he knew exactly what he was doing. There’s no doubt that he gave me that name with the hope of me one day becoming an attorney. And I thank him for it because I love the name. Thurgood Marshall was not only one of the greatest Supreme Court justices of our time, but he’s also one of the most influential people of our time. He broke barriers that people thought couldn’t be broken.”

Malik is determined to break barriers and make a difference. Remember his name, I have a hunch he will do great things.

I can go on and on—the caliber of human being in that room fighting for Old School Square is moving and remarkable.

Young leaders like Connor Lynch, seasoned volunteers like Scott Porten and Bill Branning and one of the nicest humans on the planet— Noreen Payne. And the list goes on.

The talented artist Patti McGuire.

Joe Gillie, the guy who won us those All America City Awards we like to brag about. Not to mention the good people on the staff who love the mission and will soon be out of work.

These are the people our city won’t sit down with and talk about a path forward. It’s shameful. There’s no other word. It’s important that you know about these people, because they are invaluable to our community.

Margaret Blume, who gave more money to charity than anyone that I can think of in the modern history of Delray, was dismissed when she appeared at a recent commission meeting to ask about her multimillion- dollar effort to improve the Crest Theatre, fieldhouse and Cornell Museum.

A majority of our commission can’t find it in their hearts to say a kind word about people like Frances and Margaret.

Some, however, have found the time to double down on misinformation about OSS.

One brand new commissioner  talks about the millions of taxpayer dollars that have flowed to OSS over the years but she doesn’t say that 75-80 percent of the budget is raised privately by OSS. How can a businesswoman talk only about costs not benefits, as if there has been no return on the public’s investment?


Look down the street at Atlantic Avenue—there’s your return.

Ask a resident if they have had a good time at OSS over the years—seeing a show, watching a free concert or taking a class. How do you measure the value of sitting on the grass and watching kids 5 to 95 dance under the stars to music in the Pavilion?

Old School Square has generated millions and millions of dollars in economic activity and investment over the past three decades. Somehow this is lost on the powers that be.

For some reason, there is a concerted effort to undo all the good work it took to build this community.

Let’s get rid of the festivals, let’s take over the CRA and politicize it, let’s ignore the neighbor’s vision for The Set—their own neighborhood. Let’s throw away OSS and the people behind it.


Because they are the “good old boys”?

Tell that to the women in the room. The only thing that’s correct in that sentence is the word good.

These are good people.

And that’s what this fight is about my friends.

This is not about performance, although OSS can always do better. OSS had turnover in senior positions and they missed an audit deadline. P.S. the city has had turnover too. Massive and costly turnover.

The Commission has made a ton of mistakes from mishandling the water issue to screwing up nearly every RFP that’s been issued.

What leaders do is acknowledge shortcomings and work with partners to make things better.

This is not about OSS’ lack of compliance; the organization missed a deadline because their auditor quit during a horrible and historic pandemic.

OSS has since produced clean audits and every document that has been requested. It’s all a red herring. This is about crushing good people.

This feels personal to those people, because it is personal.

These people have been bullied. They have been labeled and they have been maligned.

They have also been accused of being arrogant, not listening and failing to comply with the city’s rules.

It’s just not true.

And if the city felt that way, there was never an attempt to sit down and figure it out; to walk through the issues, perceived slights and alleged deficiencies in the spirit of trying to make things better.

I suppose it’s quicker to take out a two by four than it is to commit to a process meant to build mutual understanding and a better relationship. Quicker–but costly too. Costly in terms of legal fees, staff time (tax dollars) and human fall out.

I see the treatment of OSS as a metaphor for the state of our city these days.


For better or worse, OSS is one of our signature civic achievements.


Nobody from OSS has ever argued that it is perfect or all that it could be or needs to be.

But it’s still pretty damn good, and it still represents one hell of an effort by a generation of volunteers and donors. People were proud of that effort and happy to serve and write checks. They knew they were serving the community and that they had a partner in the city and the CRA.


Back before we became a dysfunctional municipal laughingstock with an endless parade of city managers, department heads and lawsuits, cities from all over the country came to Delray to learn how we did it. What was our secret sauce?

We always met those groups at OSS because we were proud of those buildings and the effort and love it took to bring them to life.

When we went on the road, our last presentation slide was always OSS. It was the show- stopper. And it never failed to elicit ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’. But it wasn’t the restoration of the buildings that got to people. It was the community effort and the passion that went into the effort of building community that hit home.

For better or worse, OSS has been a big piece of this community’s heart and soul. There are other important symbols—other important non-profits, but it would be hard to argue that OSS doesn’t matter.

And it’s not the buildings folks, as beautiful and historic as they are. It is the people who have been involved. The people who breathed life  into the campus, who gave us a place to gather, who built a special sense of community.

Destroying this organization is an attack on that heart and soul.

We should all care about this fight because it is about so much more than OSS.

It is about the future of this city. And how we treat each other.

Think that’s overly dramatic?  Oh, I hope so.

I hope I’m wrong.

But when some of the best people in this community  get hit by a two by four,  you can count on some of them to walk away and quit. Quit giving, quit serving, quit caring.

All I am saying is that would be  a shame. A preventable shame.

I think that’s the goal here.  To get these people to quit. (P.S. most won’t).

That’s just my hunch.

What would be the harm in talking to good people? What’s the downside?

We can talk about what’s gone wrong in this relationship, what needs to change, what needs to get better and what’s been good about this place. We can work together on behalf of the community as we are all tasked to do.

A few weeks back, 8 former mayors—every elected mayor who is still alive wrote a letter asking for that conversation and for the public to be involved in determining the future of Old School Square, the heart and soul of our community. To date, we have heard crickets. To date, the community has not been heard. Nearly 11,000 who signed a petition have been ignored.

Citizen driven planning led to the revitalization of Delray Beach. That was the secret sauce. Talking to each other about Delray and then going out and making it happen.

Why wouldn’t we go back to that formula now? Why wouldn’t we listen to the stakeholders instead of turning the fate of Old School Square over to a judge?

The people in the Cornell Museum last week are wondering the same things.

They are my heroes.

Many of us were off the board for years before we got back involved to stand up for the organization thousands of people have built and sustained over the years. Those need people need a voice. They deserve an audience with the powers that be that sit on the commission.

We would be losing an awful lot if these people walked away.

And if that isn’t the goal, we should all put down our swords, sit down like adults and figure this out.

OSS has always been willing to talk, despite the spin from the dais.

OSS has offered to talk, but they have been rejected. Repeatedly.

So it was litigate, or be put out to the trash after three decades. There was no choice.

OSS offered to settle, but a majority of the commission wouldn’t even discuss the offer among themselves.

OSS offered to mediate early, but the city’s attorneys said no.

Meanwhile, the misinformation keeps coming. And remember, the city ended the lease “without cause.”

Ironic and I’m being charitable.

I guess if you keep repeating lies, people start believing or at least questioning.

It’s even more ironic when the same commissioners complain when OSS pushes back.

Bullies will take your lunch money every day if you let them, but bullies typically don’t like it when you say enough is enough.

OSS is saying enough. They are also saying let’s work it out. Let’s not throw away everything that has been built.

I hope you will stick by these brave volunteers and the dedicated staff that remain,  because as important as OSS is, this is an even bigger fight.


  1. Well said! My favorite part was where you said – “Citizen driven planning led to the revitalization of Delray Beach. That was the secret sauce. Talking to each other about Delray and then going out and making it happen”

    That was at the heart of what made Delray unique. We, the citizens, had a mostly single minded agenda… the betterment of our city.

    That’s gone now… what’s replaced it is a strange attitude of 1) I’m elected therefore I know what’s best AND/OR 2) I’m elected and can now do whatever I want.

    Consensus building was what we did best! I miss that but believe its never to late to talk…

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Well, Bill you know because you were there and took part in those discussions and the execution too. Thank you.
      It is never too late to talk and the people affected the most also happen to be empathetic people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and make things better for everyone.

  2. Scott Porten says

    As always…so well put. I have been involved with Old School Square for nearly 20 years. I have volunteered literally thousands of hours as well as made significant financial contributions over those years, so I have really been struggling with why it had to end with a “2×4” to the back of our heads. To your point, this is not just about OSS anymore. Our civic culture has been destroyed. We filed the lawsuit for the benefit of past and potential future victims of this commission. It shouldn’t be lost on people that for the board of directors “winning” would be allowing us to role up our sleeves, work our butts off and write checks to repair a mortally wounded non-profit arts organization. After 32 years they owe us a conversation and it should concern everyone that we are having to sue the city to get one.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      So well said Scott.
      Winning here is signing up for more hard work because we suffered a wound nobody saw coming. And for those who claim OSS was warned….well…that’s not true either.
      We need to repair the fabric, what is being lost is invaluable.

  3. As always Jeff, you write beautifully and from the heart.
    I am proud to be a part of this group of people who roll up our sleeves, open our checkbooks and get to work.
    To me, the analogy is of a man (sorry guys!) who is having an affair outside his marriage of 30 years. He comes home and tells wife he wants a divorce. In Florida you can have a No-Fault divorce, so he files. But then proceeds to tell everyone what a crappy wife he had- terrible homemaker, spent too much, etc.
    When she asks for couples counseling or mediation to try to salvage the marriage he refuses. Because he thinks his fling is shinier, or because he doesn’t want to face his part in the breakdown. So he doesn’t even try.
    Well, in my view, this marriage is worth saving. I’m willing to try.

  4. Carl C. Carter says

    I would remind everyone that virtually all of the past mayors and Council persons agreed that the OSS should stay under the control of those who made it the shining example of civic pride.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      So true, Dr. Carter.

    • Frances Bourque says

      You make me so proud as a friend and community volunteer for years! We must prevail because it proves something this special must not be lost at the whim of elected officials who have forgotten why they were elected! To listen and serve! Thanks for your support!

  5. Margaret Blume says

    It is rare to see these types of reactions/responses.This only happens when people really care. It’s good to know are so many of us that do. Let our voices be heard. Thank you.

  6. Gregg Weiss says


    I’ve read pretty much every piece you’ve ever written, but this one just absolutely captures the spirit of this fight, the angst and frustration of those who see the bigger picture, and the overwhelming desire of the community to give “Both parties sitting around a table and hash it out” a chance.


  7. David Beale says

    You are all Delray heroes. All well said.
    I salute you one and all.

  8. Kathy Sergio says

    This OSS debacle makes me so angry. The fact that the Commissioners refuse to even discuss the issues after all the wonderful volunteers and former Mayors requested a meeting to discuss is so disheartening. How are they serving the residents? Unbelievable.

  9. Ken MacNamee says

    Jeff, did you or any OSS sycophant read the 9/8/21, 17 page Internal Audit Report (“Report”) from Julia Davidyan? For 7 OSS required lease functions, she cited 27 VIOLATIONS. In my business experience, I can’t recall ever reading a more damming audit.

    Maybe at some previous time the OSS Board and management were competent but according to the Report, their recent performance has been a deplorable “train wreck”. How can you support the OSS until the Report is either rebutted or the missing work product performed? For once, stop whining and jib-jabbing, roll up your sleeves, and produce some effective work product.

    Until the Delray Commission or senior staff receive and accept a thorough response to the Report, they would be fools to meet with scofflaw contractor/tenant like OSS.

    In a related matter, I read the OSS lawsuit against the City. Any OSS Board member associated with it is lacking basic business law acumen. It is “Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour”, slipshod work product. I hope you saw Judge Kastrenakes bitch slap your attorney (Cerenko) at the 1/18/22 initial trial hearing. I think he was subtly telling

    One thing we agree upon is the likelihood City staff won’t manage OSS any better than OSS did. But, until OSS rectifies the lease violations cited in the Report, OSS doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Its performance was “BAD” and the City Commission had the obligation to terminate OSS management. Stop badgering the City Commission and fix up the OSS operation.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      First thanks for reading.
      Second, if you want to see a sycophant I suggest you look in the mirror.
      You started out as a “good government, call em as I see em” guy. But somewhere along the way you became a homer for the mayor, who in your mind can do no wrong.
      As for work product, another thought occurred to me last week as I sat around the room with the best people in town and it is this. These people do more for Delray in a given day than the people you tout will do in 10 lifetimes.
      As for the audit, frankly I’m surprised that you bought into that hatchet job. What kind of auditor doesn’t talk to the organization it’s auditing? Davidyan should be ashamed of herself. Perhaps, the report would have had validity if she actually asked the organization to respond. It was a political hit job, can’t believe a man with your acumen can’t see that. But then again, you are a homer so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
      Did the judge “bitch slap” the OSS attorney?
      Perhaps to your jaundiced eye. But what others heard is a judge saying that something ought to be worked out given the organization’s history.
      We do agree on the city’s inability to do the job which is why they are flailing about trying to entice someone to come in and do the hard work that OSS did well for a whole lot of years.
      You talk about others work product, but all we see you do is sit around and send missives. Kind of like what I do these days, except I actually did some things in this town.
      With all due respect, you wouldn’t know good if it bitch slapped you in the face.
      Don’t bother responding, because you are a homer there’s not much we can learn from your nastiness.

  10. Jeff,
    You have again nailed it!

    The way the Commission handled the situation brought to their attention was cowardly and not how city Commissions should react.

    The next Mayor/Commission election hopefully will rid us of self-righteous, closed minded & arrogant Commissioners.


Speak Your Mind


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