In Praise of Volunteers

Have you driven by Delray’s municipal beach lately?
It’s going to be a bit of a mess for awhile but when the dust clears the A1A “promenade” should look great.
Which is a good excuse to say thanks to the Beach Property Owners Association better known as the BPOA.
If my recollection is correct, the BPOA worked on the Beach Master Plan for the better part of 8 years. That’s a long time. Lots and lots of volunteer hours.
Architect Bob Currie donated his time and talents to the effort and so did the board led by President Bob Victorin–one of the truly great people who live in Delray.
It’s the volunteers who make our city so immensely special.
Their love of Delray is palpable and can be seen in every corner of our community.
Dedicated citizens bring energy and resources that can’t  be measured to the effort of building a great community.
It really does take a village.
Recently, I had the occasion to have dinner with three all time Delray greats at 50 Ocean.
While two of the three–former Police Chief Rick Overman and retired Officer Skip Brown–were city employees, their success was driven in part by their ability to attract and effectively deploy a slew of volunteers. The third gentleman was the one and only Perry Don Francisco, former owner of Bostons on the Beach, who became legendary for his community service over the years. In fact, Perry is still working for the community through Delray Citizens for Delray Police. In addition to a sensational banquet honoring longtime police employees (held last weekend) he’s still deeply involved in the holiday toy drive and when the chips are down –as they have been recently –you can always count on Perry to be there.
It’s here that I will note that while his wife grew up in Delray, Perry has always lived just down the street in another city. So for those city commissioners who cavalierly suggest that only residents should be able to serve/volunteer on city boards I respectfully disagree. Take a measure of where someone’s heart resides. If it lives here, it doesn’t matter where the head hits the pillow.
But I digress.

Let’s just say that Perry’s been invaluable to countless lives in our community. Mine included.
Chief Overman and Skip have also been invaluable.
Rick was a force of nature who came to Delray and created a department that became a farm system for future chiefs and legendary officers who made it possible for Delray to succeed.
Without a great PD there would be no Delray as we know it. It’s just that simple.
To quote someone in this story who shall remain nameless: Delray was circling the bowl before it made the turn.
My contention is it doesn’t make that turn without a great Police Department and some terrific city staff and yes volunteers and business leadership.
So as we enjoyed the ocean view from a restaurant once owned by Perry and swapped old stories I sat there in awe of three local legends.
And realized that all three employed volunteers to help them succeed. Rick and Skip and a few others launched and managed a remarkable volunteer effort at the department. An effort that earned national and international accolades.
But it wasn’t just PR. No, the accomplishments were real and lasting.
MAD DADS led by Chuck Ridley and Ben Bryant helped a great set of cops decimate the drug trade in Delray.
Skip’s volunteers–1,300 at its height–were something to behold. They still are.
And Perry set a standard for involvement for all other business leaders that may never be matched. Right up there with him are people like Frank Wheat, Bill Branning and Cathy Balestriere—contributors who give and give. P.S. those three don’t live here either. But we don’t have the Delray we know without them.
What a legacy.
Which brings me to The BPOA.
The association has a long history of engagement and advocacy.
While they are chartered to look after the barrier island, in my experience they have always pushed for the the betterment of the entirety of Delray Beach.
I’m glad to see dirt finally being moved on the Beach Master Plan. It’s been a long slog. It didn’t have to be, but that’s the subject of another column or my next book. Maybe both. Let’s just say the improvements don’t happen without them.
The volunteers work hard. They care.
And that makes all the difference.

Slow Down You Move Too Fast; Got to Make the Morning Last


I leave for work pretty early in the morning, usually just after 7 a.m.

My morning commute is probably less than 10 miles, but many times it’s a white knuckle experience of drivers drifting into lanes, bicyclists using everything but the bike lane, pedestrians looking at their phones as they cross the street despite the “do not walk signal” and cars running red lights. Fortunately, I don’t have to take I-95, but even local streets in Boca and Delray can resemble the cult movie “Death Race 2000.” It can be nuts out there: add School Zones, construction and speeding motorcycles and you end up needing therapy before you begin your day. It’s not traffic that bedevils drivers early in the morning; it’s speedy, erratic drivers who seem to be concentrating on everything but the road. As we first generation Floridians might say: “oy vey”!

Well, it turns out that there are disturbing statistics to back up our daily driving challenges.

More than 39,000 people were injured in Florida last year after being involved in distracted-driving crashes.

Distracted driving is claiming almost one life a day in the Sunshine State, according to numbers from the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Department.

There were more than 45,000 crashes caused by distracted drivers last year in Florida. At least 214 people died. Of the dead, 198 were drivers.

In Palm Beach County, there were 2,194 distracted driving crashes in 2015, resulting in 1,656 injuries and 7 deaths.

Since Florida’s ban on texting while driving went into effect a year and a half ago, police have issued just 3,400 citations, in part because texting is a secondary offense, which means that motorists must have be stopped for some other violation.

Police tell state legislators that the statistics don’t capture the entirety of the condition, because many crashes occur as a result of distracted driving that can’t be easily proven.

One in seven drivers admitted to Virginia Tech researchers that they text while driving. Forty-six percent of 16- and 17-year-olds said they text behind the wheel, while nearly half — 48 percent — of 18- to 24-year-olds admit to violating anti-texting laws.

Five texting bills, including primary enforcement, were introduced in the 2016 legislative session. None of them got a hearing.

So it doesn’t seem like legislative help is on the way any time soon. As many cities weigh the move to “complete streets” which calls for narrower lanes (hopefully to lower speeds and improve safety) and accommodations for cyclists and pedestrians, there’s going to be a need for significant behavioral changes.

We have a long way to go. Even when I take A1A, once considered a road where it was OK to drive a little slower and admire the scenery, I see speeding cars, impatient drivers and lots of texting while driving.

All of which begs the question: what’s the rush?