The Name Is Bonds, G.O Bonds

We lost the amazing Beth Johnston last week. According to her Facebook page, Beth displayed this photo in her various offices over the years. From left, Chuck Halberg, former Banyan Creek Elementary School Principal Bill Fay Jr., Beth and me. Photo taken at a Principal for a Day event.

With 8 days to go before the March 14 municipal election, life in these parts becomes a fire hose of news, rumors, insults and allegations.

I thought I would touch on a few because there’s just not enough time to give the full treatment to the various subjects flying around Delray.

Let’s start with the general obligation bonds voters will be asked to approve or vote down. The total is a whopping $120 million, by the far the largest bond issue in the city’s history.

There are two questions on the ballot:

The first is whether to approve $100 million in new debt to “finance the cost of much-needed renovations and innovations to the existing police station (located at 300 W. Atlantic Avenue), Fire Station 111 (located at 501 W. Atlantic Avenue), and Ocean Rescue Headquarters (located at 340 South Ocean Boulevard), as well as fire stations 112, 114 and 115 located throughout the city”, according to the city’s website.

The number I’m hearing is $80 million of that money is for a new police station. So, I’m already a little confused since the city’s website says, “renovations to the existing station.”

The next question asks voters to borrow $20 million for parks improvements. The improvements leave a lot to the imagination. Which parks? What improvements? There are some specific improvements noted for Catherine Strong Park which would see restroom and lighting improvements, walking trails, covered basketball courts and improvements to the Splash Pad.

Will your taxes go up if these items are approved? Yes, according to the city’s website.

The estimated cost to a resident (with a $250,000 taxable assessed value) will be about $107 for the first year of the Public Safety GO Bond referendum. After the City retires its 2005 and 2013 bond debts, on February 1, 2024, the cost is estimated to go down to $90 annually per $250,000 of assessed value.

Of course, many of you have homes with a much higher assessed value, so I urge you to do the math to see what your bill may be. Tack on another $22 a year for the parks bond (if it passes) per $250,000 of assessed value.

The city is assuming a 4.25 percent interest rate. With interest rates and inflation volatile, I would imagine all bets are off.

From a philosophical standpoint, I believe it’s important to invest in your city.

I wrote about the importance of investment and the use of bond financing in my best-selling book “Adventures in Local Politics” which has now sold 14 copies on its slow (very slow) climb up the New York Times bestseller list.

But all kidding aside, I’m not supporting the $120 million in General Obligation Bonds that will be on the March 14 ballot in Delray Beach. A few former mayors that I’ve talked too are not supporting it either, so I’m not alone.

I can’t speak for them, but I’ll tell you why I feel the way I do.

Briefly, I don’t have faith that we can do all these huge projects successfully and I don’t have enough specifics on the projects themselves to vote yes. It’s an awful lot of money and we’ve been awfully dysfunctional.

Personally, I’d like to see better leadership steering the ship before handing over this kind of money. I’d like to see more stability and more public involvement and education too. There has been virtually no input or education on these bonds. Very few specifics either. The commission I served on, backed by a stable and very capable staff, had trouble with a $25 million parks bond because costs ballooned. And we were a collegial group with veterans at every position in city government. This is hard stuff to get right.

Still, the needs we have are very real. But they didn’t crop up overnight. I’ve always wondered why we didn’t go to the bond market when money was virtually free. I suspect it is because we’ve had rampant turnover and a whole lot of political infighting in recent years. It’s hard to focus when you have a revolving door of City Managers. We’ve lost an historic opportunity to tackle our needs with interest rates we may never see again.

Now interest rates are rising, and inflation is still very real and everything I’m reading indicates that the Fed is going to keep raising rates until inflation is tamed. Here’s a sobering data point: During its 110-year existence, The Federal Reserve has never been able to arrest inflation without raising its Fed Funds rate to a level that is higher than the inflation rate. We’re not there yet.

After spending years majoring in the minor, the City Commission has suddenly decided to take on a slew of major projects: the bonds, the water plant (that absolutely can’t wait), fixing the mess they created at Old School Square (which will cost us millions of dollars to finish renovations that a private donor had pledged to pay for) and last but not least, the long neglected golf course which was allowed to go to seed.

The commission is considering (no final decisions have been made) selling a portion of public land to a developer to finance needed the repairs at the golf course.

I’m all for moving the big rocks, but you need the right team in place. I’m hoping this election will begin to move us in the right direction, but fixing what’s broken here will take more than one cycle.

I hope we can get that stability and systematically go after the infrastructure fixes we need to make, which also include preparing for sea level rise, a very large cost that Delray and other coastal cities face.

As for the golf course, any objective observer of this “process” can see what ails us in real time.

Lack of input from citizens, meetings held at inconvenient times, meetings cancelled wasting the time and money of applicants, public anger at the lack of information and the list goes on.

I like public private partnerships, but struggle with selling public recreational space to private interests.

Regardless, politics is more than policy. It’s timing too.

This doesn’t feel like the right time in terms of leadership, the economy etc.

We need stability, an end to the divisiveness on the dais and for our elected leaders to begin reaching out and involving our residents at the beginning of the process not a mad scramble days before an election.

P.S. Isn’t it ironic that there is a mad scramble to address the public blowback on the golf course. Old School Square wasn’t given that courtesy despite over 11,000 petition signatures. Shameful. We can do better.

Vote accordingly.


Remembering two we lost…

Delray lost a wonderful man recently with the passing of Jim Sclafani.

Jim was a long-time resident living in Tropic Isles with his lovely wife Arlene. He was fun, charming and kind.

Jim gave back too.

He volunteered for the police department, serving on the marine patrol and his company, Multi Image Group, produced a lot of videos for the city to help promote Delray. He was a dedicated Rotarian, a gifted entrepreneur and the life of every party he attended.

We attended many over the years and always enjoyed laughs with Jim and Arlene. Such a special guy, such an amazing couple. They did so much for so many for so long…

Jim lived a wonderful life. May his memory be a blessing.

We also lost Beth Johnston last week which is devastating news for those of us who were lucky to cross paths with Beth over the years.

Beth was a neighbor, friend, community servant and leader.

She was kind and she was special.

She touched so many organizations and people over the years it’s hard to know where to begin.

My most enduring memories of her are from her days at the Delray Chamber where she was part of a team that created warmth and memories every day.

In a cynical world, that’s invaluable.

Beth also left her mark at FAU where she was kind enough to connect me to Tech Runway, which was just getting under way.

At the Boca chamber, she involved me in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy where I was able to see the next generation of business leaders learn and grow.

At the YMCA, Spirit of Giving, Lake Worth-Lantana Chamber and elsewhere she left her mark as a connector, friend and contributor.

People like Beth make communities go. She was a doer with boundless energy and optimism, and it was contagious.

As a neighbor, I got to know her as a devoted wife to her wonderful husband Tom and a great mom to Claire and Abbey.

She was so proud of her family. And they of her.

Beth was taken way too soon, but what a legacy she leaves.

And when I think of community, the idea, the concept, the feeling my heart goes to people like Beth and Jim Sclafani.

Their kindness, willingness to serve and their eagerness to give back is what makes a village.

I grew up being told that nobody was irreplaceable. That’s wrong.

Special people leave a hole. We move on, we remember, but they leave a hole. And as we get older, we are full of holes, as we lose the people who enrich us. All the more reason to be thankful for today.


Water Cooler Wednesday: The Speech That Was Never Given

Meet the future and it's bright

Meet the future and it’s bright

A few weeks ago, my good friend Beth Johnston, asked if I would speak with the students in this year’s YEA class.

YEA stands for Young Entrepreneurs Academy, a national program sponsored locally by the Boca Chamber of Commerce.

Entrepreneurship is a passion of mine and I am always thrilled and honored to speak to students. I find that I get more from them than I can ever give, so selfishly I agreed in the hopes that I could soak up their energy and enthusiasm. I always like to prepare for speeches, but I rarely follow the script. The best talks are interactive dialogues where you go in directions you never anticipated. Still, I always like to work with a net, so I prepare remarks.

Well, as soon as I went to FAU to meet the budding entrepreneurs, we launched immediately into their ideas, which to be completely honest blew me away. If I were Mark Cuban and this was Shark Tank, I would have happily invested in several of the ideas. The students had worked for 30 weeks on their plans and they were solid, well thought out, innovative and very exciting. And I see lots of pitches.

I am in touch with a few of the young business leaders I met that day. But I never did get to deliver my speech. I thought I’d share it here, but the main take away is we have so much talent in Boca-Delray that we need to mentor, nurture, fund and develop. It would be the best economic development strategy we could ever imagine. Spend an afternoon with young entrepreneurs and you will be sure of our future.

First I want to congratulate you for being entrepreneurs at such a young age…

You have made a very smart and very brave choice…and you are to be congratulated for “getting it” so early in life. Your decision to be an entrepreneur and to participate in the YEA program will pay dividends for you today and throughout your life.

Today, I want to share with you some of my experiences and where I see entrepreneurship going and why I think it is so important for you to continue on this path…

I was 32 before I launched my first entrepreneurial venture—a whole lot older  than you are today and I knew a lot less than you.…I started a publishing company in my living room that I later sold to a media company six years after I launched it… without money, a business plan, or an exit strategy.

I made a lot of mistakes….struggled some months to pay the bills…but was never happier in my life and it was then that I realized in my 30s with two kids that I wanted…indeed I needed to be an entrepreneur. But I wish that I had the training that you had…I was a reporter for 12 years before I started my business….and so I thought I know a lot about publications…well I knew how to write and design them…but I knew nothing about sales, circulation, production, advertising or business.

I literally jumped off of a cliff and tried to build an airplane on my way down…

Since that time, I have learned what you have been taught..that it’s helpful to have a business plan and at least some seed capital to get started…that it’s important to know where you want to take your venture before you start…is it something you want to grow and sell or do you want to own and operate the company for a long time? You can always change your mind, but you should have an idea before you start.

I also learned that it is critical to surround yourself with good people…people who work hard, are willing to take risks, people who understand what it takes to succeed, are not afraid to fail because making mistakes and failing is all part of the process of success.

If I can teach kids one thing or if I could change one thing about society it would be that we should overcome our fear of failing…we should celebrate those who are willing to take a risk and value those who make mistakes because that is how you learn…that is how you grow…

 In business, it’s important to be with people who are honest…people who will respect your customer’s and your company…people who will be there for you when the going gets rough and it always gets rough…

So how do you do all of this…how do you find key partners, how do you find customers, how do you build a great company…

I think it all starts with culture…you have to treat people well, by respecting them, listening to them and making them feel a part of your mission….when your mission or cause becomes theirs….whether they work for you or they buy from you…you can’t help but succeed.

I am a big believer that learning entrepreneurial skills will serve you regardless of what you do in life.

So if you take this opportunity and go back home and create a business in your garage or your living room like I did, or if you take another path…what you learn here is invaluable.

When I sold my publishing company to BRN Media Group  I stayed around for two years to run the business and the Boca News before I helped to sell that newspaper to an investment group.

At that time, I decided to go into local politics and ran for the City Commission in Delray…

My background in business enabled me to approach politics in an entrepreneurial fashion. In fact, I said that we at the city should become civic entrepreneurs…because I believe that government can and should be entrepreneurial.

How can government be entrepreneurial….well it can fight bureaucracy, it can take some risks, it can try to be more business-like in its operations and it can try to deliver services in a more innovative way…

I can argue that government can’t afford not to be entrepreneurial because entrepreneurs are always trying to solve problems more efficiently, less expensively and in a better way.

So we tried some things…we teamed up with local businesses and residents to imagine a better downtown and came up with policies…rules that would encourage businesses to open their stores and restaurants downtown. We learned that parking rules often discouraged businesses from opening so we made them more flexible and the businesses came. We worked with the restaurants to allow tables on the street and it encouraged more restaurants to locate downtown. We took risks on events and festivals to market our city and added career programs to our high school using city employees as teachers to give our kids more options and opportunity.

We also changed our mindset…where sometimes cities are afraid to say yes and develop an attitude of how may I stop you…we decided to partner with businesses and say how may I help you…this sounds simple and it is…but it’s also powerful because it sends a message to people like you…entrepreneurs that Delray is a friendly place to do business and that we want to see you succeed and will help in any way we can.

So entrepreneurial skills are really helpful in any part of your life…the skills work in public service, they work if you go into education or the non-profit field and they work even if you’re an employee because an entrepreneurial employee will find new ways to profit, new ways to problem solve and new ways to delight customers.

So I am confident you will look back on this experience as being a reason why you succeed in the future.

And speaking of the future, it is my dream that some of you will build great entrepreneurial ventures right here in Boca or Delray…I hope you will take what you are learning and apply it to solving problems all over the world, but also here at home and that you will base your businesses here and give back by serving the community, donating to worthy causes and creating jobs for others.