Connections Make or Break Communities

This column is devoted to volunteers and the Delray Beach Police Department.
We are lucky to have both.
A generation ago, in a city that seems far, far away from the Delray of today, the Police Department made voluntarism a major objective.
It changed everything.
Back in the 80s, the perception of the PD might have been the biggest issue in town.
That changed with the advent of “community policing” a philosophy that sought to engage the community in crime fighting by asking officers to get out of their patrol cars and get to know the neighborhoods. In turn, residents and business owners also had a role. They were asked to work with the department. Public safety is best achieved in partnership. When there is trust, communication, honesty, collaboration and relationships progress is virtually guaranteed. When those elements are missing you are inviting trouble.

So this story is about two people who embody both sides of the coin.
One was a volunteer and the other is a sworn officer and a real good one at that.
Charles Goldberg died Jan. 14.  He was in his 90s, had moved out of Delray to be near his children but I kept in touch with him on Facebook.
I will tell you that keeping in touch with wonderful people across the years and miles is a lot better use of social media than whining about petty local politics.
But I digress.
I absolutely adored Charlie.
So did everyone.
He always had a smile. He always had a kind word. He was a lovely, kind and happy man.
And he was wired to volunteer.
There really is a  lot of truth to the notion of a “greatest generation.”
After 9/11–after it was discovered that many of the terrorists were living in Delray we were frightened. Next door in Boca, there was anthrax. It was a remarkably tense time.
Officer Skip Brown, our volunteer coordinator at the time, came up with a brilliant idea. Let’s protect the Homefront by creating a force that would patrol sensitive and valuable public assets like the water plant, City Hall, the library and other potential targets.
Many, if not most of the Homefront security patrol were World War II veterans. Skip designed sharp uniforms with berets and provided training.
Charlie was an instant volunteer and an instant star.
For years he patrolled–serving as eyes and ears with other wonderful volunteers.
When I was elected mayor he would visit me in my office on the second floor of City Hall and he always greeted me with a smile, a kind word and a promise: “I have your back young man. Don’t worry about a thing.”
And so he did.
There are smiles and then there are smiles. And friends, Charlie’s smile belonged in the Hall of Fame.
Thinking of him will always make me smile–and knowing that I won’t see that smile on Facebook anymore brought a tear to my eye as I wrote this.
I adored him.
More importantly, he adored us. And he served us. Very very well.

It was gratifying to see the volunteer tradition continue this week as I saw Scott Westall recognized for his tireless efforts. Scott is a terrific guy (and his wife is pretty terrific too). It makes you proud to live here.

Which brings me to my friend Gary Ferreri.
I had the privilege to attend the PD’s quarterly awards ceremony this week which featured an array of awards and promotions and even recognition of two newly sworn officers.
I wish these ceremonies were televised because they’re great. And taxpayers would benefit by seeing and hearing about their officers.
Among the awards given were lifesaving recognition to officers who helped save a woman who stabbed herself multiple times in the neck and chest and an officer who jumped into Lake Ida to save a face down motionless 81 year old man who fell in and almost drowned while fishing. All in a day’s work…
We saw a deserving John Crane-Baker promoted to captain and then watched as Detective Ferreri was promoted to sergeant in front of many many adoring friends, family and fans.
Gary is a good guy. I’ve been watching him for a while now and I’m impressed.
He’s a natural leader, smart, dedicated and devoted to the community, his department and his fellow officers.
I enjoy watching promising leaders grow and it’s gratifying to see someone you believe make a difference and be rewarded.
When I think of the best officers I have known over the years, they come in a variety of styles. There’s tough and gruff with a big heart, there’s smart and strategic and there’s in between.
But what they all have in common is authenticity. They aren’t fake. They are passionate about their work and the communities they serve.
Gary has passion in abundance.  For his job, for his community, for his fellow officers.
He has a feel for people which is why he connects to the community and why so many came to see him get his sergeants stripes.
Connection. That’s what it’s about.
Relationships, trust, respect, communication and consideration.
As Maya Angelou once said: long after they’ve forgotten what you’ve done, they’ll remember how you made them feel.
Gary knows how to connect. And that’s why he will enjoy an impactful career.
He’s real. And that’s everything.

A Call For Servant Leadership

Sums it up, right?

Sums it up, right?

“I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure, which is: Try to please everybody.” – Herbert Swope

Last week, the Delray Chamber of Commerce wrapped up a four week session on civic engagement and leadership.

The 8 hour program was designed to share information with those who aspire to serve on city boards, take leadership roles in local organizations and or run for political office.

I attended three of the sessions and had the privilege of speaking at the last class. I found the participants to be attentive and passionate about Delray. The discussions were terrific and I think those involved found it to be a valuable experience. (Special kudos to Chamber President Karen Granger and Chamber COO Todd L’Herrou for their leadership regarding the program).

I’m one of those people who fervently believe in the transformative power of leadership.

I just don’t think it’s possible to succeed in any endeavor without leadership and I strongly believe that just about every challenge we face can either be solved or made infinitely better through strong leadership. Conversely, bad or corrosive leadership makes progress darn near impossible.

Leadership is the foundation for success and yet we don’t spend a whole lot of time teaching what it looks like and just as importantly what it feels like because great leadership evokes a certain feeling in a community, business, school or non-profit.

While we don’t seem to focus on leadership development, we do spend a lot of time lamenting the lack of leadership or the poor leadership we are often forced to endure. While good leaders create value, corrosive leadership is costly both in a financial sense and in emotional terms.

I wanted to share snippets of the last class because we are heading toward elections both national and local (in March) and it’s important to choose wisely. If we are well led, the sky is the limit, if we are poorly served we end up compounding our problems and missing out on opportunities. Here are some thoughts that were shared last week:

“When we talk about leadership here in Delray and nationally we never talk about love…but we should… because love is essential to leadership. If you want to be a good leader, you better love your city and you better love people…if you don’t, you won’t make it…you won’t resonate..and we need more leaders who resonate..

Connection is essential to leadership, empathy and passion for your city is just not negotiable…the best leaders touch your heart, they inspire you, they instill pride in the mission and they make you feel supported, appreciated, nurtured and yes loved…Now, I get that some of you will think that is sappy….and that’s Ok….but I would argue that over time people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how they made you feel. Leaders inflate, they don’t deflate…

If you make those you serve feel supported and appreciated you will be able to accomplish anything in your city, your business or your organization. But if you disrespect people, if you bully them, lie to them, fail to connect and fail to appreciate and involve them….you will spin your wheels and you will not be remembered fondly….your time in office will come and it will go…and you will have wasted what I consider to be a unique privilege and honor…to take care of your community, to move it forward and leave it better than you found it.

So I had a simple matrix for success…because being a commissioner or a mayor or a CEO or a board chair…is as complicated as the day is long….but if you want to simplify a complex job…the formula to determine success is pretty simple…

First, it is a job to do, not a job to have.

 To be effective, you have to be willing to risk your position to do what you believe to be the right thing…the commission’s  I served on and the people I worked with and for…were ambitious people. We wanted to make a difference…we wanted to deliver on the people’s vision….and we wanted to tackle or attempt to tackle what we called the big rocks…race relations….civic engagement, a master plan for the downtown.. we wanted to invest in our poorest neighborhoods and we wanted to take the good work done by prior commission’s on education and other important subjects and go even further…I think we did.

We moved the big rocks….but we didn’t solve every problem and we didn’t declare victory on ANY issue….even when Atlantic Avenue became a nationally renowned street, even when we moved the high school, dealt effectively with hurricanes and kept the community intact and safe in the wake of a racially charged shooting…We didn’t declare victory because in community building— in the world of cities and in the world of business— you are never done. And if you are complacent, you will pay a high price. Complacency is a killer.

So…if you have a vision it becomes easier to make the tough calls…because you have something larger than your personal preferences or political ambitions to link too….your citizen driven vision is your true north.

But even if you have hundreds of stakeholders who show up to forge that vision –you have thousands of citizens who don’t show up— and as soon as change is proposed you will be guaranteed to hear from them…and it’s usually not because they are thrilled with the change…

At that point, you have a choice…do you risk it? Do you do your job or do you cave ….or just as bad…. do you play dodgeball and kick the can down the road?…

Remember, It’s a job to do, not to have….so I would argue that you go for it, you stay true to the vision because that is more important than your next election..

My other success gauge is also very simple… I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

I believe this secret is the key to being a successful local elected official.

Ready. Here it is: if you support, encourage and help those who work, invest and volunteer for your city you will succeed. You will get things done and you will be appreciated by the people who make your city work. If you make those who work, invest and volunteer unhappy and or cater to the complainers you will fail and in many cases the complainers will turn on you as well.

Pretty simple eh?

But you’d be surprised (or maybe you won’t) by how often this pretty basic formula is violated.

Fearful of losing their seat or willing to say or do whatever gets them applause from the loudest voices, we often see elected officials make bad decisions to gain favor with the loudest voices in the community while abandoning the most important voices which are often not the loudest, just the smartest.

Now that does not mean you don’t listen to everyone…especially the critics. They may have something to teach you and you need to listen.

But…chances are the best advice is going to come from those in the trenches….the ones who are hard at work in your city.

Most of those folks, may never come to a meeting, they are trusting you to do the right thing….that’s your job and they should be able to live their lives without having to sit through 6 hour meetings…many times the mayors and commissioners I have known would have called on these people to get their input well before a crucial vote…so while it’s always nice to see friendly faces…your vote should not depend on a nose count at the meeting, it should depend on your judgment on what is right for Delray Beach…not what’s right for you or the optics of the night, but what’s good for the long term health of the city.


My goal when I completed my term was to have the support and respect of those who were hard at work building and improving this community: the volunteers, the folks serving on city advisory boards, the ones who showed up at charrettes, who run businesses, invest here, give to local charities, work with our kids, lead their neighborhood associations and yes work for our city….that was my team and I saw my job as to help them succeed and to allow them to aspire…”


We gave some examples of people who are passionate about the community and how it’s important to nurture that passion.

“Because without love there’s no commitment: we commit to, we fight for and we protect and cherish what we love….your goal as leaders is to find people who love Delray, they are not hard to find if you open your eyes…because if you find them and you serve them…you cannot fail…because they will do wonders for the community.”

Tone matters too in leadership. Civility will never go out of style.

“You can be constructive or destructive…that’s your choice on every issue and with every encounter…This is what I think works….I’ve seen it work. Many mayors led with compassion and strength—all in their own unique way.

It is all about people…we often times forget that…we need to connect, we need to care for each other and we need to find a way to compromise and respect one another…if you do that you succeed as a leader and we all win…you’ll leave a better city….”

We ended the evening with a call to action: stay informed, get involved and find a way to serve and give back. True leadership is servant leadership.

“I’ll finish with 7 traits that I believe are necessary to be successful in leadership…you need all 7, because if you are missing any you won’t succeed.

They are: Integrity, vision, passion, emotional intelligence, a thirst for knowledge, courage (because you will be tested) and judgment. Think about that list, which one can you do without?”

I hope the chamber continues to provide these types of programs. They are important for our community and for our future.

Leadership matters.