Culture Is Everything

Management guru Peter Drucker knows his stuff.

I listened to a great podcast about “culture” recently.

I’m not talking about cinema, art, or the theater. I am talking about the culture we find in companies, organizations, and communities.

Author Daniel Coyle is someone I’ve long admired. His books are great. The latest is “The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups.” It may be his best.

Coyle went inside Seal Team Six, Pixar and the San Antonio Spurs to discover how and why they are so successful. The secret sauce is that these organizations build a great culture by developing three essential ingredients: safety, vulnerability, and story.

A great culture starts with safety.  We must send clear and continuous signals: we share a future, and you have a voice. It’s safe to speak up. We want to hear from you, and we are listening.

Another key is vulnerability. Strong cultures don’t hide their mistakes. They share their weaknesses and work on getting better.

The third important element is story. You need a story– not a mission statement– a story that becomes your North Star. A good story is what gets you out of bed and raring to go. A good story inspires and motivates.

Those three simple concepts resonate.

If you’re lucky, you’ve experienced the magic of a great culture somewhere along the way.

Before reading Coyle’s book, I attributed great culture to luck, chemistry, or serendipity. Sometimes you click with a group of people and sometimes you don’t.  But Coyle says we can be intentional about building a great culture. It’s not luck, it’s something we can create. That’s empowering.

There are a few questions we can ask ourselves about our organization or communities to see if we are helping or hurting the creation of a strong culture.

Here are a few examples:

Sharing a new idea feels terrifying, intimidating, or exciting?

When we disagree, do we brawl, dismiss, or engage?

When our leaders screw up, they: evade it, admit it, own it?

You get the drift.

Seen through the frames of The Culture Code I began to understand the “why” behind the examples in my own life when I experienced magic at work or in the community.

For sure I/we felt safe, we were able to feel vulnerable and own our mistakes. Most of all, we felt connected to a story. One we were writing.

There’s an old saying: “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

I have no doubt that’s true.

Art Endures…

Robbie Robertson’s music and influence will live on.

My heroes are dying.One by one. Drip by drip, they drop from this world into the next.Tina Turner, Randy Meisner and Robbie Robertson are just the latest.Before that, we said goodbye to Tom Petty, Glenn Frey, Prince, David Crosby, Burt Bacharach and David Bowie—and the list goes on.

If those names are familiar, you probably grew up in the 60s,70s or 80s. You probably loved music and the songs of these icons became a part of your DNA, a big part of your soul.Randy Meisner was the Nebraska native whose sweet voice turned “Take it to the Limit” into a song that inspired millions.Robbie Robertson was the genius who led The Band and virtually created “Americana” music.

I remember going to see “The Last Waltz” at the Smithhaven Mall  with my friends Scott and Howie. We were 14. We loved music, but our tastes were not quite sophisticated, not quite fully formed. We adored The Beatles and that’s why we probably went to see “The Last Waltz”, because Ringo was in the film —for a few minutes anyway.I came away loving The Band.

I remember being swept up by Robbie’s cool and Levon Helm’s soulful singing. But it would be years until I fully appreciated the genius of The Band, the greatness of their work and the power of that amazing film, in my mind the best “rock movie” ever made. The best concert movie ever.And at the center of it all was Robbie Robertson, the epitome of hip, the wise soul, road weary and weathered but full of wisdom and great songs.Now he’s gone, but the music lives on. And will live on, I’m sure of it.Why?Because here we are in 2023, and we are still listening to music from the 70s. If we did the same thing in the 70s, we would have been listening to music from the 20s. I don’t think we did too much of that in those days.

I remember, a number of years ago, going to Old School Square’s Crest Theater to see local musicians reenact The Last Waltz. People were dancing in the aisles. I can’t imagine a better time.

A few years after that, we went to The Arts Garage to see Rusty Young of Poco perform. He sang like an angel. And shortly after he passed too. That beautiful voice and dobro silenced.We’ve been making it a point to see the legends when they pass through South Florida. Many of the shows were farewell tours and all of them were awesome: Paul Simon, Elton John, David Byrne, Colin Hay, Roger McGuinn (at the Crest) Steve Forbert (Arts Garage) Queen (without Freddie Mercury), The Eagles right before we lost Glenn Frey and of course, Bruce Springsteenand the E Street Band.I’m sorry I missed Jackson Browne who just played Fort Lauderdale. What a songwriter he is, what a voice too.My goodness, these people are special.

And so I wonder why this music penetrates my mind and never leaves my heart. Why do these songs mean so much?They’ve gotten me through sadness and propelled me when I felt joy.

I think we’re all searching; for answers, for a way to express ourselves. I find my answers in music and I express myself by writing.Last week, I was sitting around the house thinking about a friend I just lost. My mind wandered to music.  And I began to wonder what it is about a great song that moves us.

Then magically— as if on cue–an old friend called. We talked about a whole bunch of things. And she said something profound. She said something that I can’t let go of.

Our heroes give us ladders, she said.  It could be a song, a painting or an essay that touches something deep down. They hit on a truth and give us a ladder to climb so we can get to another level of understanding. And we climb, carefully, so as not to fall. We climb to see what’s at the top.If we’re kind and generous, when we get to the top, we gaze a few rungs down and extend a hand.That’s what my heroes do for me. And that’s what I aspire to do for others, even though I often doubt I can do what they do. I try anyway. I will keep trying.

We forget all but the greatest statesmen and all but the most amazing sports heroes.We come.

We go.

But the music lives on. Always and forever.  The heroes live on.They leave behind ladders if we care to look and if we care to climb them.

Storm Clouds

Here’s a question that stopped me in my tracks while mindlessly strolling through Twitter in the wee hours last week.

“How much worse can things get in a country where the population is armed to the teeth and conditioned to live in a constant paranoid state of fear?”

Below the question were these two photos…



A 16-year-old is shot through a screen on a front door, then the 84-year-old assailant opens the door and shoots him again. The young man, Ralph Yarl, gets up and goes to THREE houses to get help because no one would help him. When he went to the fourth house, the owner ordered him to lay face down on the ground with his hands behind his back before calling 911. Doctors treating the teenager say they have no idea how he survived. He was shot in the head and arm when he went to pick up his siblings and knocked on the wrong door.

Meanwhile, across the country in Hebron N.Y., a 65-year-old man is charged with second degree murder after he allegedly shot and killed a 20-year-old woman April 15 after the car she was in mistakenly drove up the man’s driveway.

She was looking for a friend’s house on a dark street. Her friend pulled into the wrong driveway. It cost Kaylin Gillis her life.

Can you imagine? 20 years old….

Something’s very wrong in our society.

According to the BBC, there have been at least 160 mass shootings across the U.S. so far this year.

It’s only April.

In each of the last three years, there have been more than 600 mass shootings, almost two a day on average according to the Gun Violence Archive.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Statistics Canada and the Australian Institute of Criminology, in the United States 79 percent of homicides are gun-related, in Canada that figure is 37 percent, it’s 4 percent in the UK and 13 percent in Australia, according to 2020 numbers.

But this blog isn’t going to be a screed for or against guns. That’s been done before and very little has changed. Personally, I believe in the right to bear arms, but I also believe in reasonable gun control measures— like a strong majority of Americans according to polls I’ve seen.

But no amount of carnage seems to change things. If you think guns are the problem; you are frustrated because legislators never seem to do anything meaningful. And if you think people are the problem, you’re likely to be frustrated as well, because we don’t see any action on addressing the underlying issues that cause people to be violent.

It seems like nobody ever changes their mind.

And that should give us all pause.

A society, like a person, that can’t change its mind, can’t learn or grow.

Regardless of where you stand, I think we all have a sense that something very fundamental is amiss. But we don’t seem to do anything but offer thoughts and prayers until the memory of the most recent tragedy is replaced by a new atrocity.

The political class isn’t listening to large swaths of the public and consequently we don’t seem to be solving our problems or seizing opportunities. Our parties can’t work together and that’s a big problem for America.

Service, solutions and sense, the common kind, seem to have left the building.

The headlines that shout violence and death come so fast and frequent that we grow numb. And numb is not a good state of mind. Numbness enables a lot of bad things to go unchecked.

Can it happen here?

I think we all know that answer.

I know friends who now scan the horizon when they shop, dine, or attend an event. Their inner voice asks: “is today going to be my unlucky day?”

As I write this, I just got a Google Alert for Delray Beach.

“Delray Beach Police Searching for Suspect Who Shot Teen” shouts the alert.

Police said a teenage boy was found shot in a parking lot of the Village at Delray apartments in the 600 block of Auburn Avenue. The victim was taken to the hospital by Delray Beach Fire-Rescue. The shooter was still at large.

When I decided to check to see if there was an update, I turned to the Delray Beach Police Department’s Facebook page and I learn that a 77-year-old woman was shot by an unknown assailant while sitting on her balcony in Village Square, less than half a mile from the other shooting. Fire Rescue took her to the trauma unit at Delray Medical Center where she was listed in critical condition. The teen was paralyzed from the chest down.

Here is where I usually try to end with something hopeful and uplifting, but today I just can’t find those words.

I’m not numb, but I am raw.

Anyone who witnessed the shooting of the teen or has information about the shooter should contact Detective Kyle Kinney at (561) 243-7828. You can remain anonymous.

Anyone with information on the shooting of the 77-year-old grandmother is asked to call Sgt. Casey Kelly at 561-243-7890.


Further Adventures….

Shameless plug…available on Amazon. If you are interested in Delray you may like it.

A few years back, I wrote a book.

“Adventures in Local Politics” was an attempt to chronicle my experiences as an elected official from 2000-2007.

It was also an attempt to write the book I was looking for and could never find—a primer on local government. I wanted to share some insights about the things that I saw that worked and I wanted to share what didn’t, because I’m a firm believer that mistakes are a great teacher.

During Covid, my old publisher went belly up and I learned that my book would no longer be available on Amazon or other outlets.

Since I still get a few stray requests for books, I decided to find another publisher and refresh my work. I spent about six months adding a new introduction and working with a new editor to tighten up the manuscript.  I decided not to update the story because I felt I should preserve my original experience. In other words, I didn’t include current events. I figure that’s what this blog is for.

Still, the experience of revisiting the Delray I once knew was powerful and potentially instructive to a growing movement of people seeking to make our hometown better. There’s lessons in the book that I firmly believe resonate today.

Still, revisiting the Delray of the 80s, 90s and early 2000s was impactful.

So much has changed.

It’s as if the town that I knew— and fell in love with—has vanished.

Now I am not talking about the physical changes, which are many and certainly important. I’m talking about the atmosphere, the feeling in town, the sense of community and the general mood.

Truth be told, Delray is not alone. The world has changed and so has America.

Some of those changes have been good and some have been…well …not so good. I’m trying to be diplomatic.

I think the fundamental change is that there is a coarseness to our society.

There’s less kindness.

Less teamwork.

Less collaboration.

Less trust.

Sadly, there’s a lot more nastiness, individualism, and suspicion of each other.

As happy as I am— and I am blessed– and as happy and fortunate as many of my friends are, I can honestly say that an overwhelming majority feel that there is something fundamentally wrong these days. Things just don’t feel right.

Diving back into the galleys of my old book I was transported back to a different time and a very different place. I miss that place. I loved that place. I long for that place and so do many of my friends.

We were a community and a country brimming with possibilities and aspirations. Each year things seemed to get better. You could feel the optimism in the air. It was electric and our confidence in the future grew alongside our vision which was exciting and seemingly within reach.

The trust in each other grew as well. When we saw our collective dreams become reality, we believed that anything was possible.

Yes, I know it’s easy to glorify the past, easy to brush past the sins and the mistakes. And mind you, there were plenty of both.

There were lots of heartbreaks and disappointments, but we seemed to absorb them better as a society back then. Some of the setbacks actually made us closer.

I’ll give you an example.

I served in the wake of 9/11. Do you remember what a shock to the system that was? The horror? The sadness? The fear?

We discovered that many of the terrorists were living among us. They were at our library; the mastermind of the plot filled a prescription at Huber’s Drugs. Those monsters lived in The Hamlet, at Laver’s Racquet Club and worked out at a gym on Atlantic and Military Trail.

It was all so surreal, but we came together.

We gathered at Old School Square for a vigil, gathered again at the Community Center for a prayer service and beamed with pride when our police department created a volunteer Homefront Security force staffed by senior citizens wearing berets and sharp uniforms.

Those beautiful souls– many were World War II veterans and members of our Greatest Generation– patrolled our public buildings. They watched over us and were proud to give back once more to a country and a city that they loved.

And we loved them back.

I remember talking to Charlie Goldberg and Bob Banquer, two of the most dedicated volunteers you can imagine. They were concerned, but they weren’t worried. We beat the Nazis, they told us. We surely won’t allow the terrorists to destroy our way of life.

And we didn’t. We didn’t allow the terrorists to win.

But I do wonder, if our divisions will do what the Nazis, the Soviets and the terrorists couldn’t do. And I’m not alone in my worry.

Right here at home, there is so much paranoia and mistrust. So much division.

Who’s behind this group? Who’s behind that candidate?

MAGA people will save our nation. MAGA people will destroy America.

We speculate on social media. We make things up. We try and hurt each other. And often, we succeed. To what end?

There wasn’t so much of that back in the day. There was some of it, but for the most part we got most of what we aimed to do over the finish line. The theme of the commission I served on was “community unity.” It was a phrase coined by Commissioner Alberta McCarthy that we happily embraced and truly believed in.

Did we achieve that lofty ideal?
Do you ever?
Maybe the best aspirations are always just out of reach. Maybe they are designed to be big enough to never quite be achievable but exciting enough so that you never stop trying.

Of course, there was no social media back in those days but that’s not really the problem. It’s a tool. You can use a hammer to build something or you can hit someone over the head. It’s how we use the tool that matters.

I like Facebook. I get to wish my friends a happy birthday, share pictures of Gracie our new golden retriever and I have an opportunity to see what old and new friends are doing. Heck, the platform even helped my little bird Bailey get rescued last week. (It’s a long story and a good one, it will be in the next book or an upcoming blog).

Nope, there’s something else in the water.

As I read through my book, I remembered anonymous emails, mailings and rumors designed to divide us, frighten us, and misrepresent some of the work being done in town.

It was there. It could be vicious, but it was an aberration not a way of life.

And when our local government pushed back with the facts, those facts were embraced and believed. Local government was trusted by residents who knew the men and women who worked at City Hall.  There was a base level of faith in institutions.

They knew their local government wasn’t perfect. They knew that mistakes would be made but they also assumed –correctly— that the people working at City Hall were trying their best. You may have been angry that Mayor Schmidt (one heck of a mayor by the way) favored moving Atlantic High School, but most people didn’t think he meant to do the city harm.

In fact, I think one of the reasons the more vehement opponents of that move failed to defeat those who favored the new school was because they assumed a corrupt rationale for the policy. There was none.

Like the idea or not, most citizens understood that the policymakers serving the city loved Delray Beach. We just had a different vision for the future.

I’m not sure if that’s true today. I’m not sure elected officials or government employees get the benefit of the doubt anymore. Check that, I’m sure that they don’t.

That’s a fundamental shift. And that’s sad.

Yes, many of the aforementioned have earned the distrust of their constituents. But what about the good ones? And what about our system?

Do we trust it, does it still serve us. Why aren’t we attracting better leaders to do the important work of building community?

So, yes, I miss the old days of trust, aspiration, partnership and yes love.

We were a place where you could feel embraced because you were. And that meant everything.

I didn’t write about Old School Square’s demise in the new/old book. But I did write about its importance as an idea and as an object of civic pride. The restoration and revitalization of those historic buildings were important to the evolution of our town and our civic culture. It was not only important it was elemental. And we just flushed it away.

Hundreds of donors and volunteers—likely thousands— feel an attachment to that campus and the non-profit that created and breathed new life into those old and once decrepit buildings.

The Delray I knew and wrote about wouldn’t have handled the issue the way it was dealt with recently.

If audits were late, there would have been an inquiry and a sit down. If performance lagged there would have been a series of meetings and a pledge to work together to fix what was wrong.

The efforts of volunteers and donors would have been acknowledged and more importantly respected.  There would have been love (tough if need be) and room for thanks as well.

We are devoid of those fundamental building blocks of community today both here and across our great land. Nobody but the corrupt fears accountability. But respect, gratitude and yes love are the table stakes behind anything of value or it won’t last.

I took a visit back to that world I wrote about. And I didn’t want to leave it. I live in the same exact place but somehow, I feel very far from home.

If you want to take a peek back at that Delray here’s a link:



Delray Beach Police Detective Paul Pitti retired last week after 25 years of distinguished service to our community.

I met Paul at the beginning of his career, and it was clear to all those who worked with him that he was going places in the department.

I happened to talk last week with one of Paul’s former supervisors and he said Detective Pitti was one the “best men I ever had a chance to supervise.” High praise indeed because we have been fortunate to have a bunch of great men and women serve and protect us.

Blessed with a great personality, a wonderful sense of humor and a ton of skill, Paul was a valuable contributor everywhere he was assigned.

Fortunately, he won’t be going too far. Paul will become a Highland Beach Police Officer going to work for Chief Craig Hartmann, also a former Delray officer.

We wish Paul the best. Highland Beach is getting a good one.

On a sad note, we learned last week that retired Delray Police Officer Mike Kosick has passed away.

Mike was one of the early downtown police officers assigned to keep an eye on things when Atlantic Avenue began to pop. He also distinguished himself during several undercover assignments.

We mourn his loss.

Speaking of our Police Department, my company CDS International Holdings was proud to be one of many sponsors of the annual Delray Citizens for Delray Police Awards Dinner recently.

Thanks to the herculean efforts of Perry Don Francisco and Chuck Halberg, the banquet has become a favorite event bringing together current officers and retirees to celebrate the best of the PD.

This year, Sgt. Andrew Arena, Capt. John-Crane Baker, Lt. Scott McGuire and Detective Pitti were honored for their long service to the department.

Administrative Assistant Stacy Tarantino was recognized at the 2021 “Patricia Taylor Employee of the Year” and Detective Anthony Sala was named 2021 Officer of the Year.

Service Award recipients were Sgt. Paul Weber, Executive Administrative Assistant Beatrice Screciu and Administrative Assistant Patricia Swain.

We are blessed to have such a wonderful police department. Our Fire Rescue department is also top-notch. It’s so important that we recognize these special people.



We have a year.

Actually, a little less than a year.

In March 2023, voters in Delray Beach will vote for two commission seats. Close readers of this blog know where I stand. In case you may have missed how I feel (I am very, very subtle) I believe we need change–wholesale change.

A discussion of what kind of change will have to wait for another day. But let’s just say we need deep transformative change. I hope that is subtle enough.

But for now, I think it’s important to think about how we choose our leaders and why we vote the way we do, or in some cases why we don’t vote at all.

This is a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and talking to friends about.

All of us seem to have an opinion on the political process and the quality (or lack thereof) of candidates. But I couldn’t seem to find anyone who really had new ideas about how to improve the process or increase the quality of the talent pool.

So, I went looking and I ended up where I frequently do—with the writings of Otis White.

Otis (I can call him that because we know each other) is a respected urban affairs writer who used to cover cities for Governing Magazine. He has a great website full of ideas based on his experience as a journalist and consultant working for cities large and small. Here’s a link

I got to know Otis when he did a few pieces on Delray Beach.

He’s a great guy, a wonderful writer and his articles plumb the depths of his subjects where insights often hide. I must approach his website with caution though, because if I’m not careful, I will get lost for days.

Anyway, Otis did a piece on finding a better way of judging candidates.

He recommends a Consumer Reports type process in which voters can rate candidates based on a set of criteria they value.

Otis argues that this method could encourage voters to think about what makes a good candidate for local office. The process would also be fairer because everyone is judged against a set of reasonable criteria.

But what’s the criteria?

Easy: political positions and personal qualities.

Positions aren’t hard to figure out.

Tell us where you stand on things like taxes, infrastructure, and growth. Candidates can also be judged on their general qualifications (vision, experience, and ability to get things done.) They can also be rated on their understanding/commitment to key issues.

But personal qualities are harder to define.

In Otis’ example, gleaned from his experience in Atlanta, citizens may want to look at three attributes:

Does the candidate have a vision for the city and a personal vision of what he or she can accomplish in a three-year term?

Does the candidate have a set of experiences and qualifications that could make them effective as an elected official?

Can he or she accomplish the things they want to do? In other words, once in office, do they have the skills to drive the vision?

I think this is a solid start.

But you also need a vehicle to get the message to the voters. And that’s the hard part.

Is there an organization that most people trust? Or will that organization be labeled as yet another special interest?

In my opinion, there is an opportunity—a market niche and a need—to create a non-partisan civic organization that can stand for good government, strong values, civility, and progress. Not everyone would embrace it, but if it is seen over time as an organization that stands for the things that many of us embrace (and long for), then it’s messages and endorsements would mean something to other like-minded people.

A Consumer Reports type report card from such an organization might just break through the clutter of negative mail and ridiculous Facebook posts we all seem to loathe.

A hard task?

No doubt.

But a guy can dream right?

And if such an organization were to form, I would join (if they would have me) and I’d bring a bunch of people who know we can do a whole lot better.

The Final Chapter Yet To Be Written

Old School Square has inspired a generation of artists in Delray.

People make places special.That was the thought that went through my mind Friday night as I watched the magnificent Valerie Tyson Band wow the crowd at the Old School Square Pavilion. The event was billed as “Turn the Tide”— a last ditch effort by a group of incredible civic contributors—the best this town has to offer—to change the minds of three Delray Beach elected officials who have decided to pull the plug on the organization after 32 years of dedicated and distinguished service.

But the minds won’t change. And so the music will stop—for now anyway.

So will the arts classes, museum exhibits, speaker series, plays and shows hosted— and largely paid for— by Old School Square.After six months of pleading for  a chance to sit down and work it out,  the fight will now go to the courts and eventually the ballot box.If 11,000 plus petitioners, hundreds of emails and scores of citizens showing up at City Hall over the past six months won’t change  the minds of elected officials who are out of step with their own constituents, a magical night of music at the pavilion won’t either.How sad.What a waste of time, money and energy.

It’s tragic when the arts and community building are on the outs and the only “winners” are lawyers making a killing litigating and defending the city on this and other issues.But this is where we are these days.Yes, we are still waiting for a plan from a brand new City Manager who has been tasked with solving and budgeting for a problem manufactured by three elected officials who decided to end three decades of hard work by volunteers who love this town without consulting the community they purport to serve.Why?

On Friday night, we saw video testimonials from volunteers, Old School Square staff, donors and artists who are asking that same question.

Commissioner Juli Casale, who supposedly aspires to be our next mayor, has been telling residents that Old School Square has not produced documents, has failed to comply with city dictates and that the group has been mean and unkind after she voted to kick to them to the curb without consulting the public.Well, welcome to politics and to life. In the real world, when you kneecap someone you shouldn’t be surprised when they  defend themselves.

“Thank you sir may I have another” may be a great line in the movie Animal House after a pledge gets spanked. But this isn’t Faber College and you shouldn’t expect dedicated volunteers to slink off into the ether because you’ve decided you don’t like them and that they haven’t done a good job. Lots of others do like this group and think they have done a terrific job.

In the six months since OSS was booted for “no cause” the community non-profit has been bullied and lied about.The newly politicized CRA —also taken over without public input by the commission—has become complicit. It’s painful to see the pains the agency has gone through to deny Old School Square grant money the non-profit has earned for services already rendered.

To those keeping score at home, it’s personally painful for me to point out the bad behavior of a city government that I once led and long believed in.But it is precisely because I love this city that I do so.

Thankfully, I’m not alone.

And while more stakeholders are beginning to speak out, some are too scared to speak for fear of retribution.The biggest criticisms come from city employees who describe a a climate of fear and dysfunction at City Hall. I would respectfully suggest that our new City Manager, the 9th in recent years, has better things to do than to deploy Parks employees to produce Bar Mitzvahs in the OSS Fieldhouse. He has a lot of repairs to do in his own building.

But while I sympathize with his plight, we keep waiting for his grand plan for OSS now that his Request for Proposals to take it over yielded zero interest.He may want to take the suggestions of every living former mayor— those who were elected and served a term— to seek public input on the future of the site. That’s the true Delray way. Get the community involved. It worked for decades until this nonsense arrived on the scene. Why won’t they ask our citizens for ideas?

Is it because the public may endorse the current business model: a community based non-profit?But I digress.

Pardon me for getting emotional, but I get worked up when I see our best citizens struggle to make sense of this terrible decision. In between songs Friday night, Valerie Tyson, who has played OSS many times, stopped and addressed the audience. She talked about how much she has enjoyed performing for this community and she talked about legacy and responsibility.

We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, she said.

She was referring to the men and women who conceived and built Old School Square. They breathed new life into a struggling city.These people built community. There is nothing more valuable than that. Nothing.

We talk about being a village. We talk about creating a sense of place but being a village is about more than the height of a building downtown, it’s about how we treat each other. We expect our leaders to call on our better angels. We expect them to engage us in a discussion about the type of community we aspire to be.

This kind of leadership is absent and it is what we long for.

OSS has been referred to as a management company.

They are not.

They are a community based non-profit dedicated to this city and the arts.These are the people who had the idea to restore those buildings and breathe new life into them. They invited artists to paint on the lawn, actors to perform on the stage, residents to take classes and musicians to perform.

Old School Square became the place we turned to when we needed community the most.

We gathered at OSS to celebrate All America City wins, host Town Hall meetings and plan our downtown.  And when we were devastated by 9/11, the shooting of Jerrod Miller (17 years ago this month) and the Parkland shootings we gathered at Old School Square and found solace in one another.

If you take the community out of our gathering place, what do you have?

If you bring in the Boca Museum of Art in to run OUR cultural centerpiece what do you have? And what we will lose?

If you chase donors and volunteers away because they were late on an audit during an historic pandemic when their auditor quit on them what message are you sending?

The audits are current and clean now. Why can’t we talk about the future? It’s a question we all ought to be asking. Who’s next if we don’t stand together and turn the tide?People make places special. They also have the power to ruin them.It’s our choice. We stand for what we tolerate.

Not Your Average Joe…

Joe Gillie was invaluable to Delray’s three All America City wins.

I’d never thought I’d have to write about Joe Gillie in 2021, five plus years after he retired after a terrific 23 year run as the president of Old School Square.

I thought I might want to write about him, because he’s a great guy and one of the biggest contributors to Delray’s modern day success.
But I never thought I’d be in a position of feeling compelled to defend him and his contributions.

For the record, Joe doesn’t need my help and didn’t request that I defend him.

We are good friends.

I care about him and he’s been good to my family.

But Joe is more than capable of defending himself. He doesn’t need me.

Yet I feel compelled to share with readers how special I think Joe is and how remarkable I and many others think his contributions have been.
He’s given an awful lot to this city. An awful lot.

Let me share just a few highlights.
He ran our community’s cultural arts center for 23 years—providing stable leadership and deftly spinning lots of plates in a busy and complex town. That’s no small feat.

Over that time, he oversaw the creation of an arts school, managed a rental facility, programmed a theater, launched a pavilion and threw his heart into the creation of a museum. He was deeply involved in managing the grounds of the campus, welcoming festivals, markets, an annual holiday celebration and played a lead role in producing First Night, a New Year’s Eve celebration that welcomed thousands of families every year.

He was the driving force behind three All America City Awards and in his “retirement” remained involved in education efforts such as the award winning and hugely important Campaign for Grade Level Reading.
He was Delray’s ambassador, traveling to and fro. singing Delray’s praises and welcoming thousand and thousands of people to the OSS campus over his many years of service. He even went to Tanzania to represent Delray during an official visit to our sister city Moshi.
He did it all with humor, intelligence, civility, style and a southern gentility that charmed everyone who crossed his path.

Along the way, he interacted with the business community, local schools, artists, musicians, philanthropists, politicians, visiting dignitaries and other non-profits. He did it all with grace, humor and style. He loved this community and this community loved him back.

Joe is a good man.
A very, very good man.
Of course, nobody is above accountability but for 23 years he survived the scrutiny of the public, the press, auditors, funders and City Hall. He served many masters—very well. His performance and value to our city has been indispensable.

He’s responsible for millions of smiles and he’s deserving of our respect.

But today, years after the last of his many retirement parties (he was so popular he had many) my friend finds that he’s being questioned over his stewardship of OSS and a modest retirement stipend he earned that was provided by donors.

I find it sad and more than a little distressing. But I am not surprised.

We are doing a good job of devouring our legends and civil servants in Delray these days.

Here are a few examples. There are others.

My friend Michael Coleman was a fine police officer. He embraced community policing and rose through the ranks to captain before being reassigned to city hall as director of community improvement.
Today, he’s suing the city after losing his job under dubious circumstances. He was kicked to the curb unceremoniously after repeatedly being singled out for good performance.

Same thing happened to my friends Jennifer Costello and Donna Quinlan, who worked for the city for a combined 70 plus years.
Both were amazing city employees; dedicated, loyal, competent and proud of the city they served.
In the end, they were put out to the curb like so many others. Like too many others.
It’s shameful and depressing.

There was a time when kindness ruled this town; when working or volunteering here was a joy not a risky endeavor.
Which brings me back to my friend Joe.
I’ve known Joe for close to 30 years. I believe in his vision, his character, his essential goodness and his talent. We were blessed that he devoted a large chunk of his career to this town. He had options, talented and kind people always do.
I’m glad he found Delray and stayed here.
I know he gave a lot to this place and that he loved working here.

I hope he still feels that way. As someone once said: “G-d have mercy on the man, who doubts what he’s sure of.”
I hope that Joe doesn’t harbor any doubts.

I know a few people who are consumed by doubts.

In their sadder moments they have confided in me that they have “wasted” their time here. I get it. But it’s not true.
This too shall pass. We will regain our footing and we will thrive again.
We will surely thrive again.

We simply must.

Culture Is The Killer App

I don’t have a lot of interest in revisiting the recent Delray Beach municipal elections.

You probably need a break from the negativity. I know I do.

Out of all the analyses I’ve seen, I recommend you take a look at Randy Schultz’s take. I think it’s a pretty accurate analysis. Here’s a link:


Still, I do think it’s worth taking a deeper dive into the topic of culture which was hotly debated during the last cycle and has been an issue for a very long time.

The fact that culture and civility continue to be debated indicates that it’s lacking. After all, if things were humming, we wouldn’t be talking about it. (We’d be humming. We’re not.)

It’s hard to remember, but there was a time when Delray Beach had a remarkable culture; remarkable not perfect. There’s a difference.

There’s always been strife, friction and some level of toxicity in local politics and community life. That comes with the territory. But it was largely manageable and what rancor existed was overwhelmed by the positive relationships that had formed throughout the city. Those relationships formed because major efforts were made to create initiatives that brought people together and asked them to work closely on topics of importance to the community.

Evidence of this dynamic is all around us.

Cities don’t succeed without a coordinated and concerted effort. The vibrancy we enjoy is not an accident, it’s a result of planning, tons of citizen input, relentless execution and investment–both public and private. The reward is our quality of life.

Over the years, these engagement efforts were acknowledged in the form of  a few All America City Awards which honors a city’s ability to identity its problems and create solutions that bring people together. It was nice validation, but the creation of a special sense of community was the real prize.

Another example of Delray’s strong culture was how we were able to navigate some really sticky situations and tragedies over the years.

From severe hurricanes and divisive development projects to a tragic shooting and the controversial move of Atlantic High School, we’ve had our fair share of challenges. But we survived them all with our civic fabric sometimes strained but largely intact.

Thankfully, we haven’t had any natural or man-made disasters to navigate of late, but yet we seem to be at each other’s throats a whole lot. Which begs a question.


Why are sea grapes such a fraught issue? Why is every CRA RFP (request for proposal) a bloodletting or a lawsuit?

Why has there been so much turnover at City Hall?

We can blame social media —and Facebook surely has served as an accelerant for political strife— but it’s more than that. It goes deeper.

Delray’s secret sauce is/was its culture. If we lose that, we lose everything.

Close watchers of all things Delray worry about the divisions they are seeing. They know these breaches don’t heal themselves and they long for leaders who work on the issues that drive us apart.

I long for the days when leadership was defined by people who could rise above the noise and inject much needed calm and common sense into the day’s heated debates. Today, we seem to laud the bomb throwers, grandstanders and loud mouths who launch missiles but never seem to get a darn thing done.

They start problems, but they don’t solve them.

They add to gas to fires, but never seem to think about how things might change if they took a deep breath and offered up a few words of conciliation. They are, however, always equipped with a barb.

Oh yes, these charmers are quick with a sound bite, quick to label and even quicker to condemn.

Here come the “special interests”—be very afraid.

Here come the “power brokers” —lock up your loved ones because they are plotting to pillage the village.

Malarkey—to quote my grizzled former city editor who once told me that malarkey was an Irish term that was three degrees worse than blarney. He was a colorful character but that’s a story for another day.

Anyway, we can do better.

Because despite the great weather, the fact that we live in a place desired by just about everyone, we don’t seem to be very happy with how we choose our elected officials or how we handle difficult issues.

Rampant turnover, nasty elections and Facebook bullies are just symptoms. The disease is a poor civic culture.

Luckily, the disease is curable even though it won’t be easy.

It will require every stakeholder who cares to do their part and it will require us to raise our standards of behavior.

We need a reckoning.

Now I happen to think we’ve had many—Covid was a wake-up call, the nastiest mayoral race in memory was another, the Jan. 6 insurrection was yet another. Reckonings come in all shapes and sizes. They are international, national and local.

But reckonings can be healthy if we see them as teachable moments. To quote therapist and best-selling author Esther Perel, “reckonings require us to invest in the core facets of relational health: empathy, dialogue, commitment, responsibility, the sharing of power and resources.”

We have been through some traumas. Trauma requires healing and collective trauma requires collective healing.

It looks like we will eventually move beyond Covid-19 although the emotional scars will be with us forever. Our national divisions need to be addressed. We the people need to insist on that happening. So far, we haven’t.

As for our local divisions, we have a real opportunity if we choose to see it and seize it.

We can insist on better debates about community issues and more stakeholder input. We can insist on substance, performance, accountability and civility. Those words are not unreachable ideals; they are the basic table stakes of community.

If you lack of any these traits, you just cannot sustain success.

We have substantive issues to address, we have big time opportunities too but we won’t get to any of that if we don’t develop a winning culture.

So here’s what I’m suggesting:

We should develop a “Geneva Convention” for our elections and how we treat each other.

Post-Covid we need to go back to the old playbook and revive initiatives and programs that built community such as:

Community Dinners in which associations are invited to pot luck get togethers where they can meet their neighbors across the city.

Charrettes to discuss community issues and opportunities that are open to all stakeholders. We absolutely have to get away from a resident vs. business dynamic. Building a quality culture is not a zero sum game, it’s a win-win endeavor.

We need to facilitate intelligent discussions about development, gentrification, affordable housing, climate change and how it affects Delray, infrastructure, crime, education, culture, historic preservation, race relations and more.

It’s a lot of work but it’s worth it because these issues don’t go away if we ignore them, they just fester. But before we can address anything we have to focus on how we treat each other.

I believe, strongly, that if we create a more civil and professional culture in Delray Beach, we will end the turnover issues that have plagued our city and dinged our reputation .

And guess what?

We will end up getting a whole lot done. You can’t address problems or seize opportunities if you’re a divided community spending precious time settling scores and finding ways to be vindictive.

We can and must do better.


All Healing Is Local

“All healing is local.” – David Schmidt, former mayor and newly installed Chair of the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce.


I had a chance to catch a replay of the Delray Chamber’s Annual Membership Luncheon and Installation of Officers on Facebook recently.

It was a nice virtual event and the Chamber is to be commended for weathering a brutal 2020. It’s important that our community have an active and strong chamber and that business in our city has a voice.

Outgoing Chair Noreen Payne is a wonderful person who did a remarkable job alongside President Stephanie Immelman and a small but dedicated staff.  Not only did they keep the chamber alive during a pandemic, but they kept the organization relevant too. We should all be grateful.

For more than 90 years, the Delray Chamber has been a leader in our community producing Delray’s signature event, The Delray Affair, advocating for business and supporting all aspects of community life.

It’s an important institution; a pillar in a disposable world in which pillars are rare and needed more than ever.

That’s why I am thrilled to have seen the installation of my friend Dave Schmidt as the chair for 2021.

Mayor Dave —as I call him— is a steady, capable and intelligent leader at a time when we crave those traits.

He’s also correct when he says that all healing is local, a take-off on Speaker Tip O’Neill’s old adage that all politics is local.

Friends, our little village by the sea has become a pretty toxic place at least during election season.

If you swing by Facebook and spend five minutes perusing the pages devoted to Delray Beach, you will witness the social media version of Chernobyl. Warning: prolonged exposure will give you hives and make you want to pack your bags and leave our perfect weather for Antarctica.

At least nobody is trying to turn Antarctica into Fort Lauderdale.

In case you don’t know, we are in the middle of an election season in Delray with the mayor’s seat and two commission seats up for grabs on March 9.

We have the usual accusations of stolen signs and the tired and false narratives about evil developers and behind the scenes power brokers. I’ve been accused of being a power broker myself…someone who controls events from behind the scenes. It’s insulting because truth be told— if I were doing so— I’d be doing a better job because the city is a hot mess and that’s not my modus operandi.

I like progress, vision, outcomes and aspiration. I think we all do, but from where I sit, we’re sorely lacking in all of those areas. And I also value good relations with city staff, local organizations and our police, fire and general employees. We’re having some “challenges” there as well.

A few days from our election, candidates are being accused of anti-Semitism, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, crimes, corruption, extremism, bullying and all-around thuggery.

Yes, we are going to need some healing after the dust settles. Check that, we are going to need a whole lot of healing.

And I would hope some reflection too because temperatures don’t get this hot in a healthy town.

I write this while still recovering from watching graphic video of traitorous thugs who violently attacked the Capitol Building on Jan. 6. Watching the footage made me physically ill.

What’s going on?

Really, what’s going on?

The Capitol Building—built by slaves, where so many American heroes worked to create Democracy, was desecrated. If you are a true patriot, not some guy with a headdress dressed like a shaman, but someone who loves America, that footage levels you. You just can’t shake the images.

Unbridled social media, unchecked meanness and years of incitement leads to violence. In hindsight, it seems inevitable.

I can see this dynamic unfolding right here if we don’t take a deep breath and check ourselves.

I’m hoping—regardless of who wins—that we can have a reset after the March 9 election. We desperately need one. We have to learn to be a community again.

Right now, we are terribly and dangerously divided.

I’m not the only who feels this way. Many long time contributors to Delray have similar feelings.

The fact that we feel this way annoys some people who would just rather continue down this ruinous path of insult and division.

Over the years, whenever I and others have ventured an opinion there have been attempts to silence us. Some people express shock when you express an opinion. Some of these people would like us PIPS (previously important people) to sit home and stay quiet.

It’s the local version of shut up and dribble. Sorry, not going to happen.

I believe you only critique the stuff that you care about, otherwise why bother.  The truth is I (and many other “exes and formers and used- to- be’s) love this town.

We care about the people who live here. We care about the people who work here and we care about the businesses who invest here.

We are all stakeholders.

Everyone should have a voice and everyone should be encouraged to use that voice hopefully to build a better community.

I have long believed that being a “village” was a lot more than the size of our buildings, which will never be more than 54 feet tall downtown. Friends, we will never be Fort Lauderdale, or even Boynton Beach or Boca Raton which allow 100 foot tall buildings.

We have to find a way to raise the level of discourse in this community and frankly that starts at the commission level.

Our elected officials may not run the day to day operations of the city, but they are tasked with setting the tone for our community. The mayor and city commission own culture.

And culture is everything.

It’s how we feel about our city. It’s how we treat each other. It’s about civility, respect, kindness and compassion.

That does not mean holding hands and singing kumbaya. Some decisions are tough ones and they are divisive by their very nature. We will “win” some votes and be on the losing side of others, but we must learn how to debate better and then move on. This level of divisiveness is not healthy or sustainable.

Our city has a reputation and it isn’t a good one.

The notion that our CRA did nothing for 30 years until it was taken over the by commission is just not true. And anyone who doesn’t believe that can email me through this blog and I will give you a personal tour of projects.

Here’s another myth….our labor unions are not greedy—their job is to care for the welfare of their membership. But they see the big picture too and if you work with them and listen—you’ll find them to be reasonable people who care about our city and are proud to serve us. In my mind, their endorsements mean something.

In terms of aspiration…our northwest and southwest neighborhoods are passionate about the future of The Set, why can’t we work with our neighbors to realize their vision for their neighborhood?  And why can’t we call the neighborhood The Set?

While we are on the subject of vision, I chaired the Congress Avenue Task Force, never did we consider getting rid of a lane of traffic. There was plenty of talk about making it safer to cross the street. Is that controversial?


It wasn’t always like this.

We can blame social media, but that doesn’t change anything.

All of us have to do better. Me too. I thought long and hard about this blog and others. I’m not naming names, there’s nastiness on all “sides” and it’s all wrong and wasted energy.

A happy village is a better village.

If any place can do it, it’s Delray.

We can be the beacon that other communities look to in a nation sorely in need of reconciliation.

We have done this before.

After 9/11—when we learned that many of the terrorists lived here among us—we came together.

When one of our firefighters, Pete Firehock, was murdered—we came together.

In February 2005, when Jerrod Miller was shot and killed, we grieved and we came together.

We were leaders in just about any category you can name: downtown rejuvenation, affordable housing, education, race relations, citizen engagement, urban planning, redevelopment, neighborhood revitalization, historic preservation, sports, events, the use of culture to drive community rebirth and the list goes on.

But for the list to grow. We need some healing.

Right now.


Note: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the sad passing of Richard Jones, a super talented architect and very nice man who did a lot for Delray. We pray for his family during this difficult time. We also continue to pray for the memory of Jerrod Miller, someone I think of every day. 2021 marks the 16th year since Jerrod was killed outside the Delray Full Service Center. That means he is gone one year longer than he lived. That fact is a hard one to fathom. We mourn his loss.