Unpacking the CRA vote

Photo courtesy of Delray Historical Society.

First some disclosures.
My wife ran the Delray CRA for about 13 years.
I think the current executive director and his staff are hard working, dedicated and smart. They are good people who give it all for Delray Beach. I have respect for the volunteers who have served on the CRA board, both past and present.
So if that offends you, upsets your karma or otherwise gives you agita here’s where you should stop reading.
To say I’m not fans of a majority of the current commission would be an understatement. Give me six hours (shorter than most commission meetings and I’ll begin to tell you why, give me a month and we may get through half my list of differences and missed opportunities) but I sense change in Delray.
Eyes are opening. Awareness is forming. People are getting fed up.
Fed up with the hand wringing.

Fed up with the litigation.

Fed up with the criticism.

Fed up with the arrogance.

Fed up with the turnover and the dysfunction.

Fed up with the lack of leadership.
People are calling this commission out. And it’s about time.
Evidence of this came in March with the landslide victories scored by Jim Chard and Shirley Johnson. So when I write about the commission in the paragraphs to come they are not what I’m talking about. I see them as solutions to what ails us and I have hope and faith in them.
It wasn’t lies or “dark money” that carried the day and saw them win by 2-1.

It wasn’t self serving insiders or greedy developers either. It was the voters who spoke loud and clear.

In precinct after precinct. Neighborhood after neighborhood. They chose experience and ideas over negativity and  nastiness and they chose progress and positivity over division. And they will again in March. They’ve had enough.
And that’s  a good thing because if we don’t stand up for the values and strategies that built this town we will surely lose what has been achieved. And we will lose our sense of community too. That ought to scare us more than anything.
We almost lost the CRA this week.

Because handing the board over to this Mayor and commission would ensure that their dysfunction would have metastasized to that agency as well.
But the community organized and spoke out. They talked about the progress the agency has made. The tens of millions invested in neighborhoods, the $58 million spent on city capital improvements that has somehow, inexplicably been missed by people who ought to know better. But it wasn’t missed by the beneficiaries. They came out. They stood up. They spoke out, they led and they set the record straight. They see progress. They know commitment. They are working with their CRA to lift their neighborhoods up–while the majority of the city commission plays politics.
Oh, I know Mayor Glickstein came around. But only after he allowed the floodgates to open. Only after he took his shots. As he always does.
Now it’s our turn.
Our CRA is a great CRA. It should be a point of civic pride. But our “leaders” won’t allow us to celebrate or to feel good. And that’s a shame. That is not leadership.
Our CRA has helped to transform this city.
And that’s a fact lost on several members of the commission who pressed this issue and have been pressing and bullying the CRA for years now.

And it’s lost on many members of the senior staff who are so new to Delray they couldn’t tell you the difference between Linton and Swinton.
They should ask around before they opine publicly. They should talk to the contributors in this community because they might learn something.
My bet is the prevailing message would be: don’t fix what isn’t broken and please fix your own house. Hire good staff, empower them and get out of the way. Work with the community on a vision and have the guts to follow through.
Some of these so called leaders up there on the dais can’t stop talking about the past. They are so busy rewriting history that they have lost control of the present and they have endangered the future.
But guess what?
The truth is a stubborn thing.

And try as they might to disparage past decisions, staffs and elected officials they keep falling short. They make themselves seem small in the process.
Because the truth is, they don’t measure up and we need them too. Because we have challenges and opportunities that are being missed.
They ought to know better.

The mayor did pretty well here as the dreaded developer of his day, Commissioner Katz moved here as a result of the vision and decisions of a past commission that bought land and made it available for workforce housing (was that resident welfare?) and Commissioner Petrolia enjoyed success selling real estate in a hot market. A market made hot–in large part– by a CRA they criticize and past commissions they whine about.
After a week of emotions and misinformation the independent volunteer board of the CRA was saved. Hallelujah.
We spent a week fighting not fixing. Defending not uniting. Treading water not progressing.
We lost another week.
We’ve lost many with this mayor and commission–Mrs. Johnson and Mr. Chard excluded. Thank goodness for them.
We spent almost two years negotiating a lease with Old School Square exchanging nasty emails instead of focusing on the arts and culture.
We spent two years creating an events policy that few understand and most feel is unworkable instead of sitting down and improving events not hacking them to pieces or exporting them to other cities.
We spent nearly a year devising a  plan for Congress Avenue that is gathering dust instead of being marketed, implemented and driven.
We are mired in lawsuits, we waste time arguing with our chamber over an effort to sit down with recovery providers (so that we might better understand the issue), we spend money on consultants and out of town lawyers  but somehow we couldn’t find the money to hire a director for the drug task force.
We downzoned our most valuable real estate without an economic analysis, ignored parking studies and engineering studies and a litany of guest speakers on a slew or topics but somehow we have time to attack the best CRA in the state.
But we don’t have time to celebrate the addition of a corporate tenant to Delray which also provides a welcome and needed family entertainment option.
Ipic finally, mercifully closed this week and actually got a building permit. They paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for the permit. They will create jobs. They will pay taxes and they will clean up a derelict property.
But we don’t get to celebrate.  Nope we get to relitigate and relitigate until every ounce of joy is drained out of landing this company.
What a shame.
So, Ok. I realize this is a rant. But let me assure you this represents the tip of the proverbial iceberg. These are only some of the complaints I hear among people I work with and run into in this City.
I don’t hang with the angry crowd. I spend time with those who have built this city and continue to build this city.
The business owners, entrepreneurs, investors, residents, volunteers, cops, firefighters, city staff, retirees and  young people who aspire and who want to see this place they love thrive.
They want to feel good about where they live. They want to celebrate. They want to dream. They are tired of having to defend every single thing. Especially when major issues remain unaddressed. Homelessness, heroin, staff turnover, rising tides, lack of housing options, lack of workforce housing, schools that struggle and a need to diversify our economy beyond food, beverage and service jobs.
The last two weeks were spent jousting over an ad in Sober World announcing a Recovery Business Council and whether we should continue to have a CRA that kicks ass and runs circles around the city these days.
What will we squander next week on? Maybe we should shut down Friday Night concerts at Old School Square? Too many people seem to smile when the band shell lights up. We can’t have that can we?
We have to do better. We must.
And we will.

The Election is Over: It’s Time to Lead

Leadership Matters

Leadership Matters

The election is over.

Can we talk?
Can we vent just a little bit?

We just went through an election cycle in which several seats in Boca Raton and Delray Beach were up for grabs.

As a result, many of us found our mailboxes and voice mail inundated with “messages” and candidate’s “plans”.

It seems that every candidate was going to “fight” developers, end traffic, fix our schools (even though they weren’t running for School Board) and add services while cutting taxes (that would be a nifty trick).

Is it too much to ask for details?

Truth is, there are “solutions” for all of those maladies, including the dreaded developer (not all of them are bad and many live right here and care about the community too, even if they are seeking profits).

But we never seem to hear the details as candidates seem to think the path to victory is to out pander each other. I suppose they are right, after all each race crowns a winner. But I can tell you that the voters I talked too were not really happy with the messages that were being crammed down their throats and in their mail boxes.

I have covered and followed city elections in Delray and Boca since 1987.  I’ve seen a lot.

In 1990, Delray had a landmark election in which three candidates led by a bright young mayoral hopeful named Tom Lynch ran on a platform to run the city like a business, bring stability to City Hall, fix neighborhoods and get involved in local schools.

Sure, running the city like a business is a cliché, but these candidates had actual detailed plans for doing what they said they were going to do.

The winning ticket ushered in an era of unprecedented progress in a city that really needed help at the time. Delray was “Dull Ray” in those days. Boca had IBM and the western suburbs were booming. Delray was experiencing stagnation, crime, dysfunction and disinvestment. But armed with citizen support, a vision and bond money, the leadership in the 90s put Delray on track.

Ten years later, a new crop of candidates emerged to build on the 90s “Decade of Excellence”. I dug through some old files to see mailers from those days. Again—detailed plans to enact smart growth policies, attract jobs, revitalize neighborhoods and improve communication with our citizens so that they may get more involved .

The technology of today’s campaigns is vastly superior to the old days of envelope stuffing at the kitchen table and blindly knocking on doors. But the substance is sorely lacking.

If you don’t favor parking meters, that’s OK, but don’t tell voters that you will fight to keep parking free. Parking is not free. Taxpayers are footing the bill for the garages and lots.

If you want to stop over development that’s great, terrific really; but what do you suggest exactly? How will you balance neighborhood concerns with private property rights and the need to attract more jobs?
That’s what voters need to know—details. We all want quality of life. We all want great schools and safe neighborhoods. What specific ideas do you have to bring those about?

We didn’t hear those in this recent campaign.

Well, now the candidates are elected officials. 

The time to pander is over; the time to lead is here. We wish you luck, but more importantly we wish you success. Because when good leadership is in place, good things start to happen. We’ve seen that in Delray and Boca.