Boca Makes A SMART Hire

Pedro Moras

The City of Boca Raton recently hired Pedro Moras as its first ever “Innovation Strategist” and I think that’s worthy of applause.

According to the press release announcing the hire, Moras was hired to promote innovation and the use of technology within the community. Additionally, Moras will work to develop and implement SMART City initiatives and collaborate with City staff to explore innovation in city operations.

Now the cynics out there will say innovation and government should never be used in the same sentence and that the term Smart City is an oxymoron.

The cynics would be wrong. As they usually are.

Cities today have to innovate or risk irrelevance. They should strive to be “smart” not only in terms of technology but in all areas: sustainability, citizen engagement, public safety, parks design, transportation, land development and the list goes on.

It’s good to see Boca Raton make a statement with the hiring of an innovation strategist and it will be interesting to see where the city goes as a result.

Moras seems to have the background and chops to make a difference.

Prior to joining the city, Moras cofounded PetMio, a pet food-technology start-up that uses advanced artificial intelligence technology to create personalized pet nutrition products. He also served as Managing Partner at the Konnected Minds Group, a Miami based innovation consultancy. During his time in the corporate world, he was the founding member of the Transformational Innovation Group at Jarden Consumer Solution, a corporate new ventures group focused on identifying, developing and commercializing new product and business opportunities.

“Innovation is the purposeful application that improves our condition and community,” said Moras. “Through that application we can accomplish tremendous feats that improve the lives of our families and our community. It is because of innovation that we evolved so much as a society and I am excited to further expand innovative achievements in Boca Raton.”

Boca has an interesting innovation pedigree.

Boca Raton’s history dates back to pioneering farmers, there’s an interesting history relative to Mediterranean architecture and of course, the birth of IBM’s personal computer (PC) in 1967. Through the years, Boca Raton’s entrepreneurial culture has supported technology and innovation through economic development incentives that have led to the creation of facilities such as the Boca Raton Innovation Campus (BRIC). Boca Raton is also home to three universities that incorporate innovation into curriculums and the community through programs such as FAU Tech Runway.

“I think Boca Raton is in a unique position because the foundation of entrepreneurship and innovation already exists,” said Moras. “And that foundation is strong from an economic, social and environmental standpoint, compared to many cities across the country. I think a key to taking Boca Raton to the next level, is bringing together the brilliant minds in our schools, businesses, organizations and civic centers under a shared vision and giving them the tools to create our future.”

During his first year, Moras will work on creating Boca Raton’s innovation identity and define what being a SMART city means to the community. In addition, he plans to test and learn new concepts, programs and ideas in order to ultimately “create an ecosystem of innovation that is continuously creating breakthroughs in technology, education, the arts and more, and become an even more vibrant entrepreneurial community that attracts the best minds to come live here and work here.”

As a student of local government, I am anxious to see where this all leads. When I was on the Delray City Commission we strived to be “civic entrepreneurs” and encouraged staff to take risks and innovate in terms of policy and engagement. It made a difference, because we strived to make it  safe to experiment and to learn. That’s how progress happens.

In so many aspects of our society right now, innovation and technology is outpacing government’s ability to keep up. This makes government look slow, reactive and frankly a less exciting place to work if you are a young person looking for a career.

So Boca’s move is intriguing. Yes, it’s only one person, but it’s a bold start.



Help Wanted: Leaders Who Can Provide Stability

Stability provides a great foundation for progress.

It may be hard to believe, but there was a time—not too long ago– where working for the City of Delray Beach was an appealing prospect.

Delray was the city on the cutting edge.

A city of vision, promise and innovation.

We were known for being collaborative—a place where City Hall played well with non-profits, the business community, sister agencies and neighborhood associations.





A lot of things.

To be sure, it was never nirvana.

Delray has always had its challenges and problems—all cities do. And we have had our share of big ones—from schools that need a ton of help, to crime, drugs, irresponsible sober home operators, civic bullies, poverty and racial tension. And that’s only a partial list. Many of these issues have proven to be stubborn and they have frustrated all sorts of efforts. But there were gains as well.

This was a place where you could see visible progress—on projects large and small. This was a place where many challenges were overcome and as a result opportunities were created.

It was a place where city leadership—staff, uniformed personnel, elected officials, citizens, business owners and volunteers — believed that by working together you could create a better, stronger, more resilient and caring community.

Consequently, it was a pretty good place to work.

Mayors and commissioners—for the most part—were kind and respectful to city staff. Delray became known for its stability—especially among department heads many of whom lived here and were deeply committed to the betterment of this city.

Like all large organizations, we had some clunkers.

Like all complex entities—and cities are very complex—mistakes were made.

But progress was made as well.

Giant strides. Things that make your heart swell and give you a sense of civic pride.

What happened in Delray Beach did not happen by accident.

It was envisioned. It was planned. And there was execution across the board.

Now some people don’t like what happened here and I respect that opinion.

I have a business acquaintance who moved to Hobe Sound because it just got too busy here for his tastes. Nevertheless, he finds that he drifts back here often to eat or catch a show at Old School Square. He won’t miss the Delray Open because he loves tennis under the stars. He also invests here from time to time and encourages others to do so.

Still, I’m sure others despise the hustle and bustle and long for the days when we were a sleepy village.

I’ll be honest, I don’t.

My frame of reference goes back 30 years and while I’ve always loved Delray, I wouldn’t trade the 1980s version for today’s city even with our warts and challenges.

I think most people feel the same way. That’s my hunch anyway. We have a good city, not a perfect city, but a good city.

In fact, we are such an interesting place that you would think top tier talent would flock here.

They don’t. Not anymore.

We are about to choose a city manager from what everyone seems to think was a pretty thin list of candidates. There were three finalists out of a small pool of applicants and on October 10 commissioners may move forward and choose a manager. That list is now down to two applicants, with one dropping out. You can go to the golf course this evening and mingle with the finalists—that’s what passes for public input these days—a cocktail party. I attended the last cattle call party at 32 East which produced Don Cooper. It’s hard to learn much about someone in such an environment.

When the head hunter was asked why a city like Delray was not attracting interest, the recruiter answered honestly. Delray is considered a challenging environment these days. It’s not the salary being offered—which is competitive, it’s the toxic political atmosphere and the commission’s reputation for infighting and micromanagement. To quote the Palm Beach Post: “Delray Beach has a ‘reputation’ for micromanagement and ‘other negative things’, according to the consultant for the Mercer Group which was hired to find candidates.

That’s sad, because they should be turned on because this should be one of the best jobs in America.

Hopefully, commissioners will make the right choice this time and hopefully whoever they choose will succeed. We need the next manager to be successful, because so many others have fallen short in recent years.

Since longtime manager David Harden left in 2012 we have seen five managers/acting managers come and go. We have seen a truckload of assistant managers/department heads/middle managers/city attorneys, rank and file and others leave as well.

This is not the sign of a healthy organization.

But the sun still shines. The property values still climb and Atlantic Avenue is still busy. You can flush a toilet (without a generator), call 911 and get great service and your trash gets picked up twice a week. So why should you care? Here are a few reasons why:

If you’ve run a business of any size, you know that turnover is costly. So if you pay taxes you should care.

If you run a business in town or want to build a home or add a new kitchen you should care too, because if your City Hall has issues you may find that efficiency suffers and over time that will cost you.

This is NOT A SLAP at city workers. This is a plea to make their lives better and get out of their way. Hold them accountable, but let them do their jobs.  I happen to know many and we have still quite a few talented people on staff.

But I worry that talent is being stifled. I worry that our best minds at City Hall are frightened. I am concerned that rather than rely on staff, we are hiring expensive consultants and then often ignoring their advice as well. I am worried that other cities are catching and passing us—and that impacts everything from quality of life and home values to job prospects and our sense of community and civic pride.

When government organizations get frightened, they seize up like an engine without oil. It’s safer to keep your head down than to rock the boat. The best minds—if situations permit—will leave as soon as they can. We are losing talent to Lake Worth, Boynton Beach and other cities. That hardly ever happened.

Many are taking lateral positions too—so it’s not as if they are leaving us for traditional reasons such as career advancement.

In July, I was the guest speaker at an event called “Bourbon Sprawl.” It’s a great group of urbanists, business people, planners, architects and others who care about community. They talk about issues impacting cities and they have a few drinks. It’s a fun group.

A few Delray Beach employees attended that event. I won’t name them, because I don’t want to expose anyone. I didn’t know most of them—and I hadn’t worked with any of them. But after the talk, I was told that city staff could get in trouble for talking to elected officials or if they made recommendations without being invited to do so.

And I left that event wondering how an elected official can do their job if they are not allowed to learn from the subject area experts that work for our city. Notably, one of the people I spoke to that night is gone. Too bad, because I sensed a bright mind who could have done great things for our community. I don’t know what the specific policy is, frankly I don’t care. Because if your staff feels stifled and frightened something is amiss. And we the people, lose out on their knowledge, talent and expertise.

I get the desire of a City Manager to control the flow of information, but I remember learning an immense amount from listening to and reading the work of our planning, financial, engineering, parks and public safety personnel. There is a middle ground which always includes the manager, but also enables policymakers to glean knowledge from subject area experts so they can make good decisions.

I was a young reporter here in the 1980s when we last suffered from instability at City Hall caused by strife on the dais. City Hall was a revolving door in those days. Then we had a landmark election that saw Tom Lynch, Jay Alperin and David Randolph sweep into office and we enjoyed a long run of stability, innovation, achievement, civic pride, community unity and problem solving. They set an example for future leaders.

At the time, staff remarked at how civil the Mayor and commission were—respectful of their professional acumen while still able to hold people accountable. I went to every meeting in those days. And I can tell you the mayor and commissioners questioned staff vigorously, but always respectfully. Assumptions were challenged and decisions were made. Not all were correct, but the batting average was really good and so we had progress. Lots and lots of progress.


We need to get back to those days. Before we give it all back. And if you think we’re bullet proof, let me assure you we are not.

A follow up story in the Post covering Commissioner Shelly Petrolia’s run for Mayor noted the “chaos” and turnover at City Hall. That’s a good story—but the Post enabled Commissioner Petrolia too artfully—but falsely—shift the blame to Mayor Glickstein. People all over town had a good laugh over that spin.

Sorry, but you own your fair share of the chaos after 5 years. Readers of this blog know I am no fan of Mr. Glickstein. But in fairness, he can’t be blamed for all of the chaos, dysfunction and lack of progress on everything ranging from Congress Avenue to the Old School Parks Plan. It takes three elected officials to tango.

Coincidentally, that’s how many seats are up this March.


Building A Brand

“You stand out when you stand for something— when you go to a place your peers or competitors aren’t prepared to go.” Bernadette Jiwa

There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.”
– Louis L’Amour
Those two quotes struck me for different reasons last week. But both make a case for change, innovation and a willingness to look toward the future.

Australian marketing expert Bernadette Jiwa was referring to brands when she made that comment in a recent blog post. 
But the sentiment can also refer to cities too. 
Cities have brands and identifies too. And if you can establish a positive brand you’ll create enormous value and quality of life. 
Similarly if your brand and identity is negative, you’ll pay a price in terms of investment, quality of life, ability to attract business, staff, tourists and residents. 
So getting your brand and reputation right  is important. Check that, it’s essential. 
If you develop a reputation for dysfunction or corruption you’re cooked. Capital flows where it’s welcome. And similarly smart people migrate to where they feel assured that ideas and aspiration are not only welcome but encouraged. 
I will argue that the success of Boca Raton and Delray Beach stems from a mindset–let’s get it done, let’s build something here, let’s make it happen whatever it may be. 
For example, Boca redeveloped a moribund mall and made it Mizner Park. 
I caught a glimpse of the cover of its soon to be released Economic Development magazine on social media and it knocked me out. The city has depth and that doesn’t happen by accident. 
Similarly Delray Beach didn’t happen by accident either. It took a city, a CRA, a DDA, a marketing cooperative, a police department, homeowners, business owners and key non profits working together to take back a city from blight, crack, crime and disinvestment. 
Much was accomplished. Much remains to be done. 
Which leads me to the relevance of the second quote by Louis L’Amour which really addresses complacency and opportunity. 
Complacency is a killer. If it takes root, your gains will be squandered and competitors will eat you for lunch.
Right now, in Delray, there exists a weird combination of complacency and delusion.
Just take a look at the debate over East and West in Delray. You have some people saying the east is done (it isn’t) and others saying that basically nothing has been done west in The Set (terribly wrong). That’s the delusion part. A lot has been done:  more than $60 million spent on beautification all the way to the Interstate, improvements to Northwest/Southwest Fifth Avenue, a new library, Catherine Strong Park, a thriving Community Land Trust, anti-crime efforts, neighborhood paint-ups, the Spady Museum, the expansion of Village Academy, improved water pressure, dirt roads paved, Atlantic Grove, the Fairfield Inn, the list goes on and on. 
Nobody has ever said it’s been enough or that efforts should stop. Nobody. 
Everybody understands that a large part of the mission remains. And everyone I’ve talked to over the past 30 years is committed to doing it. 
It takes time. But if you look around or asked around you can see it happening before our eyes. A Publix is coming. That’s a big deal my friends. They wouldn’t look at West Atlantic before now. Before all that work and effort. 
East Atlantic took time and it still needs help: pockets of weakness, high rents, not enough year round commerce, a lack of office space and an over reliance on food and beverage. 
The beauty of cities is they are synergistic i.e. not zero sum games. The west wins when the east succeeds, that’s how the money grows and flows. 
Similarly, the east benefits greatly when the west succeeds. 
The first quote talks about going where others don’t dare venture. 
We went there as a city and found success. 
It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t overnight. And just as failure is hardly ever fatal, success is hardly ever final. 
But we don’t get to the promised land, we don’t taste the sweetest fruit if we are complacent and or delusional. 
We get further (but we never arrive because it’s never over) when we work together. We succeed when we acknowledge, respect, collaborate, communicate and cooperate. We get further when our brand is “welcome smart people, let’s get to work and build the best small city in the world.”



Trust & Confidence Make The Difference

and also lunch and dinner.

and also for lunch and dinner.

America is a politically divided nation.
But there’s a few things Americans agree on when it comes to the federal government.
It can’t be trusted.

It’s wasteful.

And it’s led by people who say and do anything to get elected and then abandon those promises to serve special interests.

Is the same dynamic infecting local government as well?
A new study by NYU Professor Paul Light, a recognized expert on public service, concludes that almost 70 percent of Americans say the government needs major reform, even though there is a wide divide on what needs to be done and how to get there.
As an old political science major, I find the study interesting.
But this blog focuses on local issues and so I always try to view findings through that prism.
Does this national trend threaten the reputation and trustworthiness of local government?
About a decade ago, I was part of a small group of local mayors who founded the Florida League of Mayors. It was an offshoot of the Florida League of Cities and the organization tried to capitalize on surveys at the time that found  Floridians had enormous trust in local government and that mayors especially had the confidence of citizens.
People might have been wary of Tallahassee and may have been disgusted by Washington but they liked their local governments.
Trust and confidence in your City Hall is an often underrated asset.
And it works both ways: citizens obviously win when they have faith that their tax dollars are being spent wisely and that their local officials can solve problems and seize opportunities. And those who work in local government win too when their citizens support and trust them. They can safely innovate and they can feel confident that their citizens support them in what can be very difficult jobs.
There was a time when Delray stood out in this regard. A time when over a thousand citizens volunteered for the Police Department, raised money for public safety budgets, voted to go into debt and raise their taxes to fund community projects and generally felt that City Hall was an agent of progress, a place where problems were solved and where you could find answers and support.
City staff was outcome oriented and not mired in process. Things got done: Small things–kitchen permits, sea grape maintenance, leases for key non-profits etc.
Big things got done as well–the Decade of Excellence, the creation of a Community Land Trust, the adoption of a Downtown Master Plan and more.
How do big and small things happen? What makes progress possible?
In a word: culture.
Not the kind that might describe art and music, but rather the kind that allows for collaboration, creativity, compromise, compassion, civility and empathy.
A good culture is built on trust and accountability–those two words are not mutually exclusive. You can have both.
When you have a good culture in your town, there are no limits to what can be accomplished.
The best leaders I have seen empower people. And the best outcome you get from a culture of empowerment is confidence and momentum.
Positive momentum is immensely powerful. It creates special cities. When you believe in what your doing and you have the confidence to venture great leaps occur.
I started writing about Delray Beach in 1987.  I hear many people around town comparing this era to the 80s. It’s not a good comp as they say in real estate.

Some say the level of dysfunction and rancor among commissioners is comparable to that era. Some say it’s not as bad, some say it’s worse.
My take: the 80s were rough here, marked by crime, drugs, blight, instability at City Hall and racial tension.
But some big things got started. Some important seeds were planted. The first historic districts, the launch of Old School Square, the creation of a CRA, a major effort to improve local schools, the seeds of Pineapple Grove, Visions 2000 and the Decade of Excellence.
Pretty great stuff. And yet…what do people remember as much or maybe more than the achievements? They remember the revolving door of managers and department heads, the backbiting among elected officials and the sense that other places were thriving and we were stuck.
And then it changed.
The culture that is…a new crop of commissioners and a new mayor were elected, stability returned–civility too. Progress happened and Delray was on its way.
Delray developed a brand as an innovative city, a pacesetter, a good place to work, a good place to live and a good place to invest. Fun, vibrant and  entrepreneurial were among the words often used and bus loads of people from other cities came here to see how “it” was done.
So what’s the buzz now?
Citizens suing the commission over a charter violation because warring elected officials cannot compromise.
A revolving door of managers and department heads.
Major private investments delayed, pronounced dead or in costly litigation.
Residents complaining about a toxic culture and how hard it is to volunteer in this city. Yep, how hard it is to volunteer because of a culture of toxic politics on the commission.
2017 is a New Year and a chance to turn things around. It can be done.
We’ve done it before.

If we do, we will solve problems and seize opportunities. If we don’t, we risk 30 years of progress and more important –our future.
It’s time for a change. If you love Delray as many of us do, it’s time to get moving. We stand for what we tolerate. And right now we are tolerating a whole lot of nonsense.

The Power of Local Leadership

Our future depends on our choices.

Our future depends on our choices.

I’m a big fan of New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Even though our politics don’t quite line up, I always glean something from Brooks’ writing.

This week, Brooks wrote an excellent column in the wake of the Dallas, Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights violence.

It was a quick trip through history and a treatise on how societies can come unglued after major upheavals such as economic dislocation, technological advances and war.
While Brooks concludes that we are not quite broken, he does believe we are peering over the abyss. It’s a dangerous place for a country to be and is often characterized as polarization after tragic events rather than a coming together.
Brooks opines that the answer to America’s problems during similar fraught eras has always been leadership. He is spot on.  Leadership responds to the moment and helps us navigate to a better place.
What’s especially interesting is Brooks’ contention that the answers to America’s many challenges may come from local leadership–local police, local non profit leaders, neighborhood reformers and mayors.
All across America, cops, educators, local elected officials, public servants and local innovators are making strides and changing lives.
Brooks is hopeful that some of these game changers will make the leap and fix our ailing and frequently embarrassing national politics.
Lord, I hope so.
Meanwhile, it’s clear to me that the places that will thrive and create opportunities are those cities and communities that are blessed with dedicated, visionary and brave civic entrepreneurs who fix neighborhoods, improve schools, eradicate crime and find ways to create economic opportunity for all.
If you’re lucky to live in such a place count yourself among the fortunate.

But it’s not enough to sit back and count your blessings because transformation is never ending and you can’t grow complacent or declare victory. Your work is never done. And progress can be more easily squandered than gained.

It’s critically important to find and nurture local leaders, empower them, support them, help them, defend them and if you do–watch your city soar.
If you are not so lucky and you are plagued by corrosive leadership or lack of leadership– get involved and resolve to make change.

Bad leaders=bad outcomes. That’s the law. Wish it was different, but its immutable.

On the local level it’s possible to change things with an injection of one or two solid, mature leaders who realize that being an elected official is a job to do not a job to have. There’s a difference.

It’s not about their resumes or egos or personal preferences, it’s about moving a community forward by serving it.
If you are not sure what you have on your local council or commission, take the time and figure it out.

Attend a meeting, view a few online, email an elected official and see what happens.
If you watch a meeting observe whether they are focused on ideas, opportunities and problem solving or whether they are fixated on each other or grandstanding statements. It’s easy to tell. Watch how they treat the public and city staff, are they courteous, warm and professional or are they dismissive, rude and distracted? Do your elected officials ask questions, do they listen to facts or are they reading from a script with a closed mind? Are they empathetic? Are they able to frame issues, calm the community and focus on what’s important? Or do they fan the flames and major in the minor?
If you send an email on a local issue or concern do they respond in a timely fashion? Is their response” canned” gobbledygook or detailed and sincere? You’ll know.
Positive change can happen quickly when the right people are in the right seats on the bus. You’ll spin your wheels if they are not on the bus and you’ll eradicate whatever progress that’s been made if the hard workers in your city  are under that bus.
Block by block, brick by brick, that’s how we get America and our cities moving again.

Success: A formula

I agree.

I agree. Do you?

When communities can’t see past the next week they suffer.

When communities scratch every itch, react to every complaint and ignore what’s positive they degrade the spirit of the most important people in a city, the people who volunteer, serve, work hard, invest, dream and aspire. The people who build community.

When I speak to groups I am often asked what it takes for an elected official to succeed.

I hear how difficult the job is, how brutal  the politics can be and how complex today’s issues seem. It’s all true.

It’s a hard job.

Time consuming and at times very stressful.  And if you care about your neighbors it can be very hard to disagree with them or to say no.

But it’s not all vinegar and heartburn either.

 Public service can be a joy and immensely rewarding. And there’s nothing like local government. If you have a good idea on a Tuesday night and two colleagues agree well then… change can be made Wednesday morning. That’s the beauty of local government.

There’s also an opportunity to engage, connect and help people. And that’s powerful and very meaningful–unless of course you choose not to do any of those things.

And make no mistake, it’s a choice.

So I deeply respect and appreciate those who choose correctly and to be honest I have no use for those who don’t.

So while the job is complex and the issues difficult, the job can be made simple.

If you serve you can be certain that you won’t please everybody. That’s a guarantee. Even the “no brainer” issues will manage to set somebody off.

So the choice is clear: who do you choose to please?

Those who are engaged in activities that move your city forward or those who sit back and complain (usually about the doers)?

The choice should be easy. But you might be surprised how many politicos blow it and choose to kowtow to the squeaky wheels and disappoint, disparage and dismay those who get up every day and seek to make the community a better place.

That’s it in a nutshell.

If you want to succeed in local politics–I can’t speak for state or federal office–determine who is busy making a positive impact and do what you can to help them.

Those people are not hard to find. They serve on boards, mentor children, seek to heal those who are hurting, raise funds for good causes, work hard to advance ideas and create jobs. They aspire. Oh, how I love that word. It makes all the good in this world possible.  

Please those folks. Work hard to help them succeed. Praise and support their efforts.

As for the rest, well don’t go out of your way to anger them. (You wont have to, they wake up mad).

Listen to your critics, sometimes they have something to teach you and other times they are simply full of it.

But they do serve a purpose–they are usually wrong. Their batting average is terrible when measured against the doers in your city. Their predictions of doom and gloom rarely come true and their negativity usually doesn’t amount to much.  The worse thing you can do is empower them; that will deflate the contributors and you can kiss progress goodbye.

On the other hand, if you listen to those who aspire, who seek to do the impossible you’ll find that the word doesn’t exist.

Oh, you’ll trip a time or two, you may even get some stuff wrong but you’ll be someone whose service mattered. It’s guaranteed. Or you can squander the opportunity and fail.

It really is that simple.


Building a Front Row Culture

Seth Godin rocks

Seth Godin rocks

I’m a huge fan of the author/blogger Seth Godin.

Not only does he write amazing books (“Purple Cow”, “Linchpin” etc.) he blogs every single day. And most days, he hits it out of the park. That’s just remarkable.

Last week, he floored me with his blog entitled “Front Row Culture.” Here it is…

“The group files into the theater, buzzing. People hustle to get to the front row, sitting side by side, no empty seats. The event starts on time, the excitement is palpable.

The other group wanders in. The front row is empty and stays that way. There are two or even three empty seats between each individual. The room is sort of dead.

In both cases, the CEO or the guest speaker is going to address the group for an hour. But the two groups couldn’t be more different.

The first organization sees possibility; the second sees risk and threat. The first group is eager to explore a new future; the second group misses the distant past.

The truth is this: it’s possible to hire for, train for and lead a front-row organization. And if you merely let entropy take over, you’re going to end up with the second, lesser, failing organization instead.

Worth saying this as clearly as possible: The culture, the choice of front row or back row, is a choice. It’s the result of investment and effort.

Where would you rather work?”

I read that blog at least five times. And then I thought, not only is this thinking applicable to businesses but it applies to cities as well.

“Where would you rather work”, can easily be replaced with where would you rather live?

For me, the difference between a “Front Row” culture and lethargy is the difference between aspiration and fear.

I’m attracted to communities that aspire.

I’m attracted to cities that have vision.

I like places that are willing to experiment and open to new ideas.

I think the cities that work are those that emphasize outcomes over process. Sure, you need rules, ethics, bidding and procedures but those procedures ought to facilitate outcomes, not hinder progress or change. We can nitpick or we can progress.

It shouldn’t take 20 attempts to issue an RFP and it shouldn’t take years to approve a project. You ought to be able to get a fence permit fast and you ought to be able to grab an attractive investment and entitle it quickly so you can be ready for the next one.

Front row cultures empower residents, business owners and public servants. Places that aspire enable and encourage people to solve problems and chase dreams.

The focus needs to be on creating opportunities for current and future residents—you always have to be focused on the future.

“What’s next”? is always the key question.

Complacency is a killer. Aspiration and possibility trumps fear and  dysfunction and creates quality of life and place.




The Art of The Possible


It seems we spend a lot of time looking backwards in Delray Beach.
It’s almost as if we fear the future and want to slam the brakes on change.
You can’t do it.
Change is not only inevitable it’s desired. That’s not to mean that you don’t preserve what’s worthwhile–that doesn’t go without saying–in fact, it’s worth repeating over and over again.
So what’s worthwhile? What do we value? What should we fight for?
Glad you asked.
Our civic pride.
Our vibrancy and charm.
Our historic buildings and districts.
Our downtown.
Our cultural, intellectual and artistic amenities.
Our business community.
Our neighborhoods.
Our wonderful public safety departments.
Those who volunteer.
Those who are public servants.
Our beach.
Our parks.
Our schools.
I can go on.
Cities that work and succeed strengthen their assets.
Cities that work– fix problems and embrace accountability.
But there’s a difference between accountability and a “gotcha” mentality that destroys people, institutions and morale.
There’s a difference between accountability and bullying. Accountability works when it builds capacity. It works when  it teaches and when its constructive.

Bullying is destructive.

And it doesn’t last because you don’t get results via fear and intimidation. Oh maybe short term, but nothing lasting is built on a foundation of fear.
Cities are complex organisms. And a city such as Delray is a very complicated place.
This is a hard town to manage. A hard town to lead.
It’s active.
It’s ever changing.
It’s diverse.
It’s got history, pride, baggage, crime, drugs, homelessness, wealth, poverty, youth, age, commerce and tons of talent.
Delray also has unbridled potential.
We can be whatever we choose to be.
America’s most fun small town can be the place for artists, entrepreneurs, families, retirees, kids and millennials.
It already is in so many ways and it can be even better.
If we want it to be. Or it can be worse.
It’s our choice.
When I drive the streets of this city, I can’t help but feel pride.
If you don’t feel it, I feel sorry for you. I don’t mean that in a snarky way, I truly do feel remorse.
Because you are missing out on a very special place and an incredible success story.
Are we a perfect place?
No. We are not.
We can all list the litany of issues and kvetches. We can dwell on them too.
Or we can focus on what’s good, fix what needs fixing and move beyond our first world problems and enjoy where we are living. And dig in harder to fix the serious problems. Like homelessness, like drug addiction and gang violence. We can begin caring about kids being left behind and about creating opportunities for current and future residents.
We should plan for the future.
How can we transform Congress Avenue and make it Delray’s next great street?
How can we sustain the success of our downtown and extend it to areas  that are lagging?
How can we ensure that Delray Beach is desirable and accessible to young families and young professionals? How we can be a safe and fun place to retire and grow old?
A place that embraces business and recreation, art and culture, history and progress.
Delray thrives when the community comes together and works on big goals, visions and projects.
That’s what created the value we see if we allow ourselves to see it.
Delray drifts without aspiration and vision.
15 years ago bus loads of people from every neighborhood and walk of life–old and young–black and white, east and west, went to Atlanta Georgia and stood up before a national audience of peers and proudly talked about our city.  We talked about our schools and our efforts to fight crime and reclaim neighborhoods. We talked about our downtown and our beach and our history but mostly we talked about what we wanted to be. Our future. Our vision. Our aspirations.
And we were named an All America City. For a second time. The first city in Florida to achieve that honor.
After the event, we hugged and we celebrated and we got right back to work. And that is what it means to look forward and that is what it means to build community.
Delray works, when Delray aspires.

Nothing works when you focus on fear and pessimism.