My Lunch With Tony

Tony Allerton is a local hero.


When you’re my age, It’s not too often that you get to have lunch with someone 36 years your senior.

It’s a special bonus when that lunch partner is a local legend.

Recently, I had the privilege of dining with Tony Allerton, the longtime leader behind the Crossroads Club, a non profit that has quietly but effectively saved thousands of lives for the past 42 years.

Crossroads helps those in recovery rebuild their lives. Over my 36 years in Delray I have met many people who credit Crossroads with saving them.

In fact, when we dined at Granger’s, a gentleman crossed the restaurant grabbed our check and thanked Tony for a lifetime of good deeds.

Isn’t that cool!?

I thought it was.

Tony and I shared our history together over grilled cheese sandwiches—over the years we’ve had lunches, ribbon cuttings and meetings where we discussed the important work being done at Crossroads.

He told me about coming to Delray in the 1950s and we discussed all the changes we’ve seen, all the people we’ve known and all the mayors he’s worked with.

I loved hearing the stories but more than that I picked up on something extraordinary.

Yes, we talked about the past, but we also talked about the future. That’s where Tony was focused. A golf tournament to raise money for Crossroads, tomorrow’s meetings, future funding sources so he can help more people get their lives on track.

At 95, this wonderful man, with a magnetic smile and energy to burn, was focused on today and tomorrow.

How cool is that? How beautiful and magnificent too.

That’s what legends are made of; optimism, aspiration and an enduring desire to serve others.

Tony Allerton is a treasure. A Delray treasure. We are so lucky to have him.



SUD Talks: A Model For Conversation

We attended SUD Talks on Saturday night at the Crest Theater.
The event is a TED Talk like confab that shines a spotlight on one of the most vexing issues of our time: addiction or substance use disorder (SUD).
The event was produced by former Delray Drug Task Force Director Suzanne Spencer. A standing room only crowd heard from elected officials (US Representative Lois Frankel and State Attorney Dave Aronberg), large local employers seeking to give people a second chance, treatment providers, counselors, people in recovery and our Police Chief Jeff Goldman.
It was a powerful and poignant evening.
As we all know, addiction, recovery, heroin, sober homes and its impact on lives, neighborhoods, public safety personnel and budgets are front and center in the Delray municipal election which is in 8 days.
With every candidate talking about the issue it was conspicuous to see only one candidate–Jim Chard–show up; especially for the Seat 2 race which seems to be built on the impact of the industry on Delray.
But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at all.

Mr. Chard has been working on the issue with the Drug Task Force and lives amid sober homes in his neighborhood. He’s hard at work, knows the issue inside and out and knows the players who can actually affect change.
His opponents–have been largely absent on the issue. One has a Facebook page long on vitriol, but short on solutions.
I prefer my leadership to be real not virtual. And to be real, you have to be present and invested.  If  you expect progress, it’s important to support candidates who are involved in the issue not merely paying lip service to it. And that’s enough politics…for today anyway.
What’s been great about the Drug Task Force and SUD Talks is its depth and its power to convene the key players on the issue.

SUD Talks dived into the nuances and humanity of the crisis which is multi layered and complex.
The evening took us inside the world of the police officer showing up at the chaotic scene of an overdose and being tasked with saving a life.
Delray officers responded to over 600 such calls last year, Chief Goldman told the standing room only crowd. That’s astounding and tragic.
But to listen to our Chief in person is to get a glimpse into the challenges facing our officers every single day. It’s also evident that Chief Goldman is immensely proud of his officers and deeply concerned too, as good leaders should be and Jeff is a good leader.
I happen to know many officers. They are hard working, dedicated and stressed. So are our firefighter/paramedics. This is a challenge without a defined play book.
We also heard from Dr. Ashok Sharma, a psychiatrist at Fair Oaks Pavilion, which is part of Delray Medical Center.
Dr. Sharma bravely talked about burn out among clinicians, counselors and treatment center staff as they deal with complicated cases and “frequent fliers” –people who consistently relapse.
He acknowledged the real dangers of burn out and his talk focused on the importance of compassion and empathy as a way of reconnecting with the very reason why professionals enter the field.
It was a powerful and real speech. And citizens and policymakers need to hear from the providers and front line personnel on this crisis in order to understand the scope of the challenge.
We heard uplifting stories as well; of people thriving in recovery, overcoming adversity, finding meaning, love and health.
A recent post on this blog warned of the barrage of election mail and messaging sure to come this week.
The issue of recovery–a national one–but one of great importance in Delray Beach will be front and center.
Candidates will tell you they will close sober homes, drive the industry out and clean up neighborhoods.
Many will ignore the complexities, laws and nuances surrounding the issue.
They almost certainly won’t discuss the need for these services in this and every community. Almost everyone has been or will be touched with addiction issues in their lives.
It would be nice to remember these are our son’s and daughters, fathers, mothers and friends caught in the grip of a deadly disease. I have several friends who came here for recovery and have become stellar contributors to our community.
Compassion and intelligent conversation is needed if we are to truly make a dent and rid our neighborhoods of bad operators and those who exploit people needing help.
SUD Talks delivered that by convening the agents of change in our community.
Delray has a serious problem. Our city is not alone.

But it’s also good to know that our community and Palm Beach County are on the cutting edge of leading the way for communities across Florida and America.

We Can Do This

I live in what I would consider to be a  safe neighborhood.

We’ve lived in Delray Lakes for almost 14 years and we absolutely love it. We have wonderful neighbors and our location puts us minutes to downtown and minutes to I-95. We love living here and I often recommend—and will continue to recommend—to friends and acquaintances that they take a look at Delray Lakes if they are considering a move and want to live in a warm, friendly and convenient neighborhood.

It has been a great neighborhood to raise kids and now it’s a great neighborhood to be (almost) empty-nesters.

But in recent weeks, there have been a series of thefts out of cars. It is unsettling and it has rattled our happy little spot.

It’s a horrible feeling to be victimized. It’s a violation and it spurs both fear and anger.

My neighborhood is not alone.

Unfortunately, crime—especially property crime is an issue in our city.

According to a semi-annual report released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Delray experienced a 17.5 percent increase in the number of property thefts in the first six months of 2016 compared to 2015. There was an 8 percent increase in burglaries and a 24 percent increase in stolen vehicles, according to the stats.

In June 2016 alone, the city logged 108 auto burglaries, long time police officers can’t remember the last time they even came close to 100.

So clearly, there’s an issue. That’s the bad news.

Here’s the good news.

Fortunately, this city has experience in dealing with all sorts of challenges and we should be confident in our ability to overcome any and all difficulties.

We have a terrific police department.

We have had one for a long time now and it has made a profound difference in our city’s fortunes and quality of life. It starts with leadership and the team that our chief has built. Rest assured, he is steeped in how to diagnose a problem and deploy resources to mitigate whatever is thrown our way. Here’s how I know and why I have confidence.

I’ve known Chief Jeff Goldman ever since he was a very young police officer. When I was a young reporter, I often rode with Chief Goldman who was assigned to the “tact team” in the late 80s. The tact team was an elite group of officers who were tasked with fighting a raging crack cocaine epidemic that was sweeping the nation and our city at that time. Parts of our city were literally open air drug markets and people lived in fear.

When you’re wrong and impressionable, there are images that you see that simply won’t leave you. I was 22-23 when I first started riding along with our officers and I followed them into houses that were taken over by drug dealers, addicts and prostitutes. It was the era of AIDS and HIV and we saw people who were literally wasting away from drugs and addiction. We also saw senior citizens and others shaking in fear at the conditions on their block and more than a few whose homes were literally invaded by unwanted people who lived there and just took things under threats of violence.

The department did a great job dealing with those challenges in the late 80s and 90s.

But they didn’t do it alone. It was a team effort and the community was a part of the battle. MAD DADS formed and began doing drug vigils and walks through neighborhoods alongside officers confronting drug dealers and customers many of whom would drive into neighborhoods from other cities to buy drugs.

Community policing took root encouraging officers to get out of their cars and engage with the people they were sworn to protect and serve. The effort paid dividends—relationships formed, trust was built and as a result more information was shared enabling law enforcement to be more effective.

All of this was combined with stellar investigative work and specialty (sometimes multiagency) task forces that removed a lot of bad players from the community.

Citizen police academies were held, inviting the community inside to learn how the department functioned and graduates were funneled into a variety of citizen volunteer patrols that added more eyes and ears to the department.

At its height, over 1,200 volunteers were active, a whopping total in a city that was much smaller back then in terms of population. Delaire and The Hamlet stepped up and held fundraising golf tournaments every year to pay for non-budgeted equipment for police and firefighters. They donated literally hundreds of thousands of dollars over time and it made a big difference.

At City Hall, code enforcement, planning, the building department, parks, the CRA and other entities were involved supporting efforts to fix blight, crack down on nuisance properties, organize neighborhoods and encourage investment which does a lot to make a city safer. They worked together. A lively, active city tends to be a safer city. It really does take a village.

And it really, truly, seriously begins with safety. Jeff Goldman and his officers know this.

If people don’t feel safe in your city—they will not want to live there, work there or spend their leisure time in your community. They won’t want to invest either. Investment and belief run side by side. You can’t have one without the other and people need to believe in your city’s future if they are going to make a bet on your town.

So what can we do to make Delray Beach safer?

First, it’s a mindset.

The Police Department can’t do it alone. They need volunteers and vigilant citizens to be additional eyes and ears.

Second, we need to look at the issue of crime and safety holistically. We all know there are factors driving property crime that are very difficult to deal with.

Heroin and substance abuse disorder is a national scourge and Delray is suffering more than its fair share of problems associated with this very tragic plague. Its acute here; a very big issue.

Our officers and paramedics are dealing with a lot these days—literally fishing bodies out of bushes and having to resuscitate people who have overdosed. It takes a toll.

I’m happy to see the department invest in a social workers position to assist with what has become a serious humanitarian crisis.

But I think the investment will need to be even greater if we are to truly figure out how to mitigate the crisis. I was hoping—as were many others—that the city would find a way to hire someone to run what has become a highly effective Drug Task Force. Yes, I know it’s an expense. But there are certain things you can’t afford not to do. (Take a look at the city’s expenses for consultants and you’ll see where the money could come from).

The Drug Task Force, run by volunteers has done a great job of bringing most if not all of the players together so they can share intelligence, tactics, conditions on the ground and frankly so they can give each other some moral support because dealing with this epidemic is like drinking from a fire hose. And for every hard fought victory there is a tidal wave of tough news.

I’ve had the good fortune to attend meetings of the Task Force and I see cities, businesses, responsible providers, hospitals, prosecutors and legislators at the table. There’s value in that—and you can literally see collaboration flower in the room.

They are making a difference on our most pressing issue.

Obviously, the issue of heroin and the presence of irresponsible operators in our community create serious safety and exploitation issues.

The recent “joint” letter from the departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development was celebrated as a breakthrough by area politicians. But I’ve seen some other opinions that question whether it will actually give cities the ability to clean up the situation. Many believe it will lead to litigation—we’ll see soon enough.

So we have work cut out for us. I think we can learn a lesson from the days of blight and crack cocaine—a combination of traditional and community policing, code enforcement, voluntarism, neighborhood engagement, private sector investment, urban design and collaboration can and will turn the tide over time. But it takes time, money and effort. It’s a commitment. We have an opportunity to set an example for the nation by raising the level of conversation on the issue, recognizing the seriousness of the problem but also exhibiting some compassion for the people suffering and the good operators trying to save their lives. As for the bad operators—crack down and crack down hard. Lives are at stake. So is our city.

We’ve been there before with crack cocaine and saw conditions improve dramatically. We can do it again.

We have to.

A Reminder

matthewBefore we in Florida turn the page on Hurricane Matthew there are a few lessons to learn or relearn.
We were fortunate–this time.
But only has to look at Haiti and North Carolina to see how dangerous nature can be and how a storm can alter a community or a nation forever.
I had the unique experience of being mayor the last time we were hit by a major hurricane.
So I had a bird’s eye view of our city’s response to a series of storms that did hit us in 2004 and 2005. Wilma was the worst. But the others took a toll as well.
People lost roofs and homes, power and their patience. Business was disrupted and many communities were left with an immense amount of debris and residents desperately in need of food, water, ice and prescription medications.
It was a major challenge. And I was incredibly impressed with our city’s response.

We were ready. And city staff did a great getting the city back on its feet.
Our fire and police departments were stretched to the max but performed magnificently–keeping neighborhoods safe, responding to emergencies and quickly assessing damage in every nook and cranny of the city.
Our Parks, Public Works. Code Enforcement and Environmental Services departments rose to the occasion: clearing roads, removing debris, ensuring that lift stations worked and managing critical infrastructure.
The city manager and department heads working out of the Emergency Operations Center at the Fire Department showed poise and exhibited exemplary team work.
They were ready and it showed.
Training, table top exercises and policies in our Comprehensive Plan that addressed natural disasters enabled our city to get back on its feet.
I feel the need to revisit the past because of statements made at last week’s commission workshop which included a debrief of the storm. At the meeting, the mayor repeated several times that the city never had a “coherent” emergency plan in place until now. He’s wrong.
We did. And it needs to be said because it’s disrespectful to past managers, chiefs and rank and file staff to suggest we didn’t.
Personnel did not panic or run around cluelessly. They performed professionally, indeed heroically in many cases.
How do I know? Because I was there –for all of the storms. The current mayor was not.
If there is a better plan in place today hallelujah and congratulations. There should be a better plan in place today than in 2004-05 or in 1992 when Andrew threatened us before heading south. We are supposed to learn from experience and apply new knowledge to challenges.

But it is not necessary to disparage in order to progress. I felt the need to say that after hearing from a few retirees who let me know about the comments. They didn’t like them because they are professionals and they took pride in protecting our city. And guess what? They did. Very well I might add. Extremely well.
We caught a break this time. Eleven years ago we didn’t. And staff worked around the clock to get us back on our feet. It wasn’t easy. It was hot and it was stressful.  But they knew what they were doing. We were proud of their efforts, very proud and residents were grateful. I hope that was a coherent response.

Ok, onward and upward.
Now –11 years of experience and know how later–I’m not surprised that we remain prepared. If buildings need to be built or improved just do it. It’s a good investment.
FPL is also better prepared as result of a decade of investment and technology and local businesses seem to have also heeded the call with generators and planning which enabled them to restock shelves and replenish gas supplies quickly.
It seems like many homeowners have also stepped up adding better shutters and buying generators.
Many people didn’t heed the call to evacuate. Endangering themselves and first responders.
Many people struggled with decade old shutters (guilty) because they weren’t used or maintained over the years.
And I ran across a few people who seemed oddly disappointed that the storm missed us.
They complained about how hard they worked to get ready  only to see the storm pass us by.
We won’t always be lucky. I hope we realize that.
So prepare anyway.
And take comfort that we’ve met the challenge before and we will again.