Delray Pie

I’m stealing this opening from a friend.

If he wants credit, I’ll reveal his name next week. If he wants to enter the witness protection program, I’ll try  to help.

But I love the analogy and I thought I’d share. So here goes.

Imagine, if you will, that every time you step forward to help, you get hit in the face with a pie.

That’s what happening to the good folks who have hung in there at Old School Square.

Last week, they went to a Downtown Development Authority (DDA) meeting to discuss the results of a city commission workshop in which it was decided that the DDA should consider working with the non-profit to offer arts classes and to begin to get the Crest Theatre up and running again. I believe it was also decided that an invitation to negotiate will be made available to other organizations. That’s the right and proper thing to do. Let the best ideas win.

Without dredging up the ugliness, they got hit in the face with a pie from a board member who doesn’t have her facts straight.

The details of the latest pie in the face are not important. It’s the same tired, discredited arguments that have been made since Old School Square was terminated “without cause” (how’s that for irony?) in 2021. Still, Old School Square fired back with a letter to the DDA chairman requesting that the facts be read into the public record.

That’s a good and necessary step.

But there’s a deeper issue here and one that we really ought to understand and address.

But let’s digress for a moment.

Books– with lots of chapters and lots of words– have been written about how to build a successful city.

I wrote one of them and I’ve read a lot of them too.

Cities are complicated places; they succeed or fail for a variety of reasons. But if you boil it down, there are two essential ingredients for success. Let’s call them table stakes; the minimal entry requirement for success.

They are?

Drum roll please…

It must be safe to aspire, and it must be safe to volunteer.

That’s it.

The rest is negotiable.

Sure, it helps if you have a pristine beach or a city with what they call “good bones.”

Universities and cultural amenities are cool and good schools are a huge advantage but if volunteering is treacherous, you’re toast. If aspiration is anathema, you’re DOA.

Not only won’t you move forward, but everything that you’ve managed to build is in danger if citizens who aspire feel it’s dangerous, frustrating, or downright impossible to invest or volunteer.

I’m afraid that’s where we’ve been in Delray Beach. We’re digging out, but we have work to do.

It reminds me of that old saying: There’s a reason why we can’t have nice things—just yet anyway.

It’s hard to build community when there are elements who just won’t accept facts.

Of course, we are entitled to our opinions, but you really can’t have your own facts and function properly. The Earth is not flat and nobody at Old School Square took a dime of taxpayer money and stuffed it into their pockets. All public money given the organization was earned after services were rendered. For years, volunteers raised 75-80 percent of the money used to run our cultural arts center and did all the work, now the taxpayer pays 100 percent. That’s a fact.

The volunteers didn’t stick the taxpayers with a bill for the renovation of the Crest Theatre either. That project was funded by a generous donor who had a pie thrown in her face and withdrew her money.

Now the taxpayers must ante up millions for projects that were privately funded through the efforts of Old School Square.

If you’re an arsonist, you shouldn’t be able to burn down a house and then blame others for the destruction you caused.

Old School Square fired back at the latest pie in the face by stating the facts. That was the right thing to do.

But the larger issue is the pie throwing itself;  the larger issue is the sense that if you fall on the wrong side of the political divide, you face peril.

It’s not fun to write that sentence, but building anything of value requires radical candor. Problems don’t magically go away, if left unaddressed, they fester. In our community, we have a bad habit of just trying to plow forward. We skip the healing part, we skip the analysis and we sacrifice the learning and the reconciliation that’s possible if we talk through issues and try and find the lessons in painful moments.

The new composition of the city commission is making strides. We have kind people serving on the city commission. Our city and our world need empathetic leadership at every level.

I am not asking for some kumbaya moment. But I’m thinking we should take advice from Otis Redding and try a little tenderness.

Robust debate is healthy and necessary. If you see something you don’t like, speak out, even if you shake when you do so.

We can disagree. We can even compromise, imagine that?

But we cannot be successful if volunteers don’t feel safe to serve or disagree.

You can say Old School Square made mistakes, but if you are alleging corruption, you better bring the goods.

Margaret Atwood who wrote “The Handmaid’s Tale” is an expert communicator on dystopias and utopias.

She says we have a choice.

“Writing dystopias and utopias is a way of asking the reader the question, “where do you want to live?” she recently said. “And where you end up living is going to depend partly on what you do now.”

Yes indeed. What do we do right now?

We have a choice.

I hope we choose kindness and support those who value building a community where it is safe to dream, volunteer, invest and aspire.

If we don’t, there will be nobody to throw pies at, volunteers and those who aspire will find somewhere else to give their time, talent and treasure. We will lose what took decades to build. We already have when it comes to Old School Square.

 

 

 

Heroes & Friends

Bill Branning and Frances Bourque have volunteered for decades.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” MLK.

Last Tuesday night, I sat in a room in the Cornell Museum at Old School Square surrounded by beautiful art and even more beautiful people.

It was the end of a long day, and I was exhausted.

I had been up since 4:30 a.m. worried about a friend who has Covid. I went to the gym and had a busy day at work. All I wanted to do was go home and curl up on the couch with the new puppy.

But I went to Old School Square to talk about the future of the organization with some of the best people I’ve ever met.

And I realized that this is where I should be.

I was home.

I was a few yards from the fieldhouse where I was married, a few feet away from the Crest Theatre where we held Town Hall meetings and where my family and I watched so many memorable shows.

In a few weeks— unless some common sense and a spirit of compromise shows up like a miracle—the beautiful art will come down off the walls. And the special people who created and largely funded Old School Square will be gone too. Some, I fear, will be gone forever. That would be a loss that would do more damage to Delray Beach than just about anything I can think of.

Yes, the city or some museum in Boca can swoop in with lots and lots of (taxpayer?) money and re-open the doors.

The City Manager and Parks Director can make a bunch of snappy and happy YouTube videos telling you that all is well and that things will be “better than ever” at Old School Square.

But they would be wrong.

They don’t know.

They are just good soldiers following orders. They are paid staff, who seem to come and go like the breeze these days, tasked with putting perfume on a decision that smells.

Thanks to a 3-2 vote of the City Commission, 32 years of hard work and passion for this community will be evicted in February.

I thought about that hard work and that passion when I looked around the room Tuesday evening.

There was Frances Bourque, the founder of Old School Square, a hero and inspiration to so many people.

If we lived in a kind place, there would be a statue to Frances on the grounds she saved 32 years ago. Not that Frances would want that, but her friends would, because we would want future generations to know about this wonderful woman who looked at a collection of dilapidated buildings behind a rusted chain link fence and saw so much more.

A few years back, I worked with Frances’ sister Judy and others to nominate Mrs. Bourque for a statewide award given by the University of Florida to honor Floridians for “exceptional achievement, impact, and leadership”.

Frances won.

We weren’t surprised, but she was, and the first thing she did was credit others.

“No MAN (or WOMAN) is an island,” she wrote in an email. “This recognition belongs to ALL of us!”

Typical Frances. The truly great ones are humble. Real leaders share credit.

Sitting next to Frances was the amazing Deborah Dowd.

Deborah is a retired teacher. She worked with students in Title 1 Schools, helping children who lived in poverty learn how to read. I visited her classroom a time or two. Watching her with kids could bring tears to your eyes.

Deborah is an amazing volunteer. She has done so much for wonderful non-profits such as the Achievement Center and served on many important city boards. Deborah won the “Woman of Grace” Award given by Bethesda Hospital a few years back. That award honors the best of us and Deborah is the best of us.

I looked across the room and saw Elise Johnson.

Elise and her husband Charles are generous donors and kind people. They own Putt N’ Around, one of the best places to take your family in Delray Beach. When my sister-in-law passed away recently, we took my nephew to Putt N’ Around to lift everyone’s mood. It was a memorable day—I’m sure so many other families have built memories around the landmark.

In years past, before Covid and this nonsense we are dealing with now, Charles and Elise coordinated the “Santas” who volunteered at Old School Square. We went to their home for Santa training and to receive freshly ordered Santa suits. I can’t think of better or more giving people.

A few feet away from Elise, sat Patty Jones, the chair of Old School Square. Patty and her family just suffered a devastating loss, but she hasn’t missed a beat. She loves OSS so much that she just keeps going. Her devotion moves me to my core. She is a wonderful person.

Next to Patty sat a young man named Malik Ramelize. Malik is an attorney and social justice advocate. I’m so impressed with this guy that I Googled him to learn more. I found an article from the University of Miami Law School that discussed his “wayward” path to the law, how he ran the streets in Delray, saw a whole lot of violence and became determined to make a difference. His middle name is Thurgood, as in Thurgood Marshall.

The article says that when his father gave him the middle name Thurgood, “he knew exactly what he was doing. There’s no doubt that he gave me that name with the hope of me one day becoming an attorney. And I thank him for it because I love the name. Thurgood Marshall was not only one of the greatest Supreme Court justices of our time, but he’s also one of the most influential people of our time. He broke barriers that people thought couldn’t be broken.”

Malik is determined to break barriers and make a difference. Remember his name, I have a hunch he will do great things.

I can go on and on—the caliber of human being in that room fighting for Old School Square is moving and remarkable.

Young leaders like Connor Lynch, seasoned volunteers like Scott Porten and Bill Branning and one of the nicest humans on the planet— Noreen Payne. And the list goes on.

The talented artist Patti McGuire.

Joe Gillie, the guy who won us those All America City Awards we like to brag about. Not to mention the good people on the staff who love the mission and will soon be out of work.

These are the people our city won’t sit down with and talk about a path forward. It’s shameful. There’s no other word. It’s important that you know about these people, because they are invaluable to our community.

Margaret Blume, who gave more money to charity than anyone that I can think of in the modern history of Delray, was dismissed when she appeared at a recent commission meeting to ask about her multimillion- dollar effort to improve the Crest Theatre, fieldhouse and Cornell Museum.

A majority of our commission can’t find it in their hearts to say a kind word about people like Frances and Margaret.

Some, however, have found the time to double down on misinformation about OSS.

One brand new commissioner  talks about the millions of taxpayer dollars that have flowed to OSS over the years but she doesn’t say that 75-80 percent of the budget is raised privately by OSS. How can a businesswoman talk only about costs not benefits, as if there has been no return on the public’s investment?

Really?

Look down the street at Atlantic Avenue—there’s your return.

Ask a resident if they have had a good time at OSS over the years—seeing a show, watching a free concert or taking a class. How do you measure the value of sitting on the grass and watching kids 5 to 95 dance under the stars to music in the Pavilion?

Old School Square has generated millions and millions of dollars in economic activity and investment over the past three decades. Somehow this is lost on the powers that be.

For some reason, there is a concerted effort to undo all the good work it took to build this community.

Let’s get rid of the festivals, let’s take over the CRA and politicize it, let’s ignore the neighbor’s vision for The Set—their own neighborhood. Let’s throw away OSS and the people behind it.

Why?

Because they are the “good old boys”?

Tell that to the women in the room. The only thing that’s correct in that sentence is the word good.

These are good people.

And that’s what this fight is about my friends.

This is not about performance, although OSS can always do better. OSS had turnover in senior positions and they missed an audit deadline. P.S. the city has had turnover too. Massive and costly turnover.

The Commission has made a ton of mistakes from mishandling the water issue to screwing up nearly every RFP that’s been issued.

What leaders do is acknowledge shortcomings and work with partners to make things better.

This is not about OSS’ lack of compliance; the organization missed a deadline because their auditor quit during a horrible and historic pandemic.

OSS has since produced clean audits and every document that has been requested. It’s all a red herring. This is about crushing good people.

This feels personal to those people, because it is personal.

These people have been bullied. They have been labeled and they have been maligned.

They have also been accused of being arrogant, not listening and failing to comply with the city’s rules.

It’s just not true.

And if the city felt that way, there was never an attempt to sit down and figure it out; to walk through the issues, perceived slights and alleged deficiencies in the spirit of trying to make things better.

I suppose it’s quicker to take out a two by four than it is to commit to a process meant to build mutual understanding and a better relationship. Quicker–but costly too. Costly in terms of legal fees, staff time (tax dollars) and human fall out.

I see the treatment of OSS as a metaphor for the state of our city these days.

 

For better or worse, OSS is one of our signature civic achievements.

 

Nobody from OSS has ever argued that it is perfect or all that it could be or needs to be.

But it’s still pretty damn good, and it still represents one hell of an effort by a generation of volunteers and donors. People were proud of that effort and happy to serve and write checks. They knew they were serving the community and that they had a partner in the city and the CRA.

 

Back before we became a dysfunctional municipal laughingstock with an endless parade of city managers, department heads and lawsuits, cities from all over the country came to Delray to learn how we did it. What was our secret sauce?

We always met those groups at OSS because we were proud of those buildings and the effort and love it took to bring them to life.

When we went on the road, our last presentation slide was always OSS. It was the show- stopper. And it never failed to elicit ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’. But it wasn’t the restoration of the buildings that got to people. It was the community effort and the passion that went into the effort of building community that hit home.

For better or worse, OSS has been a big piece of this community’s heart and soul. There are other important symbols—other important non-profits, but it would be hard to argue that OSS doesn’t matter.

And it’s not the buildings folks, as beautiful and historic as they are. It is the people who have been involved. The people who breathed life  into the campus, who gave us a place to gather, who built a special sense of community.

Destroying this organization is an attack on that heart and soul.

We should all care about this fight because it is about so much more than OSS.

It is about the future of this city. And how we treat each other.

Think that’s overly dramatic?  Oh, I hope so.

I hope I’m wrong.

But when some of the best people in this community  get hit by a two by four,  you can count on some of them to walk away and quit. Quit giving, quit serving, quit caring.

All I am saying is that would be  a shame. A preventable shame.

I think that’s the goal here.  To get these people to quit. (P.S. most won’t).

That’s just my hunch.

What would be the harm in talking to good people? What’s the downside?

We can talk about what’s gone wrong in this relationship, what needs to change, what needs to get better and what’s been good about this place. We can work together on behalf of the community as we are all tasked to do.

A few weeks back, 8 former mayors—every elected mayor who is still alive wrote a letter asking for that conversation and for the public to be involved in determining the future of Old School Square, the heart and soul of our community. To date, we have heard crickets. To date, the community has not been heard. Nearly 11,000 who signed a petition have been ignored.

Citizen driven planning led to the revitalization of Delray Beach. That was the secret sauce. Talking to each other about Delray and then going out and making it happen.

Why wouldn’t we go back to that formula now? Why wouldn’t we listen to the stakeholders instead of turning the fate of Old School Square over to a judge?

The people in the Cornell Museum last week are wondering the same things.

They are my heroes.

Many of us were off the board for years before we got back involved to stand up for the organization thousands of people have built and sustained over the years. Those need people need a voice. They deserve an audience with the powers that be that sit on the commission.

We would be losing an awful lot if these people walked away.

And if that isn’t the goal, we should all put down our swords, sit down like adults and figure this out.

OSS has always been willing to talk, despite the spin from the dais.

OSS has offered to talk, but they have been rejected. Repeatedly.

So it was litigate, or be put out to the trash after three decades. There was no choice.

OSS offered to settle, but a majority of the commission wouldn’t even discuss the offer among themselves.

OSS offered to mediate early, but the city’s attorneys said no.

Meanwhile, the misinformation keeps coming. And remember, the city ended the lease “without cause.”

Ironic and I’m being charitable.

I guess if you keep repeating lies, people start believing or at least questioning.

It’s even more ironic when the same commissioners complain when OSS pushes back.

Bullies will take your lunch money every day if you let them, but bullies typically don’t like it when you say enough is enough.

OSS is saying enough. They are also saying let’s work it out. Let’s not throw away everything that has been built.

I hope you will stick by these brave volunteers and the dedicated staff that remain,  because as important as OSS is, this is an even bigger fight.

I Dream Of Community

I woke up this morning and watched Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech in Memphis.

He was assassinated the next day. He never got to the Promised Land. He knew he wouldn’t.

But MLK saw the Mountain Top. He saw America’s problems, but he also saw its potential. He had hope for the nation to become the Promised Land.

So do I.

I also have hope for our community.

Last week, I wrote about finding an old video from Delray Beach’s first All America City Award win in 1993.

The footage reminded me of a productive and happy time in our community.  In the 90s and beyond, Delray was brimming with aspiration and there was widespread civic engagement and a whole lot of unity.

After the hotly contested 1990 election, we would go ten years before the next contested election. That’s astonishing when you think about that through the lens of today’s toxic politics.

But it didn’t seem so strange back then because people were largely happy with the city’s direction at the time. It’s hard to imagine an uncontested seat these days.

While competitive elections are healthy, it’s hard to remember a time when the electorate wasn’t polarized. It’s also hard to remember a time when elections were about ideas not about personalities and whose “camp” you’re in.

Sadly, we are not alone.

We live in a polarized nation—a dangerously divided country in which both sides believe the other side poses an existential threat to their survival.

The division and vitriol that accompanies that division consumes a lot of the time of many people that I know.

And we wrestle with its many manifestations.

Locally, we see the division play out with bickering on social media, nasty elections and political decisions based on personalities not sound public policy.

Nationally, we all know how toxic Washington has become.

But the division has even affected families and friendships.

I know people who don’t speak to once beloved relatives because they voted for Trump or Biden.

And I’m really wrestling with my feelings for a longtime friend who is an ardent anti-vaxxer who supports a U.S. Senate candidate who believes the vaccine is “Luciferian.” When I saw a video of the candidate, it literally made me nauseous. I wanted to buy the guy a one-way ticket on Elon Musk’s spaceship.

Of course, my friend would rather have people send the candidate money so he can protect Americans from a vaccine that I consider a lifesaver. The candidate calls the jab the mark of the beast. Sigh.

I know I tipped my personal politics with that story, so I guess I can count on a few of you dropping off here. Go ahead, I’ll miss you.

Let’s just say that as a Covid survivor, I am grateful for the vaccine. If it keeps me and my loved ones out of the hospital and alive, I’m good with that. I don’t fear 5G or being controlled by Bill Gates and I don’t believe Democrats are molesting children on the second floor of a pizza shop that didn’t have a second floor.

I think the feds have done a bad job with messaging on the virus and that our government has been a day late and a dollar short on testing. But I’m grateful for the scientists hard at work to protect us and to companies like Moderna who I believe have saved millions of lives. And if you think that makes me a socialist, well I’m also glad I bought Moderna stock. 😊

When I was hospitalized with Covid in the summer of 2020, they had nothing to throw at me except some anti-virals, experimental convalescent plasma, powerful steroids, and Vitamin D. The threat of a ventilator loomed over me for 39 long and painful days. So, when a vaccine was approved, I couldn’t wait to get it.

I honestly don’t believe I have the mark of the beast running through my veins (some may disagree). I do thank the good lord for granting all of us some measure of protection.

But enough about what ails us.

How about some solutions?

Nationally, there’s an organization called No Labels (www.nolabels.org) that is trying mightily to bring Democrats and Republicans together through what is called the “Problem Solvers Caucus.”

A few months back, thanks to the generosity of a friend in Delray, a few of my buddies and I had a chance to interact via phone with the organization’s top leadership. I liked a lot of what I heard, but honestly, I’ve been turned off by some other things and I’ve shared that with the organization’s top brass who have been kind enough to debate me via email.

My biggest beef with No Labels is that they seem to push a few favorite politicians and I think that’s risky in this environment. I think they should be concentrating on the basics: bipartisanship, the need for compromise and the importance of having peaceful transfers of power after elections.

They won’t get my money to support some overstuffed overrated Senator. Not that my money matters anyway.

No Labels has promise, but it’s not enough and it’s missing the mark in a few fundamental ways. Are they a solution? I hope so, but I’m not convinced. (Sorry, Randy, it’s not personal, just business).

I do think volunteering is a potential answer to bridging divides. But there’s some headwinds to overcome–namely people aren’t volunteering.

There was some bad news for Florida released to little fanfare last week.

The Corporation for National and Community Service ranks Florida as the lowest volunteer state in the nation, with 22.8% of residents volunteering statewide. The Miami/Fort Lauderdale/West Palm Beach area ranks even lower: 18.7% of residents volunteer, ranking us the lowest among studied metropolitan areas.
Yikes!

Here’s how our community/region fared on some other metrics:

  • 97.4% of residents regularly talk or spend time with friends and family
  • 39.2% of residents do favors for neighbors
  • 24.6% of residents do something positive for the neighborhood
  • 14.0% of residents participate in local groups or organizations
  • 36.7% of residents donate $25 or more to charity

We lag the rest of the state with those numbers. Here are Florida’s numbers:

  • 95.4% of residents regularly talk or spend time with friends and family
  • 50.9% of residents do favors for neighbors
  • 23.6% of residents do something positive for the neighborhood
  • 19.2% of residents participate in local groups or organizations
  • 43.2% of residents donate $25 or more to charity

Utah, with a 51 percent volunteer rate is number one, followed by Minnesota at 45.1 percent and Oregon at 43.2 percent.

Florida ranks dead last— one percentage point below Mississippi.

Minneapolis-St. Paul tops the nation’s cities at 46.3 percent, followed by Rochester, N.Y. at 45.6 percent and Salt Lake City at 45 percent. Our community ranks dead last among major metros with an 18.7 percent volunteer rate just below Las Vegas.

I think civic participation and volunteerism are solutions to polarization. It’s easy to demonize someone you don’t know, and harder to ignore the humanity of someone you work beside.

When Delray won its first All America City Award in ’93 and became the first city in Florida to win twice in 2001, we had over 1,000 people volunteering for our Police Department. We had several hundred trained for the Fire Department’s Community Emergency Response Team (which came in handy after hurricanes) and programs such as a Youth Council, Citizen Police Academies, Neighborhood Potluck Dinners, Study Circles (part of a race relations initiative), youth summits, neighborhood summits, a Neighborhood Advisory Council, Neighborhood Task Teams, Town Hall meetings, Resident Academies, Haitian Citizen Police Academies and a slew of citizen driven visioning exercises to guide our elected officials. We may have a few of these programs left, but a lot of these efforts have been gutted, discarded, and or forgotten about.

We even had a Citizen’s Tool Kit given to new residents to help them get connected. You were given a kit when you registered to get your water meter turned on.

When we look for answers I would start with beefing up volunteerism, civic engagement, and citizen input. The efforts must be real and authentic, not check the box window dressing.

It’s not easy with Covid, but it’s doable.

It will take a lot of time and resources, but if successful, we can reknit the social fabric.

People who work together toward a common goal tend not to hate each other. In fact, just the opposite occurs. Respect builds, relationships form, and community gets built.

And my friends, we need community now more than ever. We need it before it’s too late.

 

 

 

Shining A Light On Old School Square

Don’t ever overestimate the power of love to change a place. In fact, it may be the only thing that ever does.

I’m surrounded by angels.

If my old city editor Tom Sawyer (yes, that was his real name) saw that sentence I would have been sent home for the day to think about my future in journalism.

But what if that sentence is true? What if we have people in our lives who appear at just the right time with just the right message?

I will argue that they are heaven sent. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. It’s working for me.

I’ve been upset lately about the fate of Old School Square.

The organization and the place it birthed holds a special place in my heart. I’m not alone. Many of us love Old School Square.

Along with a slew of people (10,000 plus petitioners) I’m dismayed by the 3-2 City Commission vote to evict Old School Square from the home they created 32 years ago when the site was surrounded by a rusted chain link fence.

The non-profit is far more than a “management company” as some have labeled it—the people involved in the organization are the heart and soul of the place and I would argue are also the heart and soul of modern-day Delray Beach.

When they hurt, many of us hurt.

The people involved in this organization over the years are a ‘who’s who’ of Delray Beach.

But they are not self-appointed keyboard patriots, they are the people who roll up their sleeves and get to work. They are the people who give their time, talent and treasure to the community. They are the best people I know and the type of people who make a city go. They give us the gift of community. They are the secret sauce.

Elected officials come and go—and they certainly matter. Good ones can help you move mountains, bad ones can set you back decades. But successful cities cultivate, treasure and nurture their volunteers.

We removed their hearts with this decision.

When you remove the heart of something you better know what you’re doing. You better know what you’ve done.

Flaws in an organization can be cured, especially if you create a collaborative environment, which we currently don’t have.

But lost among the blizzard of accusations and misinformation is the human side of this decision. That’s where the magic lies. And the hurt too.

Ignore the people equation and that will surely bite you, sometimes in ways that aren’t immediately clear.

Maybe you can get a management company to come in and make sure the place is operationally sound. But where are you going to get a donor like Margaret Blume who just saw her generous multimillion dollar gift not only ignored but lambasted? Where are you going to find another Elise Johnson who gave OSS her all during a pandemic? And where do you find a Joe Gillie who ran the place so well and in his “spare” time helped the city win three All America City Awards?

The truth is you don’t find people like this on a shelf.

We were blessed in this town when special people showed up and decided to devote their lives and careers to this town. There was a time when they were appreciated, respected and adored. They didn’t do what they did for adoration, they gave and gave and gave some more out of an old-fashioned sense of civic duty and love. Don’t ever overestimate the power of love to change a place. In fact, it may be the only thing that ever does.

That’s why this decision hurts and why the hurt lingers. Because the people we should be thankful for have been tossed out on their rear ends for no good reason, without a real conversation and without an attempt to fix this situation.

Until that hurt is addressed, until it is acknowledged and fixed, we won’t really move forward.

Those buildings will go dark— for the time being. And that’s not a good thing. But some group will turn the lights on again. The property will not be developed. But the hurt and the stain of this harsh decision will linger.

Our hearts ache for Frances Bourque, the founder of Old School Square. She is a remarkable woman.

When Frances envisioned Old School Square, Delray Beach’s downtown was a far cry from the bustling place it is today.

One businessman that I know put it succinctly and graphically: “this town was circling the bowl.”

He was right.

But that’s been forgotten.

In the “new” Delray, history began yesterday and everything that was accomplished in the past has been discarded, disrespected and dumped on by critics and Monday Morning quarterbacks who wouldn’t know Frances Bourque from Robert Bork.

So Old School Square was labeled a failing organization—despite finding a way to operate in a pandemic.

Despite presenting a slew of national acts in recent months and landing its biggest ever private donation.

Despite a rich history of achievement and a long legacy of enriching lives through the arts.

Thirty years of hard work dismissed…without a conversation and without giving the community a chance to talk.

Wow.

But political spin is really something.

If you listen to the city’s party line, the non-profit didn’t earn grants—it required “subsidies” — there’s a loaded word used by the brand- new City Manager who really ought to sign up for a history lesson before putting pen to paper. But he better hurry, because the local historians are fading fast and when they are gone nobody will be able to tell the story of how this town came back from a very rough patch. Lose your history and you lose your soul.

 

I was told by a sitting commissioner to cut the guy a break, after all, he’s been here 20 minutes and he’s the ninth manager we’ve had in just a few years’ time. And I will. So will others. There are still compassionate people in this town.

I sincerely hope the new City Manager succeeds. We need him to succeed. But I can tell you how he might fail—be seen as a partisan in a sharply divided town. Because when the worm turns— and it always does—your toast.

 

So Mr. CM you’ve got your mulligan.

Here’s hoping you get both sides of every story from here on out, because rest assured there’s another side to every story in this town.

I also understand that a CM must carry out the will of the majority of their bosses, but sometimes the majority will need some coaching when they stray off the reservation. We are counting on you to speak truth to power.

But let’s go back to Old School Square for a second. They deserve a better epitaph than the current narrative.

We are told to ignore that public funds are only 20-25 percent of the Old School Square budget with the rest earned through donations, sponsorships and ticket sales to things like a Jimmy Buffett concert, which was labeled a failure because not everyone who wanted a ticket got one.

Shame on the organization, we are told.

And shame on Jimmy too for thinking that Old School Square’s “pod” seating was an innovative way to keep people healthy during a pandemic. He could have made his concert return anywhere—but he chose the OSS Pavilion. In most rational places that would elicit civic pride. But not here. You have to ask, why?

Old School Square owned its mistakes and pleaded for a conversation. Their magnanimous behavior got them nowhere. And when the organization pushed back, they were blamed by some for failing to fall on the sword by meekly accepting their fate. I suppose they should have just said thank you to a commission majority that ended the organization’s life without a plan. As a result, brides have no clue whether they can get married in the Fieldhouse this winter.

But I digress.

I have faith that the truth still matters.

And as I said, I am surrounded by angels.

Unfortunately, I fall far short of that description myself; I take it hard when people I love and respect are treated like garbage. I have the urge to put pen to paper when I see things I don’t like.

These little essays make a few of my long-time critics uncomfortable. They wish people like me would go away.

Well, I’ll stop writing when I stop caring. I hope that doesn’t happen for a long time.

I have angels to serve. That’s how I feel about so many of the contributors in this town.

These  angels sometimes call me with messages that urge me to think differently and deeper.

I got such a call last week after spending a night wrestling with some of the emotions resulting from the Old School Square decision.

I was told to look at the lyrics to “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, particularly the opening line. I wasn’t sure what to think about that request, but I read the lyrics and they spoke to me.

“O little town of Bethlehem,

 

How still we see thee lie.

 

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep

 

The silent stars go by;

 

Yet in thy dark streets shineth

 

The everlasting Light.

 

The hopes and fears of all the years

 

Are met in thee tonight.”

Old School Square was the light that lit up a dark town back before it became South Florida’s hot spot.

It may go dark again…but one day that light will shine once more. But it won’t shine as brightly unless it is accompanied by a renewed focus on collaboration, community and yes… love.

That’s what I want to see, collaboration, community and love. I don’t think I’m alone.

If you love something—- you respect, nurture and protect it.

This was an organization made up of people who earned our respect, who deserved to be nurtured (not coddled) and earned the right to be protected.

We did not protect Old School Square.

I’m hoping against hope that it is not too late to do so.

I know I am not alone.

Wake Up Everybody

 

 

 

 

What’s happening at Old School Square is a microcosm of what’s been happening in Delray Beach for years now.

So I wasn’t shocked when the City Commission terminated Old School Square’s lease on a 3-2 vote ending a memorable three decade run by the non-profit. The decision was made without allowing OSS or the public to speak on the issue. OSS was not able to defend itself. The item was not on the agenda and the commission and city staff did not consider the ramifications of the decision.
Ready, fire, aim is not a good way to run anything. But it’s a really bad way to run a city.
But I wasn’t surprised. Disappointed for sure. But not surprised. The commission took over the CRA in similar fashion without discussion, public input or even an item on the agenda. It just happened —like that. And we’re supposed to believe there’s no coordination…hmmmm. See me about a bridge I have one for sale.
There’s been a full-press assault on the volunteer class in this city by certain political elements for years now.
It’s bad. It’s personal and it’s getting worse.
The people who give their time, money and loyalty to Delray Beach are being singled out, disparaged and disrespected. The institutions they support are also under fire. First they took over the CRA and now it’s Old School Square’s turn. But groups as disparate as the Beach Property Owners Association and the Northwest Southwest Alliance have also gotten tangled up in the mess. And a vast number of city employees have seem their careers and lives upended and ruined too. Record turnover doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens for a reason.
The problem is the division on the  City Commission and in the community itself. We are locked in a never ending battle that has made a once happy village a very unhappy place for those who want to be involved.
I can go chapter and verse on this subject. But it’s old and it’s tiring.
Let’s just say the nonsense is having real consequences.
We may have just lost the magic that made Old School Square. That magic was a volunteer/donor base that has given millions of dollars and countless hours to the arts for thirty years until they were called corrupt failures and asked to vacate the place they built.
This isn’t merely a management contract we are talking about. These people birthed the idea of Old School Square, they nurtured it, grew it and raised private money to preserve and enhance city buildings.
For decades, they were respected and acknowledged for their contributions and Old School Square was credited for launching the downtown’s renaissance.
When you have such a relationship and such a resource you treasure it. If there’s a problem, a question or a performance issue you sit down with your partners and you work it out.
You don’t take the organization and throw it in the garbage which is what has been done.
Sure, you can find a group or an entity to manage the facility. But it won’t be the same. It’s like when your favorite restaurant gets bought by a chain—it will look the same, but it won’t feel the same. The soul will be gone. And once it’s gone, good luck getting it back.
Friends, you can’t just find people like founder Frances Bourque and a who’s who of civic leaders by doing an RFP. These people loved the place, the mission and the city itself.
That’s what’s being lost here. That’s what’s not understood or respected.
My strong belief is that the issues being used to terminate OSS the entity are being manufactured in an effort to justify a personality conflict by two sides locked in a damaging Cold War.
Many of the issues being alleged are simply not true and were easily proven false by Old School Square’s board. Too bad they weren’t allowed to talk before they were terminated but when you are being set up it doesn’t make sense to let the target speak does it?
Sadly, brand new City Manager Terrance Moore allowed himself to be used to further a political agenda. That taints him in the eyes of many devoted citizens. He made a big mistake and that’s too bad because after 9 managers in a few years time we need him to succeed.
He will need to learn this community because he badly misfired on this important issue.
As an aside, with a pandemic still raging, a budget that needs adoption, positions that need to be filled, a police contract and a hurricane season upon us, it seems like a curious time to pick a fight with OSS. Especially when the organization just produced its biggest concert and landed its biggest ever private donation.
But here we are.
Oh yes, here we are.
We best wake up people. Delray is at stake. This is way bigger than even Old School Square.

Thanksgiving

“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” – Zig Ziglar
It’s Thanksgiving week and we are grateful.
Yes, the news can be depressing.
Mass shootings—307 in 311 days, fractured politics, wildfires, hurricanes and starving people in Yemen are very real and searingly painful and yet…
And yet, there’s so much beauty in our world if only we would slow down just a tad, look up from our devices and soak it all in.
There’s great music, beautiful skies, a wondrous ocean and incredible art all around us.
There’s good people too.
Lot of really good people.
Right here in good old Delray Beach and Boca Raton.
I’m thankful for them all.
The volunteers, the dedicated teachers, the amazing men and women who serve in our police departments and fire service, the dedicated health care workers who are there for us when we need them most. And the list goes on and on.
On this Thanksgiving I want to say thanks to friends who are always there, family that gives me a reason for being, work that excites me, pets that fill my heart and a wife that patiently listens to my stories, feeble attempts at humor and occasional tales of woe.
So yes the news affects us all.
Important stuff is happening on so many levels.
So stay engaged, speak out, vote, protest if you feel like it and advocate for what you believe in. Never let anyone tell you your voice doesn’t matter or even worse: that you should keep your thoughts and ideas to yourself. Share. Engage. Try and help others—there are so many needy in our world and right here at home.
But give thanks too—if you can. It makes a huge difference.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts with me. See you next week in this space.

A Woman of Grace

Deborah Dowd at the Women of Grace luncheon.

Every now and then, you meet someone who exudes goodness. 
My friend Deborah Dowd is such a person. 
I’ve known Deborah for many years now.  She’s inspiring, kind and dedicated and earlier this week she was recognized by the Bethesda Hospital Foundation during their “Women of Grace” luncheon. 

 
The event—celebrated before a huge crowd at the Delray Beach Marriott—honors women who devote their lives to making a lasting difference as volunteers in our community. 
Past winners include luminaries such as Frances Bourque, Barbara Backer and Sister Mary Clare Fennell.


It’s hard to imagine our community without these incredible women. They have shaped, molded and inspired so many. 
Deborah Dowd is in good company and she’s a deserving honoree. 


While she was cited for her incredible work on behalf of the Achievement Center for Children and Families, she’s also been dedicated to Old School Square and has served on a slew of important city advisory boards. 
Deborah was also an amazing teacher enjoying a stellar career distinguishing herself as a reading specialist. She touched generations of kids and she seems to remember them all. 
Just as important—they remember her.

She told the story of running into a former student at a local Walmart recently. She taught the young man in 1976. He remembered her. How cool is that?
Great teachers touch lives. I’m still in touch with a few of mine—including my favorite of all time Mr. Romanelli. He was my fourth grade teacher. I hope you’re still in touch with a few of your favorites.
Knowing Deborah it’s easy to imagine her as being the favorite of scores of students. 


Her local volunteering efforts also indicate her wonderful taste in nonprofits. The Achievement Center is a model organization transforming the lives of so many children and families in Delray. 
Deborah describes the center as her “happy place.”  That description resonates. It’s perfect. If you haven’t visited the Achievement Center, make it a point; I promise you won’t be disappointed. You will be uplifted. It’s that good. 


Old School Square is another cause near and dear to Deborah’s big heart. She’s a super board member and volunteer for this important Delray Beach institution. 
And let me assure you, she’s appreciated. Deeply appreciated. 
Kudos to Bethesda Hospital for recognizing these amazing women:

Debralyn Belletieri– American Association of Caregiving Youth

Gail Oliver– Gift of Life Marrow Registry

Beth Schatman– Alzheimer’s Community Care

Patricia Tormey– Forgotten Soldiers Outreach


It’s important to say thank you to special people. It’s important to show gratitude and it’s important to volunteer as Deborah and so many demonstrate each and every day. 
Women of Grace one and all. Role models for us all. 

The Ties That Bind

If you’re a local Vietnam Veteran you may want to check out the Boca based chapter of the VVA.

Earlier this week, I had the honor of speaking to the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1125 at Patch Reef Park in Boca Raton.

It was a humbling experience for me since I have great respect for veterans. The opportunity came about when members of the organization attended a Bronze Star award ceremony that recognized the heroism of Skip Brown, a friend, retired Delray police officer and Vietnam veteran who was gracious enough to accept the Bronze Star at Old School Square’s Crest Theatre recently.

The local chapter of the VVA has about 90 members and does some great work in the community raising money for good causes and working to provide services and information to Vietnam veterans in our community.

Our conversation was a memorable one. We all have much to learn if we listen to those who have served. My takeaways: many of the veterans are concerned that basic civics aren’t being taught to young people. They worry about low voter turnout, a fundamental lack of knowledge about history and a lack of understanding of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. They are also keen on reaching Vietnam Veterans so they can engage with them and if needed steer them to services. The organization is working on a website which should be ready by Veterans Day.

I thought I’d share my remarks with readers of Your Delray Boca in an effort to raise awareness for the group.

 

“I’d like thank my longtime friend Arthur Brown for the opportunity to be with you this evening…

I have to admit I struggled with what to say tonight and that would make those who know me laugh…because I’m a lot of things but speechless is not one my afflictions.

I struggled because shortly after Arthur told me about your group and asked me to visit, I happened to stumble across the movie “Coming Home”  which depicts the experience of Vietnam veterans coming home and struggling to adjust to life back in the states.

And I realized that I don’t have much to tell you, but you have much to tell me and all of us.

I was born in 1964 and while I registered for selective service in 1982, I grew up in an America that relied on volunteers and not the draft. And so my peers and I never had to contemplate going to war—others fought for us. While I have respect and gratitude for those who volunteer and those who go to war, I don’t know what it’s like and I never will. If you told me everything you knew about that experience, I would appreciate and grow from that knowledge, but I would still not fully grasp what you lived.

So what do I have to share with you?

Thankfulness and gratitude…for sure.

And yet, as I thought about tonight, I began to think in a larger context and what I concluded is that maybe this inability or unwillingness to understand each other’s experience and perspective is at the heart of what is ailing America these days.

We are here together at a very strange moment in our nation’s history.

We are a nation divided.

We are estranged from one another. That is probably a feeling that you recognize since many Vietnam veterans have shared that they were not exactly welcomed when they returned home. (Editor’s note: during the Question and Answer session following the talk, one veteran said he had to travel in civilian clothes because he was treated harshly while in uniform).

These days, we are talking and often times yelling past each other…we don’t hear and we don’t listen. We don’t seek to understand and we are lacking in thankfulness. We are lacking in gratitude. We are failing to recognize each other as people, as Americans.

Yet, despite our troubles…despite our divisions…despite our broken politics, our opioid addictions, our homeless issues, poverty, despair and violence—we do remain a land of abundance.

Despite racism, hatred, anti-Semitism, homophobia, trade wars, tariffs and political swamps—we remain a place of beauty—we regularly enjoy the blessings of this nation…opportunity, love, compassion, freedom and justice. However, imperfect, it does exist.

And so I thought that just like I could never understand your experience in the Vietnam era, it is possible for me to appreciate and respect it. And therefore it’s possible for all of us to appreciate and respect each other—in spite of our differences.

That’s a decision that all of us have the power to make.

We need to decide what binds us as a nation. What do we share as Americans…not as Republicans or Democrats, Liberals or Conservatives or other labels relating to race, religion, sexual preference or identity—but what binds us as people.

Maybe if we could see beyond the labels, maybe if we made an effort to listen, to be respectful and gracious… maybe just maybe we can find our way back to a place of reconciliation.

Abraham Lincoln called on us to summon our better angels. He also understood that a house divided cannot stand.

I see Lincoln as a model leader because he sought to unite not divide. Division is not leadership, its demagoguery. We lack leaders, we don’t lack demagogues.

That does not mean we cannot hold strong beliefs or advocate for deeply held convictions that conflict with each other. But it does mean, that we should strive for a better way to disagree. Because I know for sure that what we are doing today isn’t working. It’s not making America great again, it’s not instilling hope or affecting change, it is ripping us apart.

Maybe, we ought to step back…lay down our arms, shut off cable TV and social media for a few minutes and consider what’s at stake.  We just might think differently.

Maybe if we paused…we might change our perspective.

So what is at stake?

What is at risk?

I would argue that America itself is at risk.

For all of its imperfections, for all of its problems, this is an amazing country. A nation that has led the world, a beacon for all other nations.

How can we risk that?

How dare we risk that?

Your sacrifice…the sacrifice of others who fought for our country deserves better than what we are seeing these days.

The great leaders and American citizens and service members  who gave us liberty, freedom and the right to pursue happiness—deserve better than what our leaders and our pundits are giving us.

We, the people, deserve better.

I want to conclude with a few suggestions and then I’m anxious to hear your thoughts….

What do we do until we figure this out? What do we do to come together as a nation?

I would suggest we begin to think and act locally…volunteer, mentor a young person, find a worthy charity and give our time and talents…build a community. There are so many worthy causes to dive into in Delray and Boca.

Anne Frank said: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
How true and how amazing….that in the midst of the Holocaust Anne Frank was able to express hope. And her sentiments are spot on.

 

I’m anxious to hear your thoughts, but I just think we need to focus on what binds us, not what divides us. And that we need more uniters in leadership positions at all levels of our society.

The stakes are high…they couldn’t be higher and we are certainly at an inflection point. A house divided cannot stand…we need to heed the lessons of history if we are to have a future.

But we have the power to change things….to improve as Anne Frank said, our little slice of the world.

 

 

 

Lifetimes of Achievements

Old School Square founder Frances Bourque gave a moving speech praising Bill Branning’s love for the cultural arts center.

This blog is primarily about leadership, entrepreneurship and community building.

Sometimes you come across people who represent all three of those special traits in a magical way.

Last week, two local heroes were honored for their service to the community—the legendary Vince Canning and a legend in the making—Bill Branning.

Mere words cannot do justice to the special people who decide to get involved and make their corner of the world a better place. These are the people who make things happen. These are the people who make the places we live special.

They are the reason we are passionate about Delray Beach.

They teach us through their deeds, inspire us with their character and set an example through their commitment.

The extra special heroes do this over a long period of time.

They create a body of work that enriches all of us. Their good work and influence tends to last.

The best communities celebrate these people, encourage others to follow their lead and hold fast to their examples. They don’t forget, disrespect, ignore, neglect or disparage these good folks—they appreciate them and that creates a virtuous cycle.

Vincent Valentine Canning was born in born in Indianapolis in 1928. After earning a business degree from the University of Missouri, he enlisted in the US Marines for two years and achieved the rank of Sergeant. After his service in the Marines, he worked for Brown Shoe Company in St. Louis and met his wife Patricia Lyng Canning.

The young couple would soon move to Delray Beach to operate his father’s shoe store at 335 E. Atlantic Avenue. He later expanded his store to Pompano Beach, Boynton Beach and Boca Raton.

Vince believes strongly in service. He is a past President of the Delray Beach Chamber, Kiwanis Noontime Club, and the Atlantic Avenue Association. He also did stints on the boards of the Delray Library, Delray Beach Playhouse, the Boca Raton Chamber, the Boynton Beach Chamber, the Achievement Center, Old School Square, CROS Ministries and the Migrant Association.

A spiritual man, Vince has also been deeply involved at St. Vincent Ferrer Church and the St. Vincent DePaul Society where he was a founding member in 1967.

To generations of Delray children (including my own), Mr. Canning was perhaps best known as the leader of the Delray Beach Halloween Parade, which brings a little Norman Rockwell to the downtown area with hundreds of children able to  trick or treat safely on their town’s main street.

But in addition to his decades of service and an impressive list of awards including an official proclamation at the City Commission last week, Vince Canning mentored and influenced generations of Delray Beach leaders; a literal who’s who in government, public safety, business, non-profits etc.

I’ve known many of these people and all of them absolutely adore Vince Canning. He’s just a great guy who cares, gets involved, makes things happen and helps those who are doing ‘good in the neighborhood’ as they say.

People like Vince Canning are essential to communities. We have been blessed to have Vince and others like him.

Which leads me to my friend Bill Branning, who was also honored last week after stepping down as chair of the board of Old School Square.

What you can say about Bill Branning—a man whose passion and commitment to Delray knows no bounds.

Somehow, while running his successful contracting firm (BSA Corporation) he has managed to create a major impact with a decade of service on the CRA, a big commitment to the Chamber of Commerce, service on other city advisory boards and a dedication to Old School Square that started at the center’s inception 30 years ago when he worked closely with Frances Bourque as young man starting his career in construction.

He fell in love with Old School Square and like many of us fell under the spell of Frances. Warning: it’s a spell you won’t be able to break—but you’ll be happier for the experience.

I literally got chills listening to Frances celebrate Bill’s accomplishments at Old School Square during last week’s annual meeting of what I still think is Delray’s signature civic achievement/project.

Bill has chaired the board before—during peace time. His most recent stint was a little more challenging to put it diplomatically.

The organization wrestled with the city over a lease, over events, over funding and over a parks plan. None of these issues were easy. But they brought us closer together and Bill’s leadership was stellar even if our collective patience was tested. He’s smart, passionate, prepared, experienced and mature. And we are thankful for those qualities and more.

During his most recent tenure, we said goodbye to longtime President and CEO Joe Gillie (record holder for most goodbye celebrations) and hello to new President and CEO Rob Steele. Bill bridged the transition beautifully and for that any many other things we are thankful.

Whenever you get tested in life, I recommend that you look for a sign—they are always there if you look hard enough.

For me, Frances and Bill were those beacons in the night. Just when you thought all was lost and you wanted to walk away, I’d heard Frances speak and I’d get energized again or I’d get a message from Bill that gave me hope that the best was yet to come and together all of us could continue to build a proud legacy at Old School Square and beyond.

Vince Canning has been that beacon for many people too. And I spoke to a few this week who felt blessed that he was in their lives looking after them, inspiring them and encouraging them to put service over self.

Bill Branning and Vince Canning—the names rhyme.

Their collective service will stand the test of time.

 

The Power of Friendship

Let’s start the new year off on a positive note by talking about friendship.
As we made the rounds of holiday parties this season, we felt blessed by the people in our lives; enriched by the friendships that make life worth living.

These are the people who make the stresses of daily life melt away and renew your faith in humanity.
I’ve mentioned before that I have  several groups of friends who meet for breakfast, lunch and the occasional happy hour and dinner.
Some know each other. Some don’t.
But all of them have something in common: they tend to care about the world, they tend to be involved in the community and they tend to be smart with sharp senses of humor.
In short, good people.
Really good people.
The older I get, I find myself valuing my friends more and more.
I also find I have less tolerance for toxic people.
Over the holiday break, I listened to a  TED Talk by the director of a Harvard study on male happiness.
The study has tracked a group of men from childhood into their 90s. The cohort includes people from all walks of life, including a U.S. president (whom the speaker did not name).
The happiest and healthiest people were those who made and kept good friends and those who felt connected to a community.
Not only were they happier and healthier, but they handled adversity better including tolerance of physical pain.
It’s an interesting study and very validating.
As we launch into yet another election cycle with candidates slinging shots at each other, each other’s supporters and even the cities they seek to lead (Delray is too this, Boca is too that) it would be nice if we added some gratitude to the mix.
No, we are not perfect. But we sure have a lot to be proud of and a lot to be thankful for.

I plan to support the candidates who get this very fundamental idea. And those who seek to unite: not incite and divide.
I do look at who is supporting who because I tend to support the judgment of my friends—especially in a non partisan election. And thank goodness local government is non partisan. We’ve seen what hyper partisanship has done to our country. Let’s make sure that does not happen here.
Because not much gets done when it does. And whatever gets done gets undone when the other side takes over and in time they always do.

There’s a term we will hear more and more in the New Year. It’s called hyper localism. It refers to the notion that the action is devolving to the local level where collaboration is possible and where solutions are often achieved.

So give me candidates who want to grow the tent, not shut people off. Give me candidates who listen to their neighbors and work side by side with those who roll up their sleeves.
Give me people who understand that community is about relationships and friendship. Those who understand that a key role of a leader is to grow those relationships and that sense of community.

That’s what makes a happy community. And friends, a happy community is a productive community. An unhappy community gets stuck, defensive and lost.

As I made my way around the holiday parties I ran into contributors who served this town and gave so much of themselves to this place we call home.
The architect who has served on countless boards and saved historic homes. The former mayors who never went away and went on to lead non profits and community groups. The retired city staff who still care and formed a team that created a very vibrant place. The business leaders and young entrepreneurs who invest, build, create and dream. Really good people.
Special people.
The people who make us happy.

I’ll end with a tribute to old friends too. Those from childhood that I was also able to connect with over the break.
One visited from Wisconsin. We’ve known each other since we were five. It’s amazing. We connect instantly despite the distance. Despite the years. Despite the separate lives.
I also spoke to two old friends: one from Virginia and one who lives in California. We all grew up together, spent our summers chasing tennis balls and girls, listening to music and exploring New York City.
I miss these guys but the years melt away and the friendship renews with each call. It’s like we are meant to be lifelong friends, these connections made as kids follow us into middle age.
I hope you have friends and find friends in 2018. We will live longer, happier and healthier lives if we do. We will also create a happier, kinder and safer world.