November 4 Matters

Governing matters more than campaigning.

There was a time ,when win or lose , when we accepted the outcome.

We wished the winner well and went about our lives. And if we were patriotic, we hoped that whoever won would succeed.

Elections had consequences for sure. But we accepted them and hoped for the best.
We moved on.

If the winners were smart and magnanimous (and it’s smart to be magnanimous) they reached across the aisle and assured the opposition  that their interests would matter and their voices would be heard and respected.
We don’t seem to do these things anymore and it’s killing us.

It’s killing our spirit, our sense of unity and our hopes for a better future.
It doesn’t have to be with this way.

How we treat and view each other is a choice.

We can—if we want to—summon  our ‘better angels’ as Abraham Lincoln advised.

I have friends on both sides of our national political divide.

We will remain friends although we have struggled to understand how and why we think the way we do.

For the life of me, I can’t see what they are seeing and they can’t see what I am seeing but our affection for each other trumps (no pun intended) any ill will.
That’s how it should be.

But I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that at times it has been a strain to maintain these relationships.

I think the reason is that both sides see each other as existential threats to our way of life.

Democrats fear Republicans will role back rights and ignore climate change and science to the detriment of our planet and our health.
Republicans see Democrats as hell bent on rolling back rights they enjoy and endangering our capitalist system.

Those beliefs make it hard to accept outcomes that don’t favor your side.

But somehow we have to figure out how to live together.

If we don’t, this experiment in Democracy can’t survive. A house divided cannot stand to quote Honest Abe again.

I happen to think we are at the breaking point and the next few weeks or months may well determine the future of our nation.
We can decide to stick together or we can agree to blow it apart.
That’s our choice.

Sadly, it’s easier to destroy something than it is to build and sustain.
So the easier choice will be to indulge our anger and exercise our grievances.
But the better choice is always to seek common ground, learn to compromise, listen to each other and work to keep it together.
It’s not easy.
The differences are real and they are deep. The mistrust and hatred we are experiencing is also very real.

The formula to turn this around is not readily apparent. It is the leadership challenge of a lifetime.
But we need to meet that challenge. Or at least try.

In my opinion, whoever is elected —if they are serious about bridging the divisions, or if they even want to—should start by reminding us about what binds us. There are things we all agree on and we need to insist that those issues be addressed.
Our national leadership—both Democrats and Republicans—have let us down by failing to address problems or seize opportunities.
Washington is dysfunctional and the fact that we can’t find a way to work together to address health care, infrastructure, immigration and environmental issues is a disgrace. So is our response to COVID which is not going away November 4. Oh, how I wish it would.
There are scores of other issues that have gone unaddressed.
Most of these issues can be solved– but only if we work together. A good leader will focus on what binds us, not what divides us.

Still, this blog focuses on local life so here goes.

There are parallels between our toxic national scene and what we are seeing right here  in Delray.

I can and maybe will write a book about how we went astray. How we went all the way up the mountain and then decided to give it back.

And it was a decision. Or rather a slew of decisions that threaten to undo a whole lot of good work.

Imagine, if you will, a quilt. Then imagine pulling a thread and then another and another and all of sudden your quilt falls apart.
Cities are like quilts—pull a thread here and a thread there and suddenly you don’t know why your reclaimed water project is a mess or your reputation has gone from best run town in Florida to a place where every headline seems to scream scandal and dysfunction.

The parallels with our national scene are eerie and rooted in divides.
One faction thinks the other will or has ruined Delray.
Again, this kind of division is dangerous and unproductive.

The battle doesn’t play out on Cable TV like it does nationally but on social media with charges lobbed like bombs on a daily basis.
It gets us nowhere.

It creates a mess and it prevents us from solving problems or seizing opportunities.

It also plays on our mood. Civic pride, once strong ,weakens. Trust in local government also weakens and with it we lose something very fundamental.

We lose respect for the past, hope for the present. and faith in the future.
Sound familiar?
Sounds like America.

If you love your country and your city—as many of us do; you want to see us fulfill our vast potential. You want to see progress, jobs, opportunity, safety and happiness.
Cities and nations need North Stars. We need a common set of values that we fight for, cherish and protect.

When you lose your North Star, you get lost at sea. You drift, you fight and you waste time and resources.

We need leaders who understand the importance of values and a North Star. We need leaders who strive to bring us together. We don’t need to be labeled, libeled and let down. We need to be inspired, motivated and united.
Yes, that’s a very tall order. And it can’t be accomplished easily or readily. But it needs to start somewhere.

We put a lot of burden on our leaders, but we citizens have an even more important role.
We have a responsibility to vote and vote wisely. We have a responsibility to be informed on the issues and to speak truth to power.

Remember, we stand for what we tolerate. We have a responsibility to work for a better tomorrow and to insist on performance and accountability.
Our lives depend on it and future generations are depending on us to do better.

We need to do better.

And we can.

The Power of Quotes

Doris Kearns Goodwin

I love quotes.
I seek them out.
They inspire me.
When I find a good one I write it down, then come back to it when I need a lift.
I’ve been doing it for years.

Recently, two quotes jumped out at me so I thought I’d share.
Here goes…
“The penalty that good people pay for not being involved in politics is being governed by people worse than themselves.”- Plato

I find this quote by Plato to be remarkably relevant.
It’s amazing (or depressing, I’m not sure)  that someone who lived so long ago could express something that fits our cultural moment.

The dysfunction of our national politics has sparked a lot of energy on the political front.
Scores of candidates are running for Congress and the presidency, more people are voting and more are consuming political news on a variety of platforms.
People are fired up on both sides of the divide.
But I have a sense that on the local level there’s less interest, less participation and a lot of apathy. That’s too bad because in many ways, what happens on the city, county and school board level affects us more than what happens or doesn’t happen in Washington.

Plato was really onto something. We really do need to be involved.

This week’s municipal elections is a case in point. The winning candidate in the West Palm Beach Mayor’s race received 5,616 votes. West Palm is our largest city–candidates for city commission in a much smaller Delray Beach received more votes 30 years ago.

According to the Sun-Sentinel, there were 438,829 people registered to vote in the Broward communities with elections, unofficial voter turnout was 9.49 percent. Palm Beach County’s elections website didn’t break out turnout. It should. We have a long way to go in Palm Beach County when it comes to elections.

The other quote that grabbed me was something that the great Doris Kearns Goodwin said  at the recent Festival of the Arts Boca.
Here it is…

“Through my study of leadership these past five years, I found a family resemblance of traits and patterns of behavior—among them humility, empathy, resilience, courage; the ability to replenish energy, listen to diverse opinions, control negative impulses, connect with all manner of people, communicate through stories and keep one’s word.”

Isn’t that a wonderful quote?
Doesn’t it sum up what we’re craving in our leaders? Humility, empathy, courage, the ability to listen and I would add learn and grow.

The basket of traits Ms. Goodwin notes can also be called emotional intelligence.

I want to support, vote for, emulate someone who can grow in office, who can bridge differences, explain the issues, seize the opportunities and bring us together to face our challenges.

To paraphrase Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally”: I’ll have what Doris Kearns Goodwin is describing.

Voting is Critical

The lineup is set.
Many “pull” papers but only those who gather the requisite signatures of registered voters get to appear on the March 14 ballot.
And so we have two Delray City Commission races to watch over the next few weeks.
For Seat 2,  Jim Chard, a long time community volunteer and member of several boards will run against Kelly Barrette, a founder of TakeBack Delray, a Facebook page and Richard Alteus and Anneze Barthelemy.

For Seat 4, 38 year resident Shirley Johnson is running against Josh Smith, another long time resident and retired educator.
For this go round, I will leave my personal opinions out of the mix.
But there are a few general points that need to be made.
First, elections matter.
A lot.
Not just on a national and state level but also on a local level, where it’s possible that city government impacts our lives as much or more than larger and more heavily covered governments.
From kitchen permits and land use policy to whether your city will have culture and a sense of community, local government swings a big bat.
I happen to believe it’s the best form of government, large enough to be interesting and small enough get your arms around and make a real and lasting difference. But there’s an ‘if’ attached to that last sentence.
You can only make a difference if you understand the city you seek to lead and if you have the capacity to listen and collaborate. You can only succeed if you have an  open and curious mind that allows you to grow as a policy maker, evolve as a leader and drum roll please…even change your mind if you hear evidence that sways you.
And you can only make a difference if you understand the job you are running for; its possibilities and its limits.
We have a charter in Delray that defines our form of government which happens to be a council/manager form.
That means that the mayor and commission sit as a board of directors, setting policy, making decisions and holding staff accountable for achieving results and delivering services efficiently, timely, ethically and within a budgetary framework set by the commission. (Hopefully, that budget reflects the priorities of citizens and the commissioners that represent them).
It’s a leadership role, at times a sales role (you should sell your city to prospective residents and investors for instance) and at times you are called upon to be a cheerleader, protector and advocate.
It can be exciting and rewarding and also sad, lonely and stressful–sometimes in the same day.
And so much more.
The opportunities are enormous if you choose to grow. I’m sometimes amazed at those who are given the opportunity but refuse to engage, grow and expand their thinking. And I’m delighted when I see the elected official who rises to the occasion.
Sadly, that has become rare these days–at all levels. And that’s why people are so frustrated with politics. Because if elected officials step up–and dive into the experience they can make a profound difference. They can touch lives. They can get things done. They can create value–or they can squander the opportunity.
Public service is an opportunity to build community and connect to people. You can’t do one without the  other.
Look for candidates that seek to connect, beware of candidates who label, divide and demonize.
Because if you connect by opening your heart and mind you can’t help but succeed.
We need our elected officials to succeed. So much is possible if they do so. If they fail, it’s hard for our city to succeed.
So the stakes are high. Vote accordingly.

Don’t Forget to Vote


You can read about Trump, Cruz, Hillary and Bernie elsewhere.

But there’s another election on Tuesday that is of some import to Delray Beach.

Two questions are on the ballot:

The first asks voters to give the Commission the authority to hire an independent internal auditor who will report to the City Commission not the City Manager.

The second asks for permission to make some changes to civil service rules.

Here’s my take. And it’s simple really.

We have a building full of administrators hired to provide municipal services in an efficient, ethical and cost effective manner.

We have a City Manager, two Assistant City Managers, a CFO (I prefer the term finance director, but why quibble?), a finance department, a City Attorney’s Office and outside auditors who help to mind the store.

We also have a five member City Commission who are in office to help ensure that things are done properly.

Oh and we also have an Ethics Commission and an Office of Inspector General who are responsible for ensuring against waste, fraud, abuse and procurement problems.

Seems like we have a lot of protection and it also seems that if we can’t operate properly we may have the wrong people in some of these positions. Long story short, there’s no need for an internal auditor.

Here’s a radical thought: hire competent managers and get out their way and let them do their jobs. Trust but verify that they are doing their jobs. If they perform—great; if they don’t—hire new people.

As for question 2, it seems the change is being sought to enable our city government to make changes to the civil service code without going to the state legislature or holding a referendum. Sounds innocuous enough, but I worry about those “changes” and especially stripping protections from non-union workers.

Regardless, we certainly hope you vote.

Too few people exercise a right that people in America and across the world have fought and died for.