The Final Chapter Yet To Be Written

Old School Square has inspired a generation of artists in Delray.

People make places special.That was the thought that went through my mind Friday night as I watched the magnificent Valerie Tyson Band wow the crowd at the Old School Square Pavilion. The event was billed as “Turn the Tide”— a last ditch effort by a group of incredible civic contributors—the best this town has to offer—to change the minds of three Delray Beach elected officials who have decided to pull the plug on the organization after 32 years of dedicated and distinguished service.

But the minds won’t change. And so the music will stop—for now anyway.

So will the arts classes, museum exhibits, speaker series, plays and shows hosted— and largely paid for— by Old School Square.After six months of pleading for  a chance to sit down and work it out,  the fight will now go to the courts and eventually the ballot box.If 11,000 plus petitioners, hundreds of emails and scores of citizens showing up at City Hall over the past six months won’t change  the minds of elected officials who are out of step with their own constituents, a magical night of music at the pavilion won’t either.How sad.What a waste of time, money and energy.

It’s tragic when the arts and community building are on the outs and the only “winners” are lawyers making a killing litigating and defending the city on this and other issues.But this is where we are these days.Yes, we are still waiting for a plan from a brand new City Manager who has been tasked with solving and budgeting for a problem manufactured by three elected officials who decided to end three decades of hard work by volunteers who love this town without consulting the community they purport to serve.Why?

On Friday night, we saw video testimonials from volunteers, Old School Square staff, donors and artists who are asking that same question.

Commissioner Juli Casale, who supposedly aspires to be our next mayor, has been telling residents that Old School Square has not produced documents, has failed to comply with city dictates and that the group has been mean and unkind after she voted to kick to them to the curb without consulting the public.Well, welcome to politics and to life. In the real world, when you kneecap someone you shouldn’t be surprised when they  defend themselves.

“Thank you sir may I have another” may be a great line in the movie Animal House after a pledge gets spanked. But this isn’t Faber College and you shouldn’t expect dedicated volunteers to slink off into the ether because you’ve decided you don’t like them and that they haven’t done a good job. Lots of others do like this group and think they have done a terrific job.

In the six months since OSS was booted for “no cause” the community non-profit has been bullied and lied about.The newly politicized CRA —also taken over without public input by the commission—has become complicit. It’s painful to see the pains the agency has gone through to deny Old School Square grant money the non-profit has earned for services already rendered.

To those keeping score at home, it’s personally painful for me to point out the bad behavior of a city government that I once led and long believed in.But it is precisely because I love this city that I do so.

Thankfully, I’m not alone.

And while more stakeholders are beginning to speak out, some are too scared to speak for fear of retribution.The biggest criticisms come from city employees who describe a a climate of fear and dysfunction at City Hall. I would respectfully suggest that our new City Manager, the 9th in recent years, has better things to do than to deploy Parks employees to produce Bar Mitzvahs in the OSS Fieldhouse. He has a lot of repairs to do in his own building.

But while I sympathize with his plight, we keep waiting for his grand plan for OSS now that his Request for Proposals to take it over yielded zero interest.He may want to take the suggestions of every living former mayor— those who were elected and served a term— to seek public input on the future of the site. That’s the true Delray way. Get the community involved. It worked for decades until this nonsense arrived on the scene. Why won’t they ask our citizens for ideas?

Is it because the public may endorse the current business model: a community based non-profit?But I digress.

Pardon me for getting emotional, but I get worked up when I see our best citizens struggle to make sense of this terrible decision. In between songs Friday night, Valerie Tyson, who has played OSS many times, stopped and addressed the audience. She talked about how much she has enjoyed performing for this community and she talked about legacy and responsibility.

We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, she said.

She was referring to the men and women who conceived and built Old School Square. They breathed new life into a struggling city.These people built community. There is nothing more valuable than that. Nothing.

We talk about being a village. We talk about creating a sense of place but being a village is about more than the height of a building downtown, it’s about how we treat each other. We expect our leaders to call on our better angels. We expect them to engage us in a discussion about the type of community we aspire to be.

This kind of leadership is absent and it is what we long for.

OSS has been referred to as a management company.

They are not.

They are a community based non-profit dedicated to this city and the arts.These are the people who had the idea to restore those buildings and breathe new life into them. They invited artists to paint on the lawn, actors to perform on the stage, residents to take classes and musicians to perform.

Old School Square became the place we turned to when we needed community the most.

We gathered at OSS to celebrate All America City wins, host Town Hall meetings and plan our downtown.  And when we were devastated by 9/11, the shooting of Jerrod Miller (17 years ago this month) and the Parkland shootings we gathered at Old School Square and found solace in one another.

If you take the community out of our gathering place, what do you have?

If you bring in the Boca Museum of Art in to run OUR cultural centerpiece what do you have? And what we will lose?

If you chase donors and volunteers away because they were late on an audit during an historic pandemic when their auditor quit on them what message are you sending?

The audits are current and clean now. Why can’t we talk about the future? It’s a question we all ought to be asking. Who’s next if we don’t stand together and turn the tide?People make places special. They also have the power to ruin them.It’s our choice. We stand for what we tolerate.


  1. Robert Wieder says

    Great article Jeff…
    I feel your pain too
    As do so many other Delray residents
    And neighboring folks that love OSS and it’s offerings.
    Add out of town guests to that list.

    It’s not the same Delray Beach I moved to in 2008.

    What a shame!
    Who will gain?
    Who to blame?
    Such a terrible stain…..

    Bobby Delray

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Well said Bobby.

    • James J Murata says

      There is an “old Delray” and a “new Delray”. The old one cannot adjust to new ways..methinks their vision of who is in charge here and cannot accept the natural turn of events as time passes by.. It is called progress. The old Delray was full of racism and an old boys network…

  2. Mike Sneiderman says

    I support the Old School Square and all it stands for and deplore the actions of the City Administration. Thank you for your words Jeff.

  3. We need new leadership that represents the constituents of this city. We are all complicit for having voted these commissioners in.

  4. Such a sad state of affairs. Thank you for putting into words how the community feels about losing their community centerpiece. The recalcitrance to come to the table and listen to the residents, is an enormous leadership failure.

  5. Lainie Lewis says

    This is personal for me as I had my daughter’s wedding there in December 2010. The tree was up and have beautiful wedding photos in front of it. We had many out of town guests staying at local hotels and fell in love with my Delray that they have returned many times for vacations and family gatherings. They all commented on how wonderful Delray was…WAS!
    This is breaking my heart ♥️

  6. It would appear that the situation would have been better if all parties complied and communicated when the matter was first discussed. It is difficult to have a conversation with a lawsuit pending.

    I, too, hope the situation can be resolved amicably. We have all worked hard to create this gem of a project.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      The lawsuit was filed after they refused to talk and voted to terminate. What choice did OSS have? That said, a settlement offer was made and the city refused to even meet with themselves to discuss it. The city is at fault here Roy. You can’t expect OSS to roll over and play dead.

      • Robert Wieder says

        This is the TRUTH….

        Many attempts were made to meet and discuss needs with potential solutions

        One party (THE THREE), HANDED THEIR FINAL VERDICT once the gavel went down.


        Excellent response Jeff….


    • Jeff Perlman says

      Old School Square was given no choice. Nobody will speak to them. OSS offered a generous settlement but the city wouldn’t even discuss the offer among themselves.
      OSS has always been willing to talk. This is not their fault.

  7. With lasting consequences. But the final chapter is yet to be written and I have faith that we will rebuild.
    Thanks, for putting a positive spin on improperly made vote that should have been tabled.
    Your Title is a Great foreboding for the Future.
    The Final Chapter Yet To Be Written
    Even people that do not read your whole justification will have the message from the title.

    Keep up your Fabulous Editorials!

  8. James Eaton says

    “Did we quit when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor”

  9. Yvonne Odom says

    Stop begging! I was taught not to beg. If reasonable people can not and will not reason. One must stop. History tells me that only time will solve this and those of us who have been here awhile understand that. Just be patient, this too shall pass. Right will always win.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      You are right. But speaking truth to power is not begging. It’s standing up for what’s right. I was taught to do that. Most of us were, but few are willing to stir up good trouble.

  10. Carol Meneely says

    Great article Jeff! I’ve enjoyed so many wonderful community /county wide enjoyed events at OSS! I hate what is happening and will be a true shame if this venue is lost. Glad to hear and see some truth in word!

  11. Although unable to be in a video last week I feel compelled to add my thoughts to this fiasco. As a volunteer and then an employee of OSS for 25 years, it was an honor to program over 250 exhibits in the Cornell Museum. Introducing Delray to major National and international artists and sculptors. We had a heart wrenching multi artist 9/11 exhibit and memorial in 2002. Thousands of students enjoyed years of Kickin’ Arts half days with dancers, artists and historic tours. Mentoring with Carver Middle School, weekend tours of Delray organized with out of town groups, major conferences like the Florida W/C Society and the Florida Assn of Museums. So many wonderful memories for Delray and its youth. Had to believe someone hasn’t stepped in and picked up the torch. It takes a village……….

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Thanks Gloria. Most of all for your 25 years of stellar service and for your touching comments outlining all of the good work that has occurred at OSS.
      All of that history has been ignored and more importantly our future is at risk. And we ask why?

  12. I just put up a post about OSS’d history with the community and it was declined as duplicate. Confused as to why.

  13. Jane Sloan Current says

    This is a true travesty! I was born and raised in Delray. My mom and dad were on the original committee spear heading the rebirth of this amazing community facility. I can remember my mom speaking of the generous heart and gift of the Cornell family to OSS. It is a sad day when elected officials believe they have a better understanding of what this gem is to the heart of Delray and her citizens. I believe we teach our children to communicate and talk over issues and problems with all involved. It would seem these adults have missed that valuable life lesson. I am sad for all the hours and plans my parents and countless others put into creating OSS. I do hope this can be resolved in a favorable outcome for the people of Delray, if not… I guess these elected officials won’t have a lengthy time of service!

  14. Sharon Wood says

    Dear Commissioners:
    In my humble opinion (not), the OSS we all know and love – it’s Delray Beach! It’s us!
    The current managers know Delray, the community wants and needs!!
    Let it be, let it be, let it be!!

  15. Winston Churchill said we live in a era of big events and small people. I think that describes perfectly what we see going on here.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Well said, Dean.

    • I was so disappointed that Sharon and I could not be their Friday night in support of OSS. Jeff your comments are inspiring. Thank you! It bears repeating – History matters! Delray would not be the “go to” place it is if not for citizen participation and outstanding leadership. Folks like Frances Bourke were able to capture and convey the belief that OSS would become the cultural and community center of Delray Beach. And it has. With an amazing staff headed up by Joe Gillie – OSS developed a variety of school and other educational programs, amazing productions and programs at the Crest Theatre, and equally amazing art and museum showcases.

      But perhaps most importantly (and just as Francis had envisioned it) OSS became the focal point for community gatherings – for charrettes/workshops on community and neighborhood changes – visioning programs for what the community wanted Delray to become – meetings that would celebrate success – help build trust – develop cooperation and, best of all, reach concensus – it was just expected and natural that they would be held in “the heart of Delray” – Downtown at OSS.

      So here is the thing… how did the focal point of this community… the very heart and “go to” place in Delray… how did they manage to get the rug pulled out from under them without notice or discussion?

      I don’t know and I don’t understand, but I fervently believe that this community – which has accomplished so much – can pull together to make it right.

  16. Donya COLDWELL says

    Yet more proof that the Barbarians are no longer at the Gate–they now Own it.

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