The Hard Thing About Hard Things

“The hard thing about hard things.”
I overhead that line last week at Donnie’s Place.
I also heard “love is a good thing, but you can’t take it to Winn Dixie” but that’s a subject for another column.
Early morning wisdom over eggs.
I didn’t hear the answer to the first line. So I don’t know what  the hard thing about hard things is about.
But the line struck me. So I thought about it.
I was waiting for my breakfast guests on Northwest Fifth Avenue, a street that was rebuilt and beautified when I was on the commission by the CRA and a group of very committed citizens who came to meeting after meeting to plan the street.
The citizens worked with an artist from Miami on the project. He tried to incorporate the ideas of people into the streetscape including bits of local history inserted in the terrazzo sidewalks.
It was hard work.

To plan, to fund, to engage, to choose and to build. But it’s even harder to create a sustainable local economy on that street to support the effort.
Fifth Avenue has enormous potential. It looks and feels good. There are assets to build on.
The Carolyn Quince Apartments is one of those assets. It looks good, a whole lot better than the derelict building it replaced.

A block over, on Fourth Avenue, sits the historic La France Hotel.  Seniors now get to age in place– thanks to the CRA– on a site of a once neglected hotel that once served a south scarred by segregation and Jim Crow.

But that morning my mind was on the namesake of the Quince Apartments.
The building was named after Carolyn Quince Holder.
She worked for the CRA as a property manager. But before that she was a neighborhood leader, she stood tall against drug dealers who terrorized her street and grew close with police officers who tried to help clean up her part of Delray.
She was a good woman. We shared a birthday and so we spent a few together. She invited us in and we gladly entered her world and learned a lot.
About life in southwest Delray. About what’s it’s like to chase drug dealers off your lawn. About what it means to believe and to be fearless. I lived a mile and a world away –if you know what I mean. Same city. Different experience.
When Carolyn died of cancer, a part of Delray died because it’s all about the people. The people who live in the village. We forget that sometimes. I don’t.
Carolyn understood the hard things about hard things.
When she passed, the CRA named a building after her.
That act of love and respect would probably earn the CRA a tongue lashing from a few of our elected officials these days. They are good at dishing it out.
Good at sitting in judgment, playing politics with each other and engaging in games of gotcha.
Sadly, they aren’t as good at delivering results.
Every ounce of progress in this town was hard fought. I’m not sure that’s recognized in some quarters and that’s a shame.
The mayor loves to send out directives (correctives) lecturing others about the old ways.
He uses big words, drapes himself in words like accountability and aligns himself with the taxpayers.
But his syntax is off and he doesn’t hold himself accountable.
His letter to the CRA chair and director was widely circulated last week. It came less than a week after he voted to keep the agency’s board independent.
In it, he puts down a marker. Do this or else. Or else you can’t count on my support. As if they’ve ever had it.
Fair enough.
The lines are drawn. It’s in writing. You may be “independent” but you are on the shortest of short leashes CRA and if you step off the patio you’re done. Operate this way, my way, or else.
Does bullying encourage innovation and creativity?  I don’t believe so.
Why do you vote to keep something “independent” but then follow up with a letter that spells out exactly how you should operate or else?
Commissioner Shelly Petrolia was quick to line up behind the screed. No surprise there. They have more in common than either would comfortably admit.
She labeled it a directive. Which is spot on. Only  in a council manager form of government, mayors can’t issue directives. At least directives that carry the weight of official city policy.
So where does this leave us?
The CRA, which should be a symbol of civic pride, has been beaten like a piñata.
Volunteers who serve on the board have been maligned by the very people who appointed them. One of the better CRA commissioners took his name out of the running for re-appointment last week because he didn’t like what he was seeing. And so we lose yet another solid contributor. Is that a win? It’s most decidedly not.
Careers have been threatened and the mission goes unserved.
Meanwhile, the house (City Hall) that commissioners are supposed to lead struggles.
And struggle is a charitable word.
Turnover, inability to issue timely permits, endless staff shuffling and lawsuits.
When your house is on fire, most of us would try to douse the flames and save the contents. We probably wouldn’t wander down the block and criticize a neighbor’s wallpaper.
But in this case, the political arsonists are just lighting other agencies on fire.
What we are experiencing is not the strength of confident leaders. It’s the opposite.
You exude strength by standing up for people not beating them down.
The targets of these small people  didn’t suddenly become stupid or incompetent they’ve just been beaten down by bullies who have no game.
And the damage it does is incalculable. And that’s a hard thing to witness, a hard thing indeed.


  1. It’s all about egos and placing the blame on others for their lack of leadership skills, lack of willingness to work with all stake holders, not just their cheerleading squads. Some on the dais, lack an understanding of compromise and cooperation with opposing views. In short they have failed this city and its time for a change.

  2. I would disagree with much of what was said in the article above. While I often disagree with the acts of the City Commission, I feel the Mayor’s letter was a positive thing. The Mayor and Commissioners are ELECTED and the CRA Board is APPOINTED by the Mayor and Commissioners. The CRA Board Members serve at the pleasure of the Commission so it makes sense they take direction from them.

    Personally, I believe people who are elected should be the only ones deciding how approximately $17 Million per year in property tax revenue is spent. Unelected people should not have control over that amount of tax revenue. Period. It’s an even worse situation when the “appointed” people do not reside or vote in the City or when they have been unable to manage their own personal finances properly.

    I think if the average resident was asked “Should non-residents and those who were unable to manage their own finances be appointed to a City Board that is responsible for managing $17 Million in property tax revenue per year?”, the answer would be, “Hell No!”.

    The Mayor’s letter laid down the expectations for the CRA Board and staff. If the CRA Board ignores those expectations, the Board should be taken over and reconfigured immediately.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      I guess we will have to agree to disagree.
      In my opinion, based on 30 years of close observation, our CRA has been wildly successful and relatively apolitical. And that has made all the difference.
      The word independent or non-resident is a little misleading. CRA commissioners have to reside in Delray, own property here or operate a business in Delray. That makes them stakeholders. Some of our most valuable CRA commissioners have been “non-residents” but they own property and businesses here and pay lots of taxes. More importantly, their hearts are here.
      In addition, there are controls in place. Spending has to match a CRA plan, which is approved by the commission. Budgets are shared with the city, the agency is audited annually and has to adhere to spending that is controlled by statute.
      When things have worked well, which has been the case for most of the CRA’s tenure, the agency is tasked with executing on CITY visions and operates much like an accountable department—free to execute but accountable for performance.

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