Sunday, July 9, 2017

Worth Another Look: Highlights from Jeff Perlman’s talk at the Bourbon Sprawl gathering in West Palm Beach.

Please Note: This month’s guest speaker at the “Bourbon Sprawl” at Hullabaloo (517 Clematis St.) in West Palm Beach will be West Palm Beach Commissioner Shanon Materio. Save the date, Wednesday, July 19th at 6:00.

This blog post is a follow-up with more details about the monthly meeting last month at Hullabaloo. Use this link to learn about some exciting things happening in, of all places, the downtown parking garages in West Palm.

On June 21st about 20 people interested in cities, local politics and emerging trends came to hear author and former Delray Beach Mayor Jeff Perlman.
A view of the monthly talk at the sub-culture “gastro-pub” Hullabaloo.

The following are some of the highlights of Perlman’s talk — this is not a verbatim account of what he said — but things that stood out from my point of view.

One of the more important themes of his discussion was that our cities in Palm Beach County are where things are going to get done and problems solved in the future. This will require collaboration on a new level among local governments. He proclaimed that Washington, D.C., meaning the Federal government, is broken and cannot be relied upon to help us. And the problems are not going away on their own.

He believes the current system that elects our representatives to go to Washington, D.C. does not attract the most qualified. Instead, it tends to attract individuals that have polar and opposite world views. He talked about how the public square has been made “toxic” and the best, brightest candidates are not going to take part of the political process to lead in that sort of environment. He pointed at the recent Georgia Congressional race where nearly $50M was spent, most of it on negative campaigning.

The conversation in Georgia was all about what was wrong with the opponent rather than a conversation about addressing problems in a positive way. He wanted us to think about all the ways $50M could be spent to address the real needs in our communities. This was just one political campaign in the State of Georgia: $50M — many more millions of dollars are going to be spent in future races just like the one in Georgia — here in the State of Florida too.

Then he talked about his local government experience in Delray. He remembered how before Delray’s turnaround many years back one of their residents opined Delray Beach was “circling the bowl”, or put another way, on death’s door. He added success doesn’t happen by accident. You have to get the right group of people together and then focus on outcomes rather than the process.

It is important, Perlman said, to “put things in the outbox”, realizing some projects and initiatives may not be perfect but you have to move on. You can always go back to adjust and make corrections later. Get things done! In order to do this you have to bring on the right people with the talent and the skills.

Perlman reminded everyone it can take 10–20 years to rebuild a city. But it can take as short as a year or two to tear down all that hard work and all those accomplishments.

When the wrong people get in office — the ones that just want to undo what others have done — you have to take on a defensive posture to try and preserve what you created. That’s why it is so important to recruit future leaders that share a position and a vision for the future and even more importantly, they have the skill sets and talent to bring those to fruition.

He then spoke about Benjamin R. Barber’s book, If Mayors Ruled The World. In the future cities will have to collaborate as never before. The right people have to be in the right places. The public square needs to be made attractive again to bring forward those people. We need to do this in order to respect the past, respond to the present, and prepare the field for future generations.

Locally, Perlman says one of our universities or colleges needs to create an “Institute for Public Leadership”. This will help produce the kind of leaders this collaborative future will demand. We also have to recruit people that show promise and encourage them to volunteer on local government boards. This will give them confidence and experience when they enter the public square and go on to be our future elected officials.

Lastly, following his remarks, he offered these important reminders:

  • You may have geographic divides, e.g. east/west in your city, but the downtown belongs to everyone. It is the center and a key part of your city’s identity.
  • He talked about the importance of neighborhood teams tasked with one year of planning and then one year of implementation.
  • He shrugged off questions about, “if he had any regrets” by saying, “the work is never done.”
  • Perlman praised the YIMBY movement, the group “Better Boulder” and Strong Towns as well.
It was a pleasure listening to Jeff Perlman and attend another of his enlightening and engaging talks. If you ever get a chance to attend one of these events I strongly encourage you to make the time and go hear what he has to say.