Here’s What We Think…

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This month marks 18 years since 9/11.

Children have been born and have reached adulthood since that tragic day.

So much of our daily lives have changed that we don’t even realize just how much life is different as a result.

We saw a stat the other day that stopped us in our tracks.

Deaths from 9/11 related illnesses will soon pass those lost on the day of the attack.

They are dying of cancer and other 9/11 related disorders as we were reminded during recent Congressional testimony that finally led to more funding for victims and first responders.

That reminder was made personal recently when I dropped by a Delray Beach family reunion of a retired firefighter who lost a sister in law on 9/11 and has watched his brother fight cancer as a result of being near the site of the attack in lower Manhattan.

Families are continuing to suffer emotionally and physically. Some nightmares never quite end and that’s sobering. Those who devote their lives to public safety know that in their bones, but they sign up for that life anyway.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for public safety professionals—police officers, firefighters, paramedics and those who serve on our beach patrol. It seems that a lot of people gripe about pensions and benefits and there is no doubt that public safety is an expensive proposition. I would suspect that it will get more so as our society deals with challenges ranging from active shooters and opioid addicts to mental illness and extreme weather events.

But for those who complain about the cost, imagine how expensive it would be without it.

In Delray Beach, police and fire are half of your city budget—at least that’s what it used to be and I suspect that’s still true.

But I have always believed that the unsung heroes of Delray have been the men and women who have served on police and fire rescue departments.

There would be no downtown without them because we would not have been able to attract investment had we remained an unsafe city, which we were for a period of time back in the day before two generations of police officers and firefighters came to work every day and turned things around.

How bad was it?

Well, in the 80s, they were pelted with rocks and bottles after responding to fights outside of bars on West Atlantic Avenue, the gateway to our city. Some neighborhoods were so hostile to police officers that I once saw the severed heads of pigs impaled on street signs as a warning for law enforcement to stay away. They didn’t—they just persisted. Thank goodness these officers did. Because they saved Delray Beach.

I was privileged at the time to do frequent “ride alongs” and saw some amazing officers do their best to disrupt street level drug sales. Entire parts of Delray Beach were open air drug markets with cars coming in off the Interstate to buy crack cocaine from dealers who used  little children as look-outs at all hours of the night.

I remember, as a young reporter, interviewing then Chief Rick Overman who promised to chase the dealers off the avenue. He predicted that the drug sales would first migrate into the neighborhoods where it would be more difficult to track but he asked for more resources and for the community to be both patient and to play a role in helping make their neighborhoods safer.

MAD DADS was formed and groups of men— most from the neighborhood but a few volunteers from other parts of the city—would confront dealers on the street corners and ask them to stop selling the drugs that hurt so many people and kept residents inside their homes quaking with fear.

Police and fire were partners in that effort and other efforts to make Delray Beach a safer community, one where it would be possible to build something of value.

Over the years I became close with many of the men and women who served. I looked up to them. I admired their dedication, commitment and bravery. They taught me so much.

It’s important to mention them because cities have these unsung heroes and heroines that often get lost. But if they didn’t exist, places such as Delray would be a whole lot different.

My list is a long one and this is by no means complete but let’s just say Delray would have been vastly different and I believe worse off if people such as Adam Rosenthal, Vinnie Mintus, Jim Tabeek, Rich Murphy, Chief Overman, Chief Kerry Koen, Johnny Pun, Fred Glass, Robert Stevens, Toby Rubin, Mike Swigert, Brian Bollan, Dwayne Fernandes, Craig Hartmann, John Battiloro, Mike Wise,  John Palermo, Wayne Yoder, Russ Accardi, Mike Wigderson, John Tomaszewski, Eddie Robinson, Tom Whatley, Paul Shersty, Tom Quinlan, Chuck Jeroloman, John Evans and many others went to work elsewhere or if we failed to remain competitive and let them go elsewhere.

I wish there was a way to formally honor these unsung heroes—people who went the extra mile, accomplished the nearly impossible and made a true and lasting difference.

If you want a special village—you need to create an environment in which people can flourish and reach their potential.

Like everything, it begins and ends with leadership that empowers, encourages and builds trust and relationships. From those essential elements you get accountability and performance.

Innovation occurs and excellence flourishes in an environment where people feel safe to grow and are motivated to achieve. It’s magical when it happens.

We were lucky to see it, but even if we came later, we are here because of the work of these unsung men and women. I hope and trust we will never forget that.