By: Delray newspaper staff
The talk of the town last month was tattoo parlors and events.
The intention of city commissioners seems to be how to stop one use from coming to Delray and how to regulate the other (special events).
But in a disturbing trend– that seems to repeat itself issue after issue– there is an eerie feeling that the stated public rationale is vastly different from the behind the scenes agenda of city commissioners.
For a commission that has touted its “transparency” this is a troubling personality trait that undermines trust.
So it is with the tattoo parlor issue in which an applicant goes all the way through the process winning support before commissioners appeal and claim “zoning in progress” right before a scheduled vote to thwart efforts to open the business.
And so it is with events, in which high level staff and event producers spend months crafting a proposed policy that sought to address concerns only to see commissioners undermine the effort with email messages to the City Manager seeking to end certain events and circumvent the process before it’s even discussed, debated and voted on.
In a public records request, an email from Commissioner Shelly Petrolia to City Manager Don Cooper says, “Please act on this issue immediately, shut down the festivals planned to run all over OSS and do not make our staff and resources responsible for any relocations.”
For City Manager Don Cooper the job becomes impossible as he tries to sift through an ever shifting series of directions, missives and opinions that often conflict with the goals of the process or the wishes of other commissioners. While it remains a mystery as to why he doesn’t speak up publicly and demand a consensus and clear direction from his bosses, it’s also a lack of leadership from elected officials who fail to recognize the confusion they are causing.
The result is a frozen and scared bureaucracy leading to poor morale and attrition and an exhausted community waiting on important policy decisions.
From the Chamber of Commerce and Old School Square to the Delray Library and longtime private event producers such as Howard Alan Events and Festival Management Group the word of the day is exhaustion.
While each of these groups have important missions to accomplish or businesses to run, they find they are spending their time defending their reason for being and wondering if they will survive or if so in what form. If that sounds dramatic guess again; for many of these groups events are their lifeblood providing funding to run operations. While the new event policy, yet to be voted on, contains many good ideas and contains needed reforms that will mitigate the disruption that come with large scale events—it’s accompanied by a cost structure that in some cases nearly triples fees which would surely drive most events out of business. That would be a grave mistake. Events are part of Delray’s fabric and are enjoyed by people of all ages. They are also important tools for branding, economic development, and tourism. They also build community.
The call to move events to the Congress Avenue corridor is unrealistic, since the infrastructure doesn’t currently exist. The Congress Avenue Task Force did envision “pop up” events on large vacant tracts to draw attention to the corridor’s potential, but was emphatic in its recommendations that Congress Avenue was not to serve as a surrogate for downtown Delray. In fact, Congress can only work if the downtown remains a regional magnet.
We have seen the stated rationale/hidden agenda modus operandi play out on issue after issue. The overhaul of the city’s land development regulations was initially sold as a move toward a “form based code” that would emphasize design over rigid numbers regulating floor area ratios and density. But when enacted, the form based code was replaced by a set of LDR’s that relies solely on numbers squelching design creativity and ignoring the fact that in a mature downtown, rigidity doesn’t work. In an infill environment, architects may need some flexibility to make good projects work. Rather than make the process easier, the development process has become never ending and you guessed it—exhausting. One wonders if the real agenda wasn’t to stop all new projects east of Swinton Avenue.
The governing style seems to be creating a political body increasingly out of touch with large segments of the community. This happens when commission’s rule without a citizen driven vision. Delray “happened” as a result of visioning. It didn’t just occur out of the blue. When policymakers are bound to a vision they become stewards of that vision or risk being drummed out of office. But when the vision or plan doesn’t exist, personal preferences take over and that’s a recipe for strife. We are flying without navigation right now and attempting to make big decisions on our city’s identity without collaboration, analysis and input from critical stakeholders—including businesses, investors, key non-profits and residents other than those who weigh in on every issue, usually with complaints. An exhaustive records search relating to events yielded a grand total of 8 citizen complaints.
Legislating without a plan or careful analysis is dangerous. And it risks 30 plus years of progress.
By: Delray newspaper staff