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Welcome, everybody to the LeaderGov podcast. We're so glad you're with us today. We thank you for taking the time to, you know, listen and learn. As a local government leader, whether you're in County operations, or a city or an agency, no matter where you hail from, we're really, really glad you're here. My name is Bill Stark, and I'm one of the cofounders of leader. Gov along with Tim Fenbert. And we're excited to be with you today. We have a terrific guest and topic. And with us today is the former mayor of Delray Beach, Florida, Jeff Perlman, and he has written a book that we highly recommend to all local government officials and other people. And it's called Adventures in local politics, how leadership brought back Delray Beach. So great to see you, Jeff, great to be with you, Jeff. Thank you, Bill. And it's it's an honor for me to be with you. I'm a big fan of your podcast and your work. So thank you. Oh, yeah, it's, I'm looking forward to digging into the book a little bit. And, you know, I really

was drawn to this idea of how leadership brought Delray Beach, back. And so just as kind of an introduction for a couple of minutes, if you could just share a little bit about your background, I know you, you're from the Northeast, and you made your way down to Florida, and you were a news reporter at one point. So tell us a little bit about your journey and how you decided to run for mayor down there. Sure. Born and raised in New York, mostly on eastern Long Island, and went to school in upstate New York, got involved in community journalism, which was an early passion of mine, which was a great background for local politics, didn't know that at the time, but I was covering local government in upstate New York, and then came down to Florida for a newspaper job and did a lot of work with the local government covering counties and cities. And, and kind of following issues from start to finish and learning about both sides of them. And it was a great background for a leap into politics. I had never planned that.

But I sat down one day for an interview that I was doing over lunch with a mayor of Del Rey that I had admired his name was Tom Lynch. And he suggested at the end of lunch that you might want to think about running someday yourself. And that kind of took me by surprise. I hadn't thought about it. But then I couldn't stop thinking about it. Once Tom had had mentioned that took me a couple years after that lunch to do to jump into politics in 2000. But he got the wheels turning. So sometimes you just never know, when a particularly important person in your life is going to tell you something that changes the trajectory of your life. So Tom did that for me. Wow, wow, that's a great story. And really a cool sort of introduction to local government being a reporter. I think it's interesting that sometimes we get put in these situations in life where we have opportunities to, to see and discover things, and it's actually a shift for us right to shift to another area. So that for me that shift that shift Bill was, I was writing about things and and, and that was important. I think journalism is such a critical part of our democracy. And they the shift became, well, maybe I want to try to make things happen instead of just report about them. So that was the mental shift that that that I had to make. Yeah, wow. Yeah. Probably took a little courage to imagine a little bit.

Hey, you know, in your book, which is, which is a wonderful, easy read and a delight to read. I'm just curious, you know, what is your what what would you say is your overall theme? You know, I know you focus on relationships on compassionate relationships, you call it on leadership and tell us kind of what your key leadership messages are that you're trying to convey in the book. I think the key message for me is that these jobs in government are jobs to do not jobs to have, and there's a difference. A lot of elected officials, unfortunately, are looking at the next election cycle all the time. And so they're kind of playing it safe. They're, they're afraid to, to make change. And you really gotta remind yourself that this is an incredible honor that you've been given.

too, to lead a local city or a county, and you have a chance to make a difference and to matter. So you should try to, you know, take some risks, and it's a job to do and not really worry about the next election cycle. And I think actually, if you end up getting things done and, and taking some calculated risks, you have a better chance of getting reelected, because you could show some results. A lot of people are, you know, kind of play, play it safe. And they played what I call dodgeball. And I think you really to make it to make a difference, you have to really have that mindset to this is a job to do. Yeah, I really appreciate you saying that, because we, we, Tim Fenbert, my partner and I, we consistently encouraged city staff, county staff officials, with the same message, which is let's break out of the status quo, let's not manage operations, although they do need to be managed. Let's, let's be bold, let's and you said something in your book I wanted to ask you is actually next next question, which is, you have a quote there early in the book that says great leadership creates opportunities, and builds immense value. Bad leadership, or lack of leadership is a killer. I, I love that quote that really resonated with me, because it kind of speaks to what you're talking about being being bold, right? Creating opportunities for people that are around you, or the community and the infrastructure, whatever, could you elaborate on what that means to you, in your, in your work as mayor? Sure, and I think that sometimes we we get caught in the day to day. And, and there's a lot of fires, you've got to put out, particularly in local government where, you know, your phones are ringing, and there's tons of email. And now there's social media comments and misinformation that needs to be corrected, and you lose sight of the big picture. And I think that some of the things I think we need to be thinking about is how magical leadership can be, we've, we've kind of lost the poetry and we're in a gotcha mentality. But when things are going right, and if you can get people on board and collaborating, and, and having, you know, real conversations, instead of talking past one another, you can move mountains, particularly in local government, where it's it's small enough to be interesting, and fascinating. But it's, it's also you can get your arms around it and move, move things forward.

Our city has five members of the City Commission, if if we had an idea on Tuesday night, two other colleagues agreed to pursue it. Wednesday morning, things can start to move. And I don't know if any other government level of government that you can do that. And so we should be always cognizant of, of the power and the magic and of of that kind of agency. And I think sometimes we get lost in the day to day. Yeah, yeah.

You know, you mentioned a lot about relationships in in the book and building healthy relationships, having a bench, a bank account, if you will, I think that your term of relational bank account, and and you talk about compassion, and empathy, and I wonder if you could just, you know, for the folks that are listening, you know, we got a wide range of people, we got public works, people listening, and city clerks and county, animal care control managers listening a lot of different levels of local government, could you just kind of speak to a moment about the importance of taking the time to build those relationships and being compassionate with the people that you serve?

Yes, and I think it's critical and the the bank account, you refer to is, it's a reservoir of goodwill. And so if you're doing these relationship exercises, if you're

talking to people, if you're sending notes to people that do a good job, if you're popping your head into say, you know, how's it going, there's no agenda, I just want to see if there's anything I could do to help you. Over time. This begins to create comfort and relationships and builds a reservoir of trust and goodwill. I unfortunately, I believe that when the times get get tough, you draw you're able to draw down on that reservoir and and local government, there are issues that will that will pop up sometimes there

unexpected, and you'll draw down on that reservoir. But if you don't have anything in that bank account, it's very difficult to navigate this specific issue and to recover and move on and, and get things moving again for the community. But if you have that reservoir, you're able to sit down and explain a tough decision, or or work on a rationale that we'll be able to get the community Navy back on on board.

Well, yeah, I think that's a good bridge, I wanted to ask you about the racial incident that occurred where a police officer shot a young black man who was fleeing a scene, and it turned into quite a challenging situation for you as mayor for the police chief. And, you know, I think in those kinds of situations, we have two choices, maybe more, but one of them is to pull back to sort of hide, if you will, to disengage. And another. Another way to respond is to engage to lean in and draw upon that reservoir you're talking about. And I just wonder if you would just share a little bit of what was going through your mind and how you engaged the public during this very difficult situation, because again, everyone listening to this podcast, is dealing with some challenging stakeholders, right? Another department that's frustrating to deal with, I mean, yours is a just it was a death, in your cases, significant issue. But we all kind of have the same issue. It's conflict. It's it's trouble that comes our way you leaned in. And I just wonder if you could share a little bit about how you and the police chief responded during that really challenging time. Sure. The the situation was, we had a 15 year old, young man that showed up outside of a school dance, and he was stopped. Because there were reports over the police radio of erratic driving through the neighborhood. And and when he was stopped, he did not have a driver's license. And he made a split second decision to hit the gas and go forward. And in I mean, microseconds, the officer who happen to be a, an off duty rookie

shot at the car and killed the driver. So, you know, when people ask me, and they do often, you know, considering running for office or a career in government, what the highs and the lows were, that was the low because that's a low, so low that it's you can't even there's no words to really describe it. My daughter was 15 years old at the time, same age as the young man who was killed. And it was just extra, it just hit me in such a way because I think I'm a dad and, and it was, I couldn't imagine losing my daughter so suddenly and so violently. So

that is something that we made a decision to lean in. And, and really, it was about being who we were, we were a government that that by nature was leaning in.

There are a lot of people that come out of the woodwork, including attorneys that tell you to hide because they're you know, there's, there's an inquest, there's a grand jury, there's, there's civil suits that are coming out. But that would have been the worst thing we could have done was to change our posture as a government. So we did lean in. And we leaned in by going to churches, go into people's living rooms, getting a network of community leaders that we were doing nothing but communicating with to kind of stamp out rumors.

And people appreciated the effort, the sincerity that we were bringing to this tragedy, and, and that we ourselves were hurting, and that we were about trying to get the facts out, versus the rumors that we're also taking, trying to take root. So I think when you have crisis in local government, and I think it's a matter of when not if I think the best thing to do always is to lean in. And it doesn't mean you won't make mistakes. You will. It's a human business. But I think if you show that you're a human being if you show empathy and compassion, and you're listening and you're going to people you're not having them come to you, you're going to them. It gets you through the storm.

It did for us and I think it would do it for a lot of other local governments. Yeah, well, what what a great story and I just I'm

I think about the trauma and the emotional

atmosphere of that situation, the family, the community, the leadership, and you're taking the time and effort and those around you to listen and participate and go to them. I love that concept of getting out of our office and going to see other people proactively. It's really a beautiful example. You know, I wanted to shift gears a little bit with you talk about vision, because I know that's a big a big topic and a big message from you. And again, I want to relate this back also to the folks listening, of course, most of them are staff, leadership of counties, and cities and agencies, tax commissions, and so forth. And,

you know, we work with local governments to help them create strategic plans and visions and purpose statements, this kind of thing.

But a lot of times those ideas and things are relegated to

perhaps not so important, you know, and I think about your, the saying that you have in the book, the city was called dal Rae instead of Del Rey. And I thought that was kind of clever name, but probably not something y'all won't. But you all turned it around, you know, you went from Del Rey to this really vibrant, cool city. And there were some investments because you had a vision, right? You all had a picture, downtown redevelopment plan? Well, whatever it was, I just wonder if you could speak to a minute for a minute about the value of having a vision, and what that can do in terms of attracting people to your cause? Sure, and that's why I admire what you do at leader golf, because I think that vision is essential. I think it's the first thing you ought to do, and that every city needs to find a way to make that happen. I don't know how you do this job. Well, we're effectively without a vision. And I think without having a vision, you can you can drift, it tends to breed some,

you know, you have some individuals on a on a elected body that now have their own agendas versus a common agenda. So I think managers should insist that their commissions, and councils have have visions, I think it makes it easier to manage. And it's easier to say yes to things, yes, this fits the vision, or no, in a polite way, because it just doesn't fit the vision. Or you can even say, Well, this would work. If you if you make these changes, because that more fit what we're doing is as a community. So I think it's absolutely essential to have the vision, it helps with budgeting,

let's prioritize the budget to make sure that the vision

is funded. So I think one of the costs, once you have a vision, it's really incumbent to deliver on that vision. And if you do, if you get things done, and you celebrate those accomplishments, you begin to develop trust in the community. And I believe that vision should be bottom up and get the community involved. It's more time consuming, it can definitely be messy. But it's worth that upfront investment. Because then you have buy in, and when people start to see their time returned with investments on the ground that they can see and enjoy. It just helps the local government enormously. So I don't know how you do it without it. I think what you do with leader gov is is essential work. And I just don't know of a government that succeeds with without it. I mean, it's in business, you have a business plan and government, you need a vision. And your stakeholders need to be involved in that in crafting that vision. Yeah, yeah. That's why we're no longer Delray, by the way.

So Amen.

Hey, it kind of a final final thought I wanted to ask you about, again, you know, we've got quite a variety of folks listening to this podcast, and some are like entry level managers, supervisors, with with you know, different different folks working with them and and

all the way up to, you know, fairly large cities and counties management. And I just wonder, again, back to your sort of core message around relationship building or compassion, if you might share just any, maybe even

For a young person entering into public service on a city or county staff, if you might just share some, some sort of final thoughts on what you see is as critical elements of good leadership? Sure.

I think unfortunately,

I think one of the things we have to acknowledge is that somehow in our society, we we have denigrated public service, we, we don't trust government.

Like we used to trust the government, we are we label people, bureaucrats that can't get things done. That's the environment we're in, right, wrong or indifferent. I think the way to push back, respectfully on that is, is to is to build those relationships to make the investment in getting to know as many stakeholders in your community as you possibly can, and build that reservoir of goodwill. So that you are building trust, that you have allies going forward as you go to effect change in your community. I think the way to do that, and the big advantage of local government that you don't have on on a national level is proximity. You're in you live in these communities, you tend to you're part of this community, if you're visible and accessible, and you are listening to your stakeholders over time, it's going to make an amazing difference. And in your experience as as a public servant. And I think we can get back I'm an optimist, that public service is such a noble profession. People are not getting into local government work to get rich. They're there to serve. And I think we got to get that message out as as a community that appreciates what government does. And I think it's about being visible and proximate. That's the advantage that you don't have if you're, if you're sitting in an office in Washington, DC, writing policy that affects people across the country, you're local, and that we should take advantage of.

Yeah, really, thank thank you for that I, I knew that that core issue of building relationships and getting to know people and listening to them that that really resonated for me in your in your message in your book. So I appreciate you sharing that. I want to encourage everyone that is listening to get a copy of the book, maybe even buy five or 10 copies for your staff. This is a I think it's a must read. It's not just about you know, there are hundreds of books on leadership. This is about leadership, and local government. And again, the book is called Adventures in local politics, how leadership brought back Delray Beach, and it's by Jeff Perlman, who is our guest today. And I'm going to assume that you can go to Amazon and pick this up anywhere else we could find a copy, Jeff.

Amazon is the easiest. And the publishers three l publishing. And they have a website as well, I want to thank you, Bill for for recommending the book. I appreciate it very much. This was the book that I was looking for, throughout my entire career In, in local government that because I was reading leadership books, I was reading some books about very large cities. I couldn't find anything that talked about what I was experienced on the on the local level. And so I decided to write it myself. And I'm glad you like it. Thank you so much. Yeah, you know, thank you for being with us. I really like the word noble, a noble profession. It's like a teacher or a fireman, you know, serving in local government is a noble profession. And we need to emphasize that and bring that back. And I really love your contribution to that big idea. And I hope and pray that a lot of a lot of books get sold, and we're able to restore some of that nobility, if you will, to all the fine workers out there and local government, state government and so forth. So thank you again for being with us. It's been a delight hearing from you and I wish you all the best in your work. Continue to work down in Florida. Thank you, Bill, and thanks for all you do as leader Jeff, deeply appreciate it. You got it. Have a wonderful day.