On the Inaugural Meeting of the Civic Circle held on SOBE’s famed Lincoln Road
March 2, 2010
David Arthur Walters
The inaugural cocktail meeting of the Civic Circle was held Wednesday evening, February 25, 2010, on the second floor of Van Dyke Cafe on South Beach's famed Lincoln Road. The title of an email announcing the meeting invited people to join the meeting to honor Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez. The invitation itself invited people to join in the honor of hosting the "esteemed" official.
Aspiring Miami Beach civic leader and Civic Circle organizer David Nemitz served as toastmaster. Mr. Nemitz did not respond to our request for biographical information, therefore we must rely on what we can piece together from the Internet, subject of course to any corrections he cares to submit.
Mr. Nemitz is a graduate of the City of Miami Beach Leadership Academy, is listed on the Internet as the Miami Beach contact for Miami Beach Toastmasters, organized under the auspices of Toastmasters International. His personal Internet domain, www.davidnemitz.com, bears the official seals of Toastmasters International, Miami Beach Botanical Gardens, and the City of Miami Beach.
His website biography is limited to the red hair he was born with during a cocktail hour, capped off by his marriage in 2008 - his birth date is not provided: "Red hair! Red hair!" my mother gasped, gaping at her only son. "Don't worry, it will change when he gets older," the doctor assured her. "Red hair?!" Bemused she took me into her arms. It was just 4:32 pm on August 17 at New York City's Flower's Hospital, just in time for cocktails. Even as my hair thins and I sense strawberry gray is more apt a description than strawberry blond, I remain known to many as "Red," though born David Dale Nemitz. My life's rational passion was realized on May 11. 2008, I married Ninette Denise Uzan. (David Nemitz biography at www.davidnemitz.com as of March 1, 2009)
Other readily available Internet information includes his book reviews at Amazon.com: on June 1, 2009, Mr. Nemitz extols former Miami Beach Mayor Alex Daoud's book, Sins of South Beach. Mr. Daoud served time for corruption during his administration. "The City of Sin and Skin reveals even more. I truly believe that South Beach is the best place on earth and after reading Alex Daoud's Sins of South Beach I have yet another reason for my ardor. Alex's description of his personal and political corruption which culminates in a federal indictment comes across as both tell all confession and telling testament of hubris. If you have ever savored the chic sultriness of South Beach you are indebted to the efforts of Alex Daoud. This sordid tale has it all sex, violence, and retribution. When you stroll along Ocean Drive or catch a glimpse of South Beach in a movie, the story of the man who pulled Miami Beach up as he went down is there right before your eyes. Whether you love or hate Mayor Daoud, Miami Beach, or politics in general this book is a fitting tribute to a birthmark on the beauty that is South Beach." (www.amazon.com, June 1, 2009)
Mr. Daoud's book has made a good impression on many esteemed people. Judge Marty Shapiro, who attended the Civic Circle cocktail hour, spoke wistfully of the Dauod Days and of his friend the late A.C. Weinstein, whom he said was politically astute and had helped him be elected a judge. He acknowledged that Mr, Weinstein was quite the muckraker before he went to work for former Miami Beach Mayor David Dermer.
Mr. Nemitz does not speak so warmly about Professor Thomas H. Davenport's celebrated scholarly book, Thinking For A Living, How to Get Better Performance And Results From Knowledge Workers; our toastmaster's critique makes it evident that he is not always very nice: "You have got to be kidding. I endeavor to follow the adage that if you have nothing nice to say then say nothing; however, this work is redundant, virtually devoid of any actionable insights, and smacks of a self indulgent attempt to justify his own idiosyncratic work habits. I kept going in hopes that one concept would justify my investment of mind. The only return on my investment is a book I can now confidently refer to those I distain and assiduously warn those I adore to avoid. I am fairly sure the majority of previous reviews are from nodes in his social network who have seized upon his scintillating suggestion that effective knowledge workers maintain and nurture their relationships by treating them well. It is sycophantic myopia when work which could and should be great barely achieves mediocracy receives any praise whatsoever. If Mr. Davenport reads these words please know that I harbor no ill will to you personally I just found this particular publication of your work seriously wanting. (www.amazon.com, July 19, 2007)
Professor Davenport's book is definitely pertinent to the Civic Circle’s stated aim of social connectivity. He reviews human engineering approaches applied to knowledge workers, among whom he includes managers, and recommends that new approaches be considered. He emphasizes a collaborative, networking approach, and recommends that part of the physical environment be designed for collaboration. “You want to concentrate and collaborate,” he writes in Thinking For A Living, “but how can you get the best of both worlds in your current office set-up?” He takes us the issue further in the article ‘Why Office Design Matters’ published 9/12/2005 in Harvard Business Schools’ publication ‘Working Knowledge for Business Leaders’. People communicate better in open spaces. The ‘open’ plan environment is most conducive to functional effectiveness. Promote a collaborative culture by providing space for people to gossip, chat, to have fun and build social capital.
We are already well aware of the fact that knowledge workers, like other social members of the animal kingdom, including ants, perform better with an audience, but learn more efficiency in privacy. And some thinkers also need the peace and quiet of privacy to produce their intellectual goods. There is really nothing new philosophically speaking in the professor’s book, but it is written in plain language and the subject matter might not be too boring for managers interested in manipulating human behavior.
Mr. Nemitz called the Civic Circle to order and cited the new organization's mission statement: "The goal of the Civic Circle is to sustain what is excellent, enhance what is good, and frustrate what is truly foolish." Periodic cocktail meetings are being held, he said, so that public servants and citizens active in the community can get together and converse informally to meet that goal. He said Civic Circle is an alternative to the breakfast meetings held on Lincoln Road, meetings that many people cannot attend because they have to be at work in the mornings. Mr. Nemitz has been seen attending the Tuesday Morning Breakfast club meetings at David's just off Lincoln Road for a year or so, but very little is known about him.
Before introducing Mr. Gonzalez, he laid down what he called his rule of engagement: "Be nice."
Mr. Gonzalez has served the City of Miami Beach as its manager for ten years and he has naturally been at the center of many stormy and bitter controversies. He said that in addition to his several official bosses he had ninety thousand bosses, or at least ninety thousand people thought they were his bosses. He said he preferred to take questions from the audience instead of delivering a speech, and to answer all questions with one objective in mind: to be truthful, regardless of whether or not people liked the truth.
He fielded a general question from David Veita, who identified himself as a community activist, as to the likelihood of budget restraints and their effects. He described the sources of revenue and the steps being taken to fill the budget gaps so extensively and dispassionately, and in such general terms, that it was difficult for the audience to attend to his speech, and the answers were lost on most of them.
Yoland Escollies and Inez Flax inquired about public housing and stimulus funds from Washington. Mr. Gonzalez said the City of Miami Beach had in fact obtained a very large portion of the funds provided by the Federal government to the State of Florida to buy foreclosed properties for conversion to low cost housing. Regrettably, they could only be obtained after foreclosure rather than used to save property owners from foreclosure.
Lucille Acocella asked what could be done to avert floods such as the one that had residents wading around in knee-deep water in June. He replied that the flood was due to a fifty-year storm, and that budget exigencies made it necessary to focus on shorter term, five-year issues. He mentioned the archaic system "under the ground," which would require an enormous expense to replace.
Finally, he fielded questions from David Arthur Walters, a self-described independent journalist, leading with: "Is it true that the crime rate in South Beach is rising, that there are fewer officers to deal with it, and that the situation is expected to worsen?"
Mr. Gonzalez replied that current statistics on the crime rate had not been released, but he thought that the rate for major crimes was falling while the rate for minor crimes was on the rise. As for the size of the police force, he claimed that it is about the same as it was some time ago, notwithstanding normal fluctuations in size due to retirements, terminations, hiring and training, leaving the force only 20 short of the average. He said that the scuttlebutt circulating among police officers unnamed by the journalist, that officers on the street were down by 60 officers, was "not true." Furthermore, he suggested that the size of the force was about double that of cities with the same populations.
Mr. Walters said that the crime rate seems to be rising when someone is raped and knifed nearby. He raised the long-standing controversy as to why many serious crimes are apparently not reported by the mainstream media - conspiracy theorists have suggested that there is a silent agreement with the city to put the lid on crime reporting lest tourists be scared away. Mr. Gonzalez indicated that the facts were there for the media to cover. And when asked exactly who had the truth about the crime situation on the beach, Mr. Gonzalez promised to email him the facts and refer him to the police department authorities who will back them up.
Mr. Walters pressed the issue, raising the question of liquor-license density: There are wall-to-wall bars opening up on Washington Avenue near Fifth Street, he claimed, and the neighborhood around there is all ready overrun by drunks in the early mornings, so will more police officers be hired to deal with it? Taxes on nightclub revenues are used to cover such expenses, responded the city manager.
Finally, Mr. Gonzalez noted the improvements in quality of life over the years on the beach, and said he had no plans on relocating, which is what people may do if they are not satisfied.
People mingled for awhile after the meeting adjourned, many of them vying to get next to Mr. Gonzalez and Mr. Nemitz. The venue at the fine Lincoln Road restaurant was not ideal for mingling and getting to know one another. Motivational speakers know that audiences are distracted by hunger and thirst, so they make sure that those needs are provided for before speaking. No menus were visible on the tables nor was a waiter seen serving food and drinks. Van Dykes is a popular hangout for the local bourgeoisie - two cocktails or glasses of wine may be had for about $25 including tip and tax, and food runs from $9 to $26. There was lots of room around the manned bar at the side of the upstairs dining room, but most people were seated at small tables in an arrangement unsuitable for collaborating with one another. Perhaps very long banquet tables or large round tables would be more suitable.
As it was, the physical arrangement at Van Dyke’s was set up for dictation rather than collaboration and conversation. Mr. Nemitz as of this writing has not responded to suggestions that a venue be adopted in the future more apt to mingling and collaboration, such as a picnic, or an open bar setting with a better seating and standing arrangement around Van Dyke's jazz bar. He did say that Van Dyke's would be up-streaming meetings to ustream. When asked what motivated the restaurant management to provide its facility, he said, "Van Dyke’s level of cooperation stems from the rules of engagement 'Be nice.' Appreciative Advocacy is not a slogan - it is a process of engaging life respectfully." Fine, but let's hope that the establishment is rewarded for the niceties.
An organization developer and champion of charitable causes, quietly voiced the apprehension she shares with other prominent civic leaders that Civic Circle might devolve into just another upsetting forum for personal complaints. Jeffrey Singer, the media specialist and broadcast engineer who taped the meeting for the Miami Beach Office of Communications, complained about complainers in a telephone conversation following the event. He said that Mr. Gonzalez had also complained about complainers, claiming they focused on a few bad blades of grass in a nice lawn. Mr. Singer said he has observed and resented, as a "fly on the wall," the endless bickering of local citizens over trivial details, such as that over the kind of tennis court surface to be used in the Flamingo Park makeover. He said the videotape of the Civic Circle meeting would not be published in full, but several sound bites therefrom would be used here and there - those who want to know exactly what transpired at the meeting may obtain a copy from the city.
Mr. Nemitz remarked to Mr. Walters that, although he expects Civic Circle conversations to be civil, he did not want the organization to become an official cheerleader for the city and its leaders, therefore he appreciated his questions. Whatever is advocated, however, it must be done so appreciatively. His remarks gave one the impression that Mr. Walters' questions about the ratio between the crime rate and the size of the police force were perceived as querulous.
We are not so sure of the effectiveness of the appreciative approach, for the danger on the end of the pole opposite to a bickering forum would be the group's evolution into a city clique, just another toady organization of claquers or courtiers common wherever power resides. There is nothing inherently wrong with collecting social and especially political capital, but the behavior of flatterers and sycophants whose sole motive for associating with power is to ingratiate themselves, to insinuate themselves into circumstances in order to gain favors, is just as disgusting as the revolting end of the continuum.
As Mr. Nemitz knows very well, fellow speakers at Toastmasters International meetings critique each other's speeches. On February 24, 2010, he wrote and published his critique in his organization's publication, 'The Connection', the Civic Circle's "Chronicle of Appreciative Advocacy." The format of that publication is similar to the one he publishes for the local chapter of Toastmasters International. He is obviously a fine copywriter. He had this to say about the keynote speaker: "Jorge Gonzalez responded to the following citizens with heartwarming intelligence. His affable answers consistently provided history, with a hint of humor, as he openly shared what he knows to be true.... David Nemitz asked him why he continues to dedicate his talents to being our city manager. Jorge responded by saying that he loves what he does. Generously sharing the credit, he highlighted the civic projects and events he has had the honor to initiate and manage for a decade. Doubting that he can ever satisfy every one of the 90,000 people who believe they are his boss, he humbly reminded us to be grateful for our good fortune to live in Miami Beach."
Of course Mr. Nemitz would not want to offend his organization's guest speaker with less than flattering criticism, although Mr. Gonzalez would probably not mind if he is true to his professed principle of speaking the straightforward truth. We agree that the illustrious - he is indeed handsome - city manager is intelligent, affable, sophisticated, sharing, and sometimes humorous, but his dispassionate delivery was hardly heartwarming - how open he was in respect to the truth is open to inquiry. He is of high managerial caliber, certainly not a politician given to making fine speeches. Overall, his responses to questions were too lengthy, and he did not appeal to the diverse interests of his audience, which made his presentation tedious and barely motivating. That is, he did not move things along, though the fact that he is a smart and good-looking manager made a good impression. His summation, which may be viewed on tape, was an extended variation of the unwelcome response of the city and their business supporters to many concerned citizens: "Love it or leave it." For example, it has been said that if the old-timers do not like all the nightclubs and the issues associated with drug and alcohol consumption, they should just move. That is not to say that Mr. Gonzalez is not a fine city manager, but we believe he would be a better speaker if he participated regularly in Toastmasters International; and he would be a finer city manager if he took more complaints to heart and found profit in them, for complaints can in fact be a gold mine, not only to those who complain but to those who satisfy the needs of unsatisfied customers and voters.
No doubt many public servants feel they are doing their level best to accomplish many good things, and have felt unjustly dishonored by citizen activists who constantly find something bad to harp on. Perhaps therapeutic meetings should be held in well-mirrored chambers where civic leaders can admire themselves and one another unremittingly for a while, and invite only activists bent on ingratiating themselves with the circle currently in power. However, that sort of organization institutionalized is prone to failure: alas, much of human progress is based on constructive if not negative criticism. We must remember that on the other side of criticism is a demand for the realization of an ideal.
Keeping that in mind, what Mr. Gonzalez needs is not 90,000 bosses but rather 90,000 assistant city managers. And the police chief needs 90,000 citizen cops on the beat, to observe and report and make calls for enforcement. We have learned from studies such as James Q. Wilson’s Varieties of Police Behavior that police activities reflect the perceptions and concerns of the public, what the public cares about, hence the police department will keep the order wanted – if that order is lax, then certain deviances and infractions will be largely ignored, perhaps taken up periodically when the “heat” is on. That is, in a democracy the behavior of the police department ultimately reflects the will of the community, not the private will of a handful of leaders. A citizen might think everything is in good order and quite “nice” when the order is lax, but when he and his loved ones are victimized, his attitude changes.
So who really cares in our community, not only for himself and his family, but for the others as well? Who is watching? Who is complaining about disorder? Is the press reporting it? Are the citizens and their guests forewarned? Or shall we be nice and say that this is the best of all possible worlds? How do we perceive South Beach? A place to have fun, to get high, to have promiscuous sex in the park, to engage in behaviors the Puritans used to execute people for after the third offense, then leave it?
Mr. Nemitz did not respond to the question: What do you think of the statement that nice guys finish last? He certainly seems to be sincere in his pursuit of his fledgling organization's aims, and they are certainly commendable as ideals. We appreciate Mr. Nemitz's effort, and this una mosca de pared intuits that Mr. Nemitz is a swell guy, true to the meaning of his moniker - beloved. We are bound to find some faults with the Civic Circle, some bad blades of grass on the lawn. no matter well manicured it might be. Nice people may not want to openly express constructive criticism, not to mention negative criticism. But without it the Civic Circle would probably calcify into another group dominated by the usual city clique. Nothing is perfect. This was Civic Circle’s inaugural cocktail meeting, and everyone attending can hope to look back upon it fondly as the beginning of an excellent venture, the start of something good, instead of the repetition of foolishness.
Miami Beach Toastmasters International Newsletterhttp://www.miamibeachtoastmasters.com/theenhancement/theenhancementv29.htm
Civic Circle's Ustream facility