City shouldn't run Old School Square without public say | Commentary

The Creative Arts School and Crest Theatre in Old School Square in Delray Beach, Florida on August 16, 2021.
The Creative Arts School and Crest Theatre in Old School Square in Delray Beach, Florida on August 16, 2021.

We aren’t picking a fight. But we can’t stay silent after reading your Nov. 3 editorial, “Management shift holds promise for Old School Square.”

We’ll start with the headline.

Old School Square is a cultural organization not a management company, a description our mayor and her two supporting Commissioners don’t understand. They don’t comprehend how OSS has been integral to the success of Delray Beach.

Old School Square (OSS) is a non-profit arts and cultural organization. The founding organization that created the exceptional institution that exists today. For 32 years, OSS’s passionate staff, donors and volunteers have contributed countless hours to making a cultural center unequaled in a city of our size.

The editorial notes that the community was “stunned” by the Commission’s decision to terminate OSS’s lease. That’s understandable because the decision was made without community input, conversation with OSS or even an agenda item. That’s stunning. It’s also wrong and damaging to Delray.

Old School Square in Delray Beach, Florida on August 16, 2021. (GREG LOVETT/PALM BEACH POST)
Old School Square in Delray Beach, Florida on August 16, 2021. (GREG LOVETT/PALM BEACH POST)

Yes, the City has the “right” to terminate the lease. But the City is not above the law and the lack of due process raises questions about why this action was taken and whether laws and ethical norms were violated.

There’s a reason that community outrage “lingers,” as the editorial notes. The decision was unconscionable. OSS supporters know this, but others don’t, and unfortunately, your editorial misleads Post readers. Your readers deserve better.

'They gave us the death penalty': Old School Square stunned by city's decision to end lease

Related: After audit finds problems, Old School Square arts group extends olive branch to Delray Beach

OSS pleaded for dialogue. The city refused to meet. City officials, however, continue to level baseless allegations that smear the reputation of a good organization backed by good people. The Editorial Board never contacted OSS for this editorial. Opinion or not, it’s difficult to understand how the Editorial Board can come to a conclusion without hearing more than one side of the story.

Had you talked to us, you might have avoided some basic misstatements. Some examples:

The editorial misstates the origins of Old School Square. The leaders of OSS helped the city obtain the site. The “Historic Society” had nothing to do with acquiring, funding, or restoring the site, yet your editorial says the city “turned to the Delray Beach Historical Society to restore the four-acre site.” OSS raised $15 million and oversaw the restoration, launching a three-decade partnership with the city that led to a renaissance of our downtown. The investment by OSS has yielded remarkable returns in rising property values, tax revenues, and quality of life in Delray.

The city-OSS partnership has been torn apart by divisive politics led by three City Commissioners. The losers in this battle are the citizens of Delray. The Editorial Board criticizes OSS for City funds spent on cultural activities, neglecting to mention that public funds account for only 20-25 percent of OSS’s budget, the remainder provided by donors, tickets, and grants. The funding is not a subsidy but grants paid (in arrears) for City requirements in the lease.

Yes, audits were late when the auditing firm resigned during the pandemic. OSS has since provided all the audits requested and those audits are clean. The editorial criticizes OSS for construction projects, saying they were done without City Commission approvals. The lease between the City and OSS doesn’t require Commission approvals but OSS staff informed Commissioners of the improvements (paid by donations), provided tours to city officials, and received city permits after working extensively with City staff.

After the lease termination, the renovation was halted, as the donor has withdrawn her $1.5 million. Taxpayers will be on the hook to finish a renovation that was previously funded.

The decision to terminate the lease is not supported by our community, as evidenced by the 10,000+ signatures on a petition protesting the Commission’s decision. It’s an insult to our citizens to say that the organization they support has caused this civic unrest. OSS is the victim of political payback, pure and simple.

The way this commission operates— without public input, without due process— is unethical, and probably illegal. The fact that the Post would endorse such behavior is troubling.

Patty Jones is the board chairman for Old School Square Center for the Arts, Inc. and a community volunteer

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Commentary: Delray shouldn't limit public input on Old School Square