Meet a few people who are reshaping Boca, from business to government to academics and the arts
IT’S A NEW DAY IN BOCA RATON. The city may still bask in the reflected light of its resort status, but its bold trajectory toward the future is a mix of innovators and visionaries, educatorsand entrepreneurs, people who believe in possibility—and don’t take no for an answer. Meet a few of them.
Chrissy Gibson takes her job one day at a time—because she never knows what’s coming at her. Officially, as assistant city manager, she manages the communication department, the sustainability division, the risk management division and the amphitheater.
Unofficially, it could be anything.
“What I deal with on a daily basis is whatever happens to come my way. We never know what we’re walking into,” she says. “I didn’t know this week I’d be walking into multiple calls and enquiries that came to us as a result of the Surfside incident. Residents are nervous, condo associations are nervous. They want to know about recertification; they want to know what the city is doing. Whatever is happening on a national level or in another local jurisdiction, there is always an overflow to us that we are reacting to. It’s never dull.”
And Gibson, who was born and reared here, has the unflappable demeanor and analytical skills to field those problems as they arise, a quality she’s honed over her career in Boca, starting with a stint as producer of the Festival of the Arts in 2009, and followed by five years managing the Mizner Park Amphitheater. Those two jobs were the start of a prodigious learning curve that landed her in the city manager’s office, first as director of communications, and now as assistant city manager.
Gibson, now 52, says her work at the amphitheater in the middle of a recession was invaluable in showing her how the city works—and how vital communication can be.
“I had to work with every single department … police, fire, finance, procurement, development services—you name it. It was a great teaching tool for me in addition to the challenge of getting the community to support this amphitheater that many people felt at the time was a major expense in the middle of a recession. But we presented this as an asset, something that was going to bring the community together.”
It is that kind of voice that Gibson brought to city hall, in her position as the city’s first communications director. It was 2015, and social media had blown up; websites like Boca Watch and For Boca and others were sending out varying versions of the news or opinions related to the city, to politics, to developments, and there was no counter messaging by the city.
“These [blogs] are good if you see that they are creating engagement with the community; obviously it means that the community wants to engage, they want to talk about these issues. Unfortunately for the city, a lot of the information was just plain wrong, or spun in a way that created a lot of distrust in government. The city council recognized that we needed to be a little more proactive, and we needed to start telling the community what we are doing as a city. That was a trend in government communications in general—you started to see a lot more marketing and communications so residents could see how their tax dollars were being spent.”
During her tenure as communications director, Gibson opened up the channels of communication for the city, which had been notoriously taciturn before then. She assembled a strong team that redid the website, brought its 1,200 Facebook users to 45,000 and all social media combined to about 400,000 people. She also had to reposition the city’s general persona.
“I had to think strategically about what the council’s goals were, what the city management wanted, the limitations, the opportunities we had. I had to determine what kind of technology we would use, what our tone was going to be. And engage with the residents to give them an opportunity to tell us what they needed to know. … We started engaging with them on all things like real people. … We wanted to humanize the city; we didn’t want to be seen as just a ‘government entity.’ … We are their public servants.”
The success of that initiative no doubt propelled Gibson into her current position, giving her “the perspective of having a strategic look at what’s going on, how to manage things, how to look at things for the future.”
And the future is here. Gibson sees a city with a demographic changing to younger families, a “resurgence of technology and innovation,” as well as the challenges of affordability, and of succession planning as many veteran city officials are retiring soon. Her overall outlook is optimistic.
“[Our challenges] are continuing to draw tech companies, innovators, making sure they know we are open for business … and starting to shed that Seinfeld ‘Del Boca Vista’ image a little bit. We need to let people know we are a young community—look at our schools. What more could you really want? If you are here at any age, we have everything you need. We just want to make sure that people want to come, that they feel it’s a good place to live and that they can afford to live here…I’m very optimistic. I have no doubt things will be more complicated. I think my focus right now is making sure we can get the best people possible to work at the city.”
This story is from the November/December 2021 issue of Boca magazine. For more like this, click here to subscribe to the magazine.