BY JACK LOWENSTEIN
Former Royal Palm Beach Councilman Richard Valuntas is challenging incumbent Councilman Dave Swift in the race for Seat 2 on the Royal Palm Beach Village Council. The election will be held Tuesday, March 14.
Valuntas wants to bring his advanced education and years of professional experience as a lawyer back to the council after a year’s hiatus. He served on the council for six years before narrowly losing his seat to Councilwoman Selena Smith last year.
“I bring a legal expertise that no one on the council brings,” he said.
Valuntas has worked for the Florida Attorney General’s office as a board-certified criminal appellate attorney for 12 years and has five years of experience at civil law firms. He received his bachelor’s, master’s and law degrees from Florida State University, and later also earned a master’s degree in public administration from Florida Atlantic University and a criminal justice degree from the University of Central Florida.
Valuntas grew up in Broward County, where he attended public schools. He moved to Palm Beach County in 1998, and then to Royal Palm Beach in 2001. “When I came to Royal Palm Beach, I immediately got involved with the community,” Valuntas said.
He was a member of the Recreation Advisory Board from 2002 until 2010, when he was elected to the council.
Valuntas recognizes his three children as his top accomplishment in life beyond his work experience. All of his children attend school locally, he noted.
At the local level, Valuntas said one of the biggest things he managed to change was the elimination of the village’s red-light camera ordinance.
“It didn’t really, number one, seem to be a good fit to me, and number two, I was questioning the legality of it,” Valuntas said. “These red-light cameras are supposed to stop crashes at the intersections, and I asked, ‘Well, how many intersection crashes have we had in the past three years here in Royal Palm Beach?’ The answer was like three or four.”
Right now, Valuntas thinks that the council needs fresh ideas and newer voices, and that is particularly true in the case of his opponent, David Swift, who has served on the council for more than 25 years, he noted.
Valuntas is also critical of Swift for his inconsistent application of policy. “I think I bring a better level of consistency,” he said.
He said that there are areas of the village government that can be improved, and focuses on his accomplishments and experience as a lawyer to be key in the ability to improve conditions in the village.
“I’m much more logically consistent in my decision-making,” Valuntas said. “It has helped me communicate with the residents a lot. I’ve met a lot of people over the years, and they know they can come to me, and I listen.”
Valuntas wants to give more focus to the potential commercial development of the land behind Lowe’s Home Improvement at the southwest corner of State Road 7 and Southern Blvd.
“I would definitely like to scrutinize and make sure there is a sustainable and intelligent development behind the Lowe’s south of Southern Blvd.,” Valuntas said.
He believes that the proposed development can be very beneficial to the community, but only if managed properly.
“It has the potential to be something great, but unfortunately, sometimes at the beginning, this is what you see, and it’s something completely different at the end,” Valuntas said. “One of the things that I want to do over the next two years is maintain that it’s not going to be overdeveloped, putting too much emphasis or too much stress not only on the roads, but our police and fire infrastructure.”
The Senior Ad Hoc Advisory Board is moving forward with PMG Associates to complete the study on senior needs in the village. Valuntas likes the idea of seeing the development of a senior housing facility in the area.
“Getting someone to come in and step up to have a quality place for not only our current senior residents, but for someone like me, who has got a parent not too far away, but if anything happens, I would much rather have her closer to me and somewhere within the village,” Valuntas said.
He wants money from the additional penny sales tax now in place to go toward the village’s infrastructure plan and toward projects that support people with special needs.
“We are devising a plan to make our sidewalks and common areas ADA-compliant, because apparently a lot of places aren’t the way they should be,” Valuntas said, referring to the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. “It allows people like my younger brother to get around by themselves.”
One of the key things to look at for the future is development to the west.
“To me, I guess the main issue is what are we going to do about the development, not only the one behind Lowe’s that I mentioned, but what’s going on to the west and to the north, and what can we do to mitigate it.”
Another concern has to do with traffic calming and safety for residents on certain streets in the village.
“I was happy to see that the council finally finalized a policy,” Valuntas said. “They’ve moved forward with traffic issues that I think should have been addressed a long time ago, particularly on Sandpiper Avenue.”
He considers speed tables to be potential solutions on certain streets that see drivers move at high speeds.
“These things are designed for you to drive the speed limit,” Valuntas said. “If you’re going over what it’s designed for, you’re going to have a problem.”
As far as current procedures in council meetings, Valuntas sees areas to improve.
“The three-minute time clock I’m not a big fan of,” Valuntas said. “I understand it, but that’s one of the things I think can be done better.”
Still, he believes that the council meetings are currently being conducted in a professional manner.
He sees the council as an entity working for the people of Royal Palm Beach. “The government is here to work for us. It’s not the other way around,” he said.
Valuntas looks at the public spaces in Royal Palm Beach as some of the greatest focal points in the community, offering a great balance of activities for all age ranges.
“I’ve got children involved in the recreation programs and its phenomenal offerings,” Valuntas said. “We put on the four major events each year that are well-attended, particularly the Fourth of July. It costs a lot of money, but I think it’s really appreciated by the population. We’ve got the dog parks; the cultural center, which is getting expanded, offering senior programs over there; and a lot of wonderful senior trips and things along those lines.”
With these areas as main focuses for Valuntas, he believes this puts him more in immediate touch in relation to the community and the current residents.
His opponent Swift, along with the council, recently voted to further restrict boats and recreational vehicles in residential neighborhoods. Valuntas sees it as an infringement on property rights for residents.
“I wasn’t really in favor of the whole RV/boat thing, changing the rules of the game a little bit,” he said. “If you’ve been living in a community for a certain amount of years, and you’ve made investments to your property, then the government comes in and says, ‘Oh, no, it used to be a setback of X; now it’s going to be a setback of Y,’ that kind of negates the entire investment in your property. Now you have to move your boat or RV elsewhere.”
Valuntas credits Swift for his experience based on his longevity on the council and knowledge through his education and work experience on water management issues.
However, Valuntas also asserted that Swift has a history of discouraging the involvement of residents coming to council meetings and voicing their opinions about the direction and development of the community.
For himself, Valuntas said that he doesn’t always take the easy road to solving issues, and he often wants to have an answer to every problem the community might face, regardless of whether it is within the bubble of what a local government can accomplish.
At the end of the day, Valuntas focuses on his educational background, experience as a lawyer and experience in the community as his top strengths and the reason why voters should elect him to Seat 2 on the council.
“My vision is to keep our parks and recreation top-notch, provide a safe community for the residents to live in, but also to have young families be able to start here, grow here and grow old here,” Valuntas said. “I want to see senior facilities and places where either my mom or someone in Greenway Village who can’t stay there anymore will have a place to go within Royal Palm Beach. I like seeing the emphasis on our senior and youth programs. It really is a nice place to live.”