Jeff Hmara believes that his lifetime of military and government experience, coupled with his years of work with his local homeowners’ association, make him the top pick for voters selecting a new member of the Royal Palm Beach Village Council on Tuesday, March 13.
Hmara, a nine-year Madison Green resident, joins Selena Smith and Ken DeLaTorre in the race for the council’s Seat 4, which has been vacant since the resignation of longtime Councilman David Swift last summer.
Hmara has been married 42 years and has two children and four grandchildren. He is a retired U.S. Army colonel and served 26 years active duty with a 12-month tour in Vietnam and 14 months in the Korean Demilitarized Zone.
“Subsequently, I became involved in the acquisition of weapons systems and command control systems with the Army,” Hmara said. “I got trained in the process and dealt with major contractors developing and delivering to the troops some of these critical wartime components, and dealing with major contractors like GE and Lockheed Martin.”
After retiring from the Army, he did similar work in administrative positions with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Security Administration. He retired five years ago and is now an adjunct professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University, teaching organizational management, leadership, ethics and economics.
Hmara and his wife have been deeply involved with homeowners’ associations in Madison Green, including the Walden Village HOA where they live, and the Madison Green Master HOA, of which he has been president the past two years.
“Getting involved in homeowners’ associations was a positive experience because it allowed me to engage at a level of working with neighbors, oftentimes on controversial, frictional kinds of issues, and figuring out how to do that,” Hmara said.
He believes that a lot of what they do at the homeowners’ level is similar to what the village council does. “When the seat opened up last year, I had a lot of homeowners tell me, ‘You ought to step up and get on the council,’” he said. “‘Let’s get some representation from this area, but also fill it with somebody who has some experience with these kinds of issues.’”
Hmara highlights his top accomplishments as being able to give back to people he meets, and sharing his experience and insights. “The classroom is a wonderful environment for that. So, too, is the homeowners’ association,” he said.
It is this management and leadership experience that Hmara believes makes him most qualified for the council post.
“I look at some of the improvements that we’ve been able to make, and the impact, moving things forward in areas that were stuck for many years,” he said. “One of my most proud accomplishments is when I look at the homeowners’ association now — I’ve got a board of committed, capable volunteers.”
His top goal on the council would be to make sure residents feel they are represented. “What I mean by that is that they feel that they are being listened to and that their opinion matters,” Hmara said.
Another goal would be to help improve the quality of education at the high school level. Hmara noted that he has met with Royal Palm Beach High School Principal Jesus Armas and other local principals, as well as Palm Beach County School Board Member Marcia Andrews, about improving the system.
He also wants to make sure Royal Palm Beach puts the focus on positive, balanced growth in the community. “We’ve got some great initiatives going on now with the [Aldi] food distribution warehouse coming into the area, in a place that kind of makes sense, as opposed to where there was some thinking about the Crestwood area,” Hmara added, noting a previous proposal to put commercial uses at the old wastewater treatment plant site.
As a Madison Green resident, Hmara was in the thick of the protest against that proposal. He also sat on the task force empaneled to come up with alternate plans for the site, which turned out a report that he was not particularly happy with. It included a complex mix of education, recreation and residential uses that was later tabled by the council. “Have you ever heard the expression that a camel is a horse created by a committee?” he said. “What pleased me most was tabling the issue.”
While he does not favor commercial uses on that site, Hmara did say promoting a stronger business environment overall is the key to any healthy economy. “One of the things that I teach in my economics class is that the real economic engine is small business,” he said. “That’s where a majority of people are employed.”
Hmara sees one of the top issues in his campaign as putting the focus on honest, open government. “The issue of the Office of the Inspector General ties in with that,” he said. “It’s disconcerting to see 15 municipalities suing, objecting to paying for that oversight when I know personally from having been overseen by inspectors general, that while it’s somewhat uncomfortable, the reality is it’s a healthy thing to have.”
He thinks Royal Palm Beach made a good decision not to get involved in the lawsuit.
No matter what next year’s budget holds, Hmara would not support raising the tax rate. He would first look at cuts to capital improvements until the economy is back on its feet. “One of my favorite questions is, ‘What would happen if we don’t do this?’” he said. Second, he would do a line-item review starting with the most costly items.
Royal Palm Beach recently approved a foreclosure ordinance that addresses issues familiar to those being fought by homeowners’ associations hamstrung by economically troubled homeowners skipping their dues, he said. “Trying to find that compassionate balance, to those who continue to pay and also not unfeeling and uncaring to those who are in a difficult situation is very difficult,” Hmara said.
His HOAs have tried different approaches, including payment plans. “One of the things we want to do, and I think this is true now of the village as a whole, is we want good neighbors to stay in these homes, and if they can’t afford these homes, we would like them to move out and allow other people to move into those homes who are going to maintain those homes.”
He hasn’t figured out yet whether the village ordinance is accomplishing that end. “They haven’t really had it in place for that long,” Hmara said.
As for Village Manager Ray Liggins’ job performance, Hmara said he thinks Liggins is trying very hard. “Ray, I think, is totally committed to the community, to doing the best he can to grow into this job,” he said. “This is not the first engineer I’ve ever worked with who stepped up to the management level. Having an engineering background myself, I understand how difficult that can be.”
Hmara said voters should choose him because he brings the experience of leadership and organizational abilities. “I think I’ve demonstrated the willingness and ability to effectively listen and integrate the desires of the community to the extent that I can actually elicit that input from individuals,” he said. “One big thing is that I’ve got time. I’m retired, and other than teaching, my time is available, and I intend to apply it to being a councilman.”