Political newcomer Felicia Matula is challenging incumbent Royal Palm Beach Mayor Matty Mattioli in the Tuesday, March 13 election, promising to bring a new perspective to the Royal Palm Beach Village Council.
“The council should do what it is elected to do, and that is to do what the people want them to do,” she said. “I don’t want my name on a park. I just want to listen to the residents and see what’s important to them.”
Matula is a mother with three children, two in elementary school and one in pre-kindergarten. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Elmhurst College in Illinois and earned a master’s degree in accounting from Nova Southeastern University.
Having moved to Florida 12 years ago, Matula works as director of finance for Pinnacle Hotel Management, which manages 30 Marriott and Hilton hotels across the United States. Prior to her current post, she was general manager of a Marriott Residence Inn.
Matula became involved in Royal Palm Beach politics two years ago in the debate over the future of the former wastewater treatment plant site at the village’s north end. A soccer mom and coach, she was appointed to a spot on the Recreation Advisory Board last year.
Matula believes that she is the best candidate for mayor because she brings something new to the table. “Before I make a decision, I take the time to get everybody’s input,” she said. “Ask my staff. I never say, ‘Here it is, and I’m just going to make the decision no matter what.’ I always get their point of view.”
If elected, her top goal is to restore trust in government. During visits with residents while getting her qualifying petition signed, Matula said she was surprised by the number of people who told her they don’t vote because they don’t trust government.
She aims to close the gap between the council and residents. “I attend a lot of the local events, and sometimes I see our councilmen and sometimes I don’t,” she said. “I’ve thrown it out, ‘Why don’t you guys have a tent at these events, just be there and let the people walk by and talk to you?’”
Matula believes the village also does a poor job using its web site and social media outlets to communicate effectively with residents.
“Not everybody goes out of their way to pick up an agenda and see what’s on the program for the meeting,” she said. “I would really like to get more participation from our residents.”
Matula also believes promoting education is important. “I have three small kids,” she said. “All of our feeder schools in Royal Palm Beach are ‘A’ schools, so I struggle with the fact that our high school has had its ups and downs in the grading.”
She wants the village to do more in working with school officials to support the high school in making a turnaround.
If property values continue to fall, RPB could be forced to choose between a tax increase or further budget cuts next year, but Matula wants to examine other options. “We’ve got $73 million in the kitty,” she said, referring to the village’s reserves from the sale of its water utility. “I know we can’t constantly go to that, but certainly in the interim.”
She would prefer not to cut the parks and recreation budget. “I think they do a fantastic job,” Matula said. “I think you have to start with the little things.”
She would ask the village manager and all department heads what cuts they could propose, if any. “If they say, ‘We’re running as lean as we possibly can,’ then my first thought would be that we have a very large reserve,” Matula said. “Let’s tap into it and hope it gets better.”
Regarding the village’s recent creation of a foreclosure registry, she said hiring a company to aid in the tracking was a good move. “I really think that using the outside firm was the best route to go,” she said, noting the paperwork burden on staff to register the foreclosures.
Matula said that Royal Palm Beach is doing better with foreclosures than other areas. She said she has driven through other parts of the county where evidence abounds that there are vacant homes. “I can’t say that about Royal Palm Beach,” she said. “They have done a good job.”
With Roebuck Road and the final phase of the State Road 7 extension still years away, traffic remains a hot topic in Royal Palm Beach. Matula noted that traffic is not as bad as it used to be before the first phase of the SR 7 extension opened.
“I was driving to West Palm Beach where my office was… and a 17-mile drive was taking me 45 minutes, so it was horrendous,” she said.
Matula is frustrated that West Palm Beach has reneged on support for Roebuck Road and has resisted completion of SR 7. “I don’t really have an answer to traffic,” she said. “Nobody wants to open the La Mancha [connection to State Road 7], and we’ve bermed over that, so my tax dollars I’ve seen spent twice. My tax dollars went to putting the street there, and now it went to building the berm.”
Asked whether she would like the Madrid Street connection open, she said, “I’m not going to spend my money three times.”
If it were open, she would use it because she lives near there, although she said there would be safety issues. “When you allow for easy access and easy getaway, it opens up the crime factor,” she said. “As a general manager of a hotel that was located near I-95, I can tell you that the hotels that have the easiest access to I-95 have the highest amount of crime.”
Matula believes that Village Manager Ray Liggins is doing a good job. “Whenever I’ve gone into the village to ask a question, all his employees are extremely responsive,” she said.
One of Matula’s top issues is communication. She said that legal notices in the newspaper are not sufficient. “I don’t necessarily understand what [they’re] about until I go to the meeting that it pertains to, and the light bulb goes on once they start talking about it,” she said. “Sometimes I really just don’t know what is going to be discussed.”
To improve communication with residents, she suggests better use of social media. “I signed up for alerts, so at 7 o’clock I’m at the meeting and my phone vibrates. I’m like, ‘If I wasn’t here, I wouldn’t be here, because you’re telling me at 7 o’clock.’”
As for the issue that led to her first foray into village government, Matula said that nothing should be done right now to change land use or zoning at the former wastewater treatment plant site.
“Let’s do the common maintenance, and there is various storage back there,” she said, suggesting paving part of the area to allow “residents to get their boats out of the driveways, get their campers out of their driveways and allow more spaces.”
Asked if she has the necessary experience to be mayor, Matula said, “I have to start somewhere. You’re either going to be a new council person or a new mayor. I’m starting here.”
Among the issues that brought Matula into this election was last year’s council decision not to change village code to allow infant swimming instructor Sharon Powers to offer lessons in a residential area. Powers is serving as Matula’s campaign treasurer, and Powers’ supporters were very angry at how the incumbent mayor handled that meeting.
“I was spurred on by the wastewater treatment plant, and Sharon Powers’ issues certainly didn’t hinder my thought process,” Matula said of her decision to enter the race. “But even before Sharon’s issue came up, I had already been involved enough that I knew that I wanted to run.”
She said she chose not to run against Richard Valuntas, who won re-election unopposed, because she feels comfortable with him on the council. With several candidates seeking vacant Seat 1, she chose the other available position. “I just felt that the mayor’s seat would be a good opportunity,” Matula said.
Matula believes that residents should vote for her because new isn’t always bad.
“I am a busy person, but I know when to say no,” she said. “Will I be at every single thing? I might not be able to attend 100 percent, but I will do my best to do what the voters vote me in office to do, which is be the face of Royal Palm Beach, run a good meeting and listen to them and try and do what they want.”