Members of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce had the opportunity to meet most of the candidates seeking election to the Wellington Village Council at a luncheon held Wednesday, Feb. 22 at the Wanderers Club.
The luncheon gave candidates a chance to share information, meet members of the business community and answer questions.
Three seats are up for grabs March 13. Council Seat 1, currently held by term-limited Mayor Pro Tem Dr. Carmine Priore, has drawn candidates John Greene and Shauna Hostetler. Vice Mayor Matt Willhite is seeking re-election to Seat 4 and faces a challenge from former Councilman Al Paglia. Mayor Darell Bowen is also seeking re-election, challenged by former Councilman Bob Margolis.
Greene was the only candidate who didn’t attend the Feb. 22 luncheon.
Bowen took the opportunity to respond to the series of political attacks that have been mailed to Wellington residents by a political action committee financed by a special-interest group looking to stop the proposed Equestrian Village project.
“How many people think this is the way politics ought to be done?” he asked. “You’re going to have an opportunity on March 13 to tell them that this isn’t how politics is done in Wellington.”
Bowen said that the election should not be boiled down to a single issue, noting that there are many more issues in Wellington that affect residents.
He said he did not think that Wellington should be just a bedroom community, and instead must bring sustainable jobs for residents. “My opponent has already gone on the record to say Wellington ought to be a bedroom community,” Bowen said. “I don’t feel that way.”
If elected, he said he would keep the focus on the issues that matter to all residents.
“We need to focus on things like education, safe neighborhoods, cultural and recreational opportunities for all our residents,” he said. “I promise you that I will focus on those issues.”
Margolis pointed to his business background and roots in the community, noting that he raised a family in Wellington and worked with Proctor & Gamble for many years, as well as served on the council and several Wellington advisory boards.
He said he would be a voice for residents. “I believe Wellington is the community it is today because of the residents,” Margolis said. “The residents come here for a better quality of life.”
He said he would stand up for small businesses and help the village’s already-suffering business community. “I do believe Wellington is a bedroom community,” Margolis said. “Not only do I believe it, but a lot of the residents I’ve talked to who have been here for a long time believe it, too.”
He noted that in his time in office, the council built several parks, found solutions for phosphorus runoff by setting aside land for the Wellington Environmental Preserve and set aside ample reserves that have helped Wellington through the down economy.
If elected, Margolis said he would push for a more transparent government and work with the Palm Beach County Office of the Inspector General. “I believe another set of eyes is important,” he said. “I do not support the lawsuit, and believe the office should be fully funded.”
Hostetler echoed Bowen’s comments that the election is about more than one issue. “I have spent a lot of time educating people on what has been reduced to just one issue,” she said. “I understand that Wellington is larger than just one issue.”
A 31-year Palm Beach County resident, Hostetler said she has raised her family in Wellington and has been involved in the community through schools, sports and other projects, including serving as PTA President at Binks Forest Elementary School. “Wherever I am,” she said, “you can see that I have my sleeves rolled up. I don’t sit on the sidelines. If someone is whining about something, I’m looking for a solution.”
Hostetler said she would encourage residents to get involved. “I want them to be part of the solution,” she said. “As I go door-to-door and talk to people and hear their complaints, my mind is already asking, ‘How can we come together as a community and fix that?’”
Hostetler said that she would work to be a council member serving all Wellington residents. “I’m someone who listens and looks at the big picture,” she said. “I don’t look at the lines that are drawn in the sand. I look at this as a community. We all live here.”
Paglia said that he is a candidate with deep roots in the community, having moved to the community long before it incorporated. He got involved early, serving in numerous recreational, social and civic organizations, culminating with his time on the council from 1998 to 2002.
“My roots run deep in this community,” he said. “I saw something that I could plant my feet in and stay here the rest of my life.”
He said that if elected, he would support responsible growth, pointing to the Mall at Wellington Green, which was approved while he was in office. “I will support sustainable, smart growth,” he said, “and give families the opportunity to raise their children and to live, learn, work and play in their own back yard.”
He said that he would support projects like the Equestrian Village, which expand the equestrian industry in Wellington.
“My opponent voted against that project,” he said. “He voted against the FAU Living Lab 2060 which… will keep us moving forward with smart, sustainable growth.”
If elected, Paglia said he would be a voice for residents, promote small business and sustainable growth and maintain Wellington’s quality of life. “I promise I will work hard for you,” he said.
Willhite said that he is a leader who has helped Wellington through a tough economy and wants to continue to make smart decisions as things improve.
“We went from a budget of $119 million to $73 million,” he said. “What does that say? That says that we’ve been able to sustain our community… while other municipalities are struggling to keep their heads above water.”
He pointed to many of the improvements made during his term, including Wellington’s Town Center, that have helped improve residents’ quality of life. “That means something different to each one of us,” he said.
Willhite noted that he has voted for many business-friendly measures such as flex zoning, expedited permitting and more. “We put these things in place to help businesses grow in our community and to attract business to the area,” he said.
He said he has been a councilman who makes educated votes, asks questions and justifies his decisions. “I’m going to vote for what I think is best for Wellington as a whole based on residents’ input,” Willhite said.