Next year’s election in Royal Palm Beach got off to an early start this week when former Councilman David Swift announced plans to challenge incumbent Councilwoman Martha Webster for her seat on the Royal Palm Beach Village Council.
Webster’s Group 2 seat and Vice Mayor Fred Pinto’s Group 4 seat are up for election in March 2013.
Swift, who held a council seat for 20 years, resigned last year when he retired from his job as a scientist at the South Florida Water Management District in order to protect his retirement benefits.
“People have encouraged me to consider running again, so I have opened my campaign account, and I’m starting to gear up for a campaign,” he said. “I’ve got 30 years of experience in state government and 20 years’ experience in local government as a councilman here in Royal Palm Beach, so I do understand it. I recently retired, and I have more time to devote than I did before.”
Swift said the main reason he is running is to restore stability to the council. “We had lots of controversy in the village and we had meetings going to 12 o’clock, and people yelling at each other,” Swift said, adding that council members must work together to get things done. “I’m not seeing that right now.”
He labeled Webster as “divisive,” adding, “I think I can do a better job.”
The issue that bothers him the most, he said, is when Webster, as newly appointed liaison to the Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Commission, wanted to replace the sitting board with new members, citing occasions when she thought some members were too abrasive and difficult for applicants to deal with. Ultimately, the council removed Webster as liaison.
“There’s a lot better way to have done that,” Swift said. “I’m basically interested in running to try to make a council that’s going to try to work together.”
Swift said he was surprised that the current council is having problems getting along.
“The people who are on there are really pretty easy to get along with, and you can have disagreements,” Swift said, recalling several times when he and Mayor Matty Mattioli had serious disagreements. “After the meeting, we were still friends. We could take the ideas and make a convincing argument and not take it personally. You should be able to disagree with people on issues but still respect your fellow council persons.”
Swift said he also thinks that council members must represent all of the electorate, including seniors, families, youth and the business community. “It seems to me, and maybe I’m getting it wrong, that Martha is representing the business interests more than other folks, and you’ve got to represent everybody,” he said.
Swift added that for 16 years, the previous council reduced taxes every year, and came up with a financial plan that gave the village a $70 million reserve after the sale of its water utility to the county. “That has been very helpful in keeping our taxes low and providing services to residents,” he said. “The bottom line is I think that my re-election would help both strengthen the village council and the image of our community.”
After running unsuccessfully for a council seat in 2006, Webster won election to the council in 2008 to a one-year term. She won easy re-election to a full two-year term in 2009 and was unchallenged in 2011.
“I think it’s always a good thing when people step up to the plate and run,” Webster told the Town-Crier this week. “I understand that Mr. Swift wants to come back, and I’m looking forward to the campaign. Mr. Swift was there for 20 years, and he definitely represents the past. I have been here for four years now, and I can say that since I’ve been here, I have worked very hard for the village.”
Webster said she has always represented the best interests of the village. “I think for the four years that I have been on the council, which is one-fourth of the time that Mr. Swift was there, that I have probably done four times as much for the village,” she said, noting her service as vice president of the Palm Beach County League of Cities and secretary-treasurer of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council.
Webster added that she has worked hard for the extension of State Road 7 to Northlake Blvd. “I initiated that and have worked very hard to make that happen for us,” she said.
She also headed up a committee to find future uses for the old wastewater treatment plant site after residents opposed a plan for commercial use there. “I moved forward with a task force of citizens to give them the opportunity to ask questions and learn about it,” Webster said.
Most recently, Webster noted that she got a dog park reinstated in the plans for the new Commons Park.
As for Swift’s comment that Webster might be too business-oriented, she said she works for the good of the community. “I’m interested in the health of our community and what opportunities we have for the citizens,” she said. “I want what will give a comprehensive village. The village has some assets, but we can’t sit back and continue to pull from our reserves. We can’t sit and not raise taxes if we don’t make changes in the way we do business.”
Webster pointed out that several statewide tax-cutting amendments will be voted on next month that could substantially reduce property tax revenue.
As for the Planning & Zoning Commission, Webster said the members have three-year terms, which is longer than many other boards. “You have the discretion as the liaison to make changes if you would like to move new people in and give a new voice to the village,” she said. “Mr. Swift wants to stick with the old voice and the old ways.”