Webster Aims To ‘Restore Civility And Order’ On Royal Palm Council

Former Royal Palm Beach Councilwoman Martha Webster is seeking a return to public office, hoping to bring a different operational style to the dais.

She is running for mayor in the Tuesday, March 11 election against incumbent Mayor Matty Mattioli and two other challengers, businesswoman Laurel Bennett and community activist Felicia Matula.

A five-year incumbent, Webster lost her council seat in March 2013 to former Councilman David Swift, who sought a return to office after a two-year retirement.

Webster’s top goal if elected would be to “restore civility and order” on the dais.

“I believe that is something that is very much needed for a lot of reasons,” she told the Town-Crier. “Unfortunately, the decorum and the handling of the council meetings has deteriorated. This has been harmful to everyone, not just the public that has come forward and been shortchanged, but also for the council [members] who haven’t had the opportunity to express their views in an open public forum so that the public knows what is going on. It has led to a lack of clarity and transparency.”

Webster believes her top accomplishments in office were her positions on regional boards, like the Palm Beach County League of Cities, where she became vice chair. Webster also served on the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, where she also worked her way up to vice chair. During her council tenure, she also represented the village on the Metropolitan Planning Organization. “I believe that was a great accomplishment because many people can sit on these boards and committees for many, many years and never be invited to join the executive group,” she said. “I feel that I have lot to give as mayor. I have a good deal of experience in leadership and managing boards.”

Webster has also been active with the Central Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce, where she served on the Governmental Affairs and Economic Development committees.

She lists her top personal accomplishment as being a tenured faculty member with the University of Florida, where the worked for 12 years as an extension agent for the Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences.

“It’s a rigorous process, even though I was I what you call ‘extension agent,’” she said. “They still require that you be at the professor level and that you do achieve tenure.”

Webster thinks she is the best person to serve as mayor because she has more experience than the other two challengers, and she believes that Mattioli is no longer effective in the role.

“I did support him in his first race and in his second run,” she said. “But having been up on the dais next to him and seeing his performance, I feel that the time has come for him to graciously step aside. He didn’t make that choice, and I don’t believe that he is the best person to serve as a mayor of the Village of Royal Palm Beach.”

Asked if the chances of defeating Mattioli are diluted with three challengers in the race, Webster said she would wait and see what the voters’ will is. “I do think they have some clear choices, so we’ll see what the voters want to do,” she said.

As mayor, Webster wants to bring back the defunct Community Revitalization Advisory Board. “I think we are overlooking our infrastructure and throwing our expenditures at the parks,” she said. “We are not doing what we should for the canals and roadways, and for the housing stock that we have.”

Webster said many neighborhoods still have foreclosure issues, although the housing market has improved. “I think that we are at a very precarious position at the southern and eastern sides of our community,” she said. “We need to take stock of what’s going on there, and we need to have public input as to what can be done.”

Webster said the Community Revitalization Advisory Board could help the village decide how to develop the assets owned by the village so that they enhance and uplift citizens’ lives.

She perceives the top issues in this election to be civility on the council, village infrastructure and too much money being spent on parks without an overall plan.

“We need to stop and see what the people want and what we can support,” Webster said. “We are at a crossroads here with Commons Park in particular.”

She said some of the programs there don’t seem to have a lot of thought put into them. “If you take a look at the green market, it’s not working, yet it’s a costly affair,” Webster said. “We need to take a very close look at what we can do about this. Are we going to continue to spend on these venues?”

She said she has been approached by managers of successful events, who offered to share the proceeds if the village would agree to host major events at the park. “We have to decide,” she said. “We’ve got 165 acres. It is costing us money. It’s the same question I brought up in 2006 when I said, ‘We’ve got the money to build the park, but how are we going to maintain it?’”

She suggested said a park consultant might be able to provide advice on how the village can better manage its large array of parks.

To address traffic issues intelligently, Webster said she will use her experience and knowledge gained working with the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council and Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“I have done a lot of work in planning, and I have looked at what some of the new solutions are,” she said, such as opening up connector roads to get traffic in and out of neighborhoods.

She is very wary of a proposed future flyover at Okeechobee Blvd. and State Road 7, one option to ease traffic in that area. She advocates opening up other roads to allow drivers more options. “Roebuck Road should be opened up,” Webster said. “We have that approved, we have that funded, and we should use that before we start going to flyovers.”

To reduce traffic issues at Commons Park, she would advocate adding turn lanes on Royal Palm Beach Blvd. rather than opening up additional entrances into neighborhoods, adding that nearby residents raised legitimate concerns.

Webster said that she believes Village Manager Ray Liggins is doing a good job, but that sometimes more public input is needed before items come to the council.

“I’ve always enjoyed working with his staff, as I’ve enjoyed working with Ray,” she said. “Ray is a detail-oriented, pragmatic person. He’s not creative or visionary. We probably need a mixture of those things, but it should be a partnership between the council and the village manager.”

Webster said she is happy with the residential land use designation that the old wastewater treatment plant site received, and thinks large, upscale homes on one-acre lots would be an appropriate use. “That would increase the look of Royal Palm Beach. This is something that is missing,” she said.

To see that the SR 7 extension to Northlake Blvd. is completed, she said effective representation is needed in Washington, D.C., where the fight has moved. The City of West Palm Beach continues to oppose the road. “We have done an excellent job advocating our case,” she said. “It kind of scared them. They didn’t expect that from us. We need to stay toe-to-toe.”

Webster said her top strength is her ability to bring people together. “I have a lot of experience working with a lot of difficult people,” she said. “I do believe I can listen and work things through.”

She admits to some impatience with the pace of issues being resolved at the government level, citing the slow progress on the SR 7 extension.

Webster said people should vote for her because she will be a good mayor whom people will be proud of. “I will be a mayor who provides them the opportunity to speak,” she said.

Webster added that she wants to be able to provide the village the opportunity to adapt to its changing surroundings. “As long as everyone around us is making other moves, it’s going to change what we are, so we always need to be alert,” she said. “I think we always have to be diligent, and we always need to be working together.”