Royal Palm Council Ponders Plan For Filling Empty Seat

With Royal Palm Beach Councilman Fred Pinto resigning to run for mayor, Vice Mayor Richard Valuntas pointed out at the Royal Palm Beach Village Council meeting on Thursday, Dec. 17 that there will be only four council members on the dais for what could be up to a year.

Two council positions and the mayor’s seat will be open in the March election, and all the seats are contested.

Former Councilwoman Martha Webster has challenged Pinto in his bid for mayor. Pinto announced previously that he would resign his Group 4 seat to run for mayor with incumbent Mayor Matty Mattioli not seeking re-election.

Meanwhile, Greenway Village resident Lenore White has qualified to run against incumbent Councilman Jeff Hmara for the Group 1 seat, and local businesswoman Selena Smith is running for the Group 3 seat against Valuntas.

Valuntas suggested that the council put a process in place to fill the fifth seat in order to prevent deadlocks on the council.

“We’ve got an election coming up, and one of the things that is going to occur after the election is we’re going to have a vacant seat,” he said. “I remember when Councilman Swift stepped down, and we only had four people for an extended period of time. I thought that was a difficult thing, and we had at least one vote, I think maybe a couple, that ended 2-2 and nothing got done. My thought is to get ahead of this.”

Valuntas suggested instructing village staff to give the council options for appointing a replacement.

“We have two options: appoint someone or wait a year for the next election,” he said. “I think a year with a potential for a lot of 2-2 votes doesn’t make sense to me, but that will be for a future decision to be made down the line.”

He suggested a review of not only what the council had done in the past to fill vacancies, but also other options that might be available from other municipalities.

Village Attorney Jennifer Ashton said that the council is free to choose the appointment process.

Pinto agreed that the council should be prepared well ahead of time.

“I think it would be intelligent for us to consider appointing someone and not go a whole year with four members on the council, but it’s a good idea to get the ducks lined up with what that process would be,” he said.

Hmara supported the idea of village staff investigating alternatives. “Options are a good way to go,” he said.

Village Manager Ray Liggins asked whether the goal would be to make the appointment as close to the swearing-in as possible.

“To me, that would be a goal,” Valuntas said. “However, I don’t think we can do it until after the vacancy.”

Ashton recommended that they vote on a process beforehand so that it would be in place.

In other business, Valuntas reported on a workshop conducted by the Florida Department of Transportation at Village Hall the day before, regarding the State Road 80/Southern Blvd. corridor.

“From my understanding, there is nothing on the front burner right now,” he said. “This is an information-gathering, data-gathering stage, but at least it’s being looked at by the Department of Transportation for whatever they plan on doing,” he said.

Liggins said that there is a link on the village’s web site where people can go to get the information needed to provide input.

Pinto said that FDOT is studying the SR 80 corridor all the way from Interstate 95 to Belle Glade in anticipation of future growth.

“They’re updating their 10-year strategy, and a key variable in their seeking input from all the communities along that corridor has to do with all of the growth,” Pinto said, noting that much of that growth will be west of Royal Palm Beach. “They’re being proactive, and if you have an opportunity to provide input on the process, this is a good time to do it.”


ABOVE: The Royal Palm Beach Village Council.