The mayor’s seat and two council seats are up for election in Royal Palm Beach on Tuesday, March 15. It has been a bitterly fought contest. The opposition candidates — the three not currently sitting on the council — portray Royal Palm Beach as a community in decline, run by an out-of-touch council. However, having covered the community for more than three decades, we find almost the exact opposite to be true. The Royal Palm Beach Village Council runs one of the most well-organized, cost-effective governments in the county, boasting a low tax rate, a low crime rate and some of the best parks in the region. Suggesting that decades-worth of good government should be thrown out the door because of one or two controversial votes is an idea that the Town-Crier categorically rejects. This election is not about RaceTrac, Acme Ranches or Jess Santamaria. This election is about how Royal Palm Beach has been run and should be run in the future.
MAYOR’S SEAT — Longtime Councilman Fred Pinto faces former Councilwoman Martha Webster in the race to replace retiring Mayor Matty Mattioli. Webster has run for election continuously since being ejected from the council by her longtime adversary but newfound friend Councilman Dave Swift. Just 12 months ago, she was running against Swift for his council seat, aligning herself with the ideals of former County Commissioner Jess Santamaria. Now she has remade herself as an anti-Santamaria crusader all over an issue that she knew all about and even discussed at public forums more than a year ago. While we have no doubt that Webster genuinely cares for Royal Palm Beach, the vision she espouses has been a moving target, so much so that it is nearly impossible to tell what she truly stands for. Having that type of divisive personality as mayor would be downright dangerous.
Councilman Fred Pinto, with 13 years on the dais, would bring his financial background, military background, management background and deep roots in the village to the job of mayor. We have seen him in action as a strong protector of the village’s image and a leader in the key decisions that have put Royal Palm Beach in such a great financial shape, offering wonderful amenities for residents, such as merging the village’s police department with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, selling the village’s water utility to Palm Beach County, reducing the tax rate and paying off village debt. With Pinto’s years of reliable leadership and consistency, Royal Palm Beach will be in good hands with him as mayor.
The Town-Crier endorses the election of Fred Pinto as mayor of Royal Palm Beach.
COUNCIL SEAT 1 — In this race, two-term Councilman Jeff Hmara is challenged by Greenway Village resident Lenore White. White, who has been active in her local homeowners’ association, was unknown outside of her neighborhood until starting this campaign, which she freely admits was spurred on by her opposition to the RaceTrac gas station project. To her credit, that is one issue that she can talk at length about. All other local issues, not so much. When asked about her opinion on village issues, White consistently is uninformed, and over the last two months, has not made noticeable strides toward learning about the village and its issues, beyond a few talking points, tying everything back to her dissatisfaction with RaceTrac.
Even before he was elected, Hmara put in the time and effort to learn about the village and its proceedings, and he has not stopped learning. Meanwhile, he has lent the village his vast project management experience, negotiating compromises, establishing trust and working in the best interests of the village. Hmara has worked diligently for the seniors and students in the community, bringing programs for all ages. We are particularly impressed with his work advocating for Royal Palm Beach High School. A retired army colonel and adjunct professor, Hmara knows how to tackle a project and learn about what needs to be accomplished to reach his goals. This is something that the village cannot afford to lose.
The Town-Crier endorses the re-election of Jeff Hmara to Seat 1 on the Royal Palm Beach Village Council.
SEAT 3 — In this race, Vice Mayor Richard Valuntas is being challenged by businesswoman and community activist Selena Smith. Unlike the other two Royal Palm Beach races, we are impressed by both of these candidates and feel both would bring admirable qualities to the council. Smith is a member, and often leader, in an impressive list of community organizations, working to better the life of residents from outside government. Her work with local business groups and the Royal Palm Beach Rotary Club has been very valuable, and we are sure she would make a good member of the council should she be elected.
However, Valuntas, with his strong legal background and negotiation abilities, has worked to keep the tax rate in the village low, worked to bring business to the village and has looked out for the needs of residents. Valuntas, who served on the village’s Recreation Advisory Board before he was elected, has also long been an advocate of the village’s strong parks and recreation programs. While choosing either candidate will be placing the council in good hands, Valuntas’ experience edges Smith out as the stronger choice.
The Town-Crier endorses the re-election of Richard Valuntas to Seat 3 on the Royal Palm Beach Village Council.