Former Councilwoman Martha Webster is seeking to reclaim a seat on the Royal Palm Beach Village Council, challenging Mayor Fred Pinto in his bid for a second term. The election will be held on Tuesday, March 13.
“This is a very good campaign. I’m very enthusiastic about it,” Webster said. “I have a lot of assistance, a lot of volunteers with this — really an outpouring from the community that I haven’t seen for a couple of years. It’s heartwarming, and it’s exciting.”
Webster served on the council from 2009 to 2013. Since then, she has run several times to return to elected office; most recently her unsuccessful bid against Pinto for mayor in 2016.
A longtime resident of the village, Webster’s vision for Royal Palm Beach lies in the hometown culture and family values it continues to exude. But she feels that there are areas that need to be evaluated in order to stay the course.
“I believe that our values are very important,” she said, noting that the village was recognized as one of the top 10 towns for families to live in 2010, while she was on the council. “I’ve always represented honesty and integrity, and I think the person who serves in that leadership role needs to represent the village, have a good face for the village and a good reputation for the village.”
Webster believes there has been an increase in crime in the village, and that is something she plans to address with the opportunity to serve as mayor.
“In the last two years, we have seen an increase in crime and the intensity of some of the crime and, notably, talk about home invasion. We had a hit-and-run; we had an assault at Commons Park. These are things that are unheard of here.”
Webster said she has been working with neighborhood crime programs in Royal Palm Beach, and she is impressed with the community leadership and response.
“Counterpoint, the Willows, La Mancha — they’ve stepped up; the community has stepped up,” Webster said. “I believe that we need to have a comprehensive approach on what’s happening in the village, and that includes working with our county commissioner.”
Webster said that the village needs to bring in the judicial system to help with the issues she has recognized, and that involves a closer partnership with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
“We have a contract with our PBSO,” Webster said. “Let’s bring in our community, say, ‘What’s happening? What are the concerns? Do we have the right personnel in the right places?’ So, let’s take a look at that, but all of us get together and come up with a comprehensive plan.”
Webster wants to maintain the village’s finances, believing they are in good shape but need to be given care so the finances continue to be kept up well.
“I want to maintain the financial integrity of the village. They have a good reserve due to prudent real-estate investments and prudent real-estate purchases,” Webster said. “We have a good millage rate. I’d like to see that stay low, and we may be looking at losing some ad-valorem [taxes] in the [additional] homestead exemption proposal that’s coming. I think we will have to be cautious of that.”
Webster looks at keeping the infrastructure intact and in good condition.
“I want us to continue to pursue to keep our roadways and infrastructure in top shape,” she said. “I think while we have the assets, we should be working on making sure that our village is safe and our roadways are good.”
Webster believes that council meetings are conducted well. However, she wants to improve on the public participation at meetings in the village.
“I think there’s time for it. I just don’t think that we have people making the public comment,” Webster said. “One of the things that I did and have always done is I have always been out in the community talking to people. They see me out, and I think by speaking with them, I can encourage them to be more involved.”
When asked about how the village might ease traffic problems, Webster said it will be important to work closely with the Florida Department of Transportation on the expansion of Southern Blvd.
“I have a lot of experience with that because I worked very closely with them through the process of the extension of State Road 7,” she said. “That expansion is going to impact our residents, even going to the flyover. So, we’re not only going to have to work with FDOT, but with Wellington and Loxahatchee, just as we did with State Road 7. That’s a community effort.”
Regarding future development west of the village, Webster said that Royal Palm Beach needs to be working closely with Westlake. She said part of the work that needs to be put in comes with the village’s presence on the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization.
“We all have to work together on these things because, again, we can work here on our roadways, but they’re not the roadways that are going to be impacted. It’s going to be Okeechobee Blvd., Southern Blvd., State Road 7. We have a very small voice on [the MPO], so it’s very important that we show leadership,” she said.
Regarding future development in the interior of the village, Webster said it’s a greater focus on upkeep and less on new development, since the village is close to buildout.
“We already have homes on our 165 acres there on Crestwood, and most of our development now is along Southern Blvd.,” Webster said. “Internally, what we’re looking at is the redevelopment and the rehabilitation of older centers that are falling down, and that’s something we have to look at and encourage.”
Webster believes that the council conducts itself in a positive manner but thinks that the many approvals of variance requests in the village needs to be readdressed in how the council handles and responds to those requests.
“We have an idea of what we want our village to be,” Webster said. “Those are things that I just look carefully at. I’m not too keen on giving variances… I’m not saying don’t do it. As a councilwoman, I’ve given variances within the village to individual citizens, and sometimes when you see the same problem come up and up and up again, and they’re asking for a variance, then you need to ask, ‘Wait a minute, does the ordinance need to be modified?’”
That is on a residential, small scale, Webster said. She believes when dealing with developers who make a request, the village needs to educate them about what the village strives toward with new development and its overall image.
“I don’t think that we have to take anything that comes along,” Webster said. “I think we can be a little choosy, and maybe if they’re not going to be a good developer or a good provider or understanding of who we are, maybe we should sit back and wait for somebody else who may be. It may offer more to the community.”
For the future development in the village, Webster wants to focus on bringing higher-paid job opportunities to residents and people working in the village.
“When I was on the council, I worked to bring in Aldi and American Tire. I’m very proud of those,” Webster said. “They offer high-paid employment. They employ 90 people there, and the average salary is $45,000 a year, and they have benefits, and they’re 40-hour-a-week jobs.”
Webster envisions the village continuing “to be that family community that I moved into, came back to and believe in. I think we’re special. I don’t think we have to be that big place.”
Webster is confident in her ability to serve as mayor of Royal Palm Beach. “I bring experience, leadership and integrity,” she said.