The Town-Crier newspaper hosted a candidates forum on Monday, Feb. 26 at the Royal Palm Beach Village Meeting Hall for residents to hear from the candidates seeking seats on the Royal Palm Beach Village Council.
On Tuesday, March 13, incumbent Mayor Fred Pinto is being challenged by former Councilwoman Martha Webster, while incumbent Councilwoman Selena Smith is facing challenger Sam Roman for Seat 3.
Retired WPTV news anchor Jim Sackett moderated the nearly two-hour forum with questions posed by Town-Crier staff members and the public. Each candidate provided an opening statement before answering a series of questions.
Pinto noted that he has served the village since 2003 when he was initially elected to the council. He is wrapping up his first two-year term as mayor.
“We have a tremendous village here and a tremendous program in place, and we want to make sure we stay on the right track and continue to move in a forward and positive direction,” he said.
Webster recalled her five years of service on the council and her two decades living in Royal Palm Beach.
“I have served as vice mayor. I represented you well on community boards, including the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the League of Cities,” she said. “I was here for the development of Commons Park. I helped with State Road 7. You are not getting a novice, and it’s not learning on the job.”
Roman has been the owner of Applied Advertising Solutions since 2008 and is the founder of Roman Security Services. He detailed his many volunteer positions, such as past president and current chair of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and his work on the board of the U.S. Selective Service System.
Smith is seeking re-election after two years on the council.
“When I was elected in 2016, I made a promise to work on three issues: our seniors, our local businesses and transparency,” she said. “And I have spent the last two years fulfilling that promise to you. I live in La Mancha, and I have been here since 2009, and I was involved in the community prior to moving out here.”
Among the hot topics discussed during the question-and-answer session was regarding crime in the Village of Royal Palm Beach.
While Pinto noted that there have been a handful of high-profile incidents, crime overall is not a major problem.
“This village is a safe village,” he stressed. “Last year, based on statistics, we were named one of top 50 safest cities in the State of Florida.”
Webster countered Pinto’s view on crime.
“I believe crime is increasing, both in intensity and in number, and I agree with those residents who have come forward and who are working in the community and the neighborhood crime watches,” she said. “I first moved here in 1979, and I can tell you the home invasions, the assault in Commons Park and the hit-and-run are serious crimes. I call for unity to work on crime.”
Roman agreed with Pinto that Royal Palm Beach remains a very safe community, protected well by the many sworn officers of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. “I do believe we have a safe community,” he said.
Smith held up the article that recognized the village, among others, as one of the top 50 safest cities in the state. She thanked the PBSO for the agency’s hard work and pledged to work with them to make the community even safer.
“Crime is one of those things that affects individuals, and it varies on where you are living as to whether you feel affected or not,” Smith said. “There are parts of RPB that haven’t experienced any crime, and there are other parts that seem to be targeted.”
The candidates were generally pleased with the many recreational services available in Royal Palm Beach.
“We have an excellent array of recreational services,” Webster said, adding that she was very interested in the work done by the Senior Ad-Hoc Advisory Board. “They are looking at expanding some of the senior programs, though we do have an excellent senior program. We should be looking at aging with dignity, and I believe they have some very good ideas that they want to carry on with. We have excellent programs here within our village, and they add to the quality of life.”
Roman felt access to and availability of recreational programs were strong in the village but sees room for growth and improvement.
“Listening to our community and getting feedback from our community, we could get more programs going,” he said. “We have good programs going on for our seniors. We could use some more programs for our youth.”
Smith, who has served as the council liaison to the Recreational Advisory Board, is confident in the partnership the village has with the community in providing recreation programs and facilities.
“We not only work with the community hand-in-hand, but we also work with Royal Palm Beach High School if we are missing any programs that may be out there,” Smith said. “Our staff works well with what the students want out there. We have a fantastic skate park over at the recreation center, and that was something the residents brought forth several years ago and said that is what they wanted, and we implemented it for them.”
Pinto brought up future programs currently scheduled to be introduced in order to provide more recreational opportunities.
“For our youth, we are looking forward to establishing a youth-based soccer initiative in the future. That is a gap we are looking into,” Pinto said. “And regarding seniors, within the next 12 to 18 months, we will have a memory care/assisted living facility opening up on Okeechobee Blvd. across from the high school. It’s a project we’ve been working on for several years now, and it’s finally coming to fruition.”
Traffic is always a hot topic in Royal Palm Beach, and the candidates discussed the issue several times, including comments on the village’s recently implemented traffic-calming policy, which allows neighborhood residents to initiate traffic-calming studies by village staff.
“Traffic is a public safety issue,” Roman said. “We should study it and deal with those issues and have those streets with the traffic calming if they want it. One of the reasons I am running is because my opponent here was opposed to changing the criteria for the traffic-calming initiative when it comes to the voting aspect of it.”
Smith said that she supported the original traffic-calming policy, but opposed the council vote to change the requirements from 60 percent in favor of traffic calming to 50 percent plus one on the night that it was determined that Sandpiper Avenue, the first street to get traffic calming under the new policy, failed to meet the original voting criteria.
“The procedure we put into place, we spent three months working on it, and the rule that we came up with was that 60 percent of the residents that were affected by that stretch on where the speed humps were going to go, had to vote for them,” Smith said. “The issue I had was midstream changing it.”
She added, however, that the current policy that a failed traffic-calming study can’t be reconsidered for five years is too restrictive. Smith said she would prefer 18 months.
Pinto was firm on the way the policy has been implemented.
“We had residents come up to us and say they wanted the traffic calming put into place. We created an ordinance that didn’t exist, and it took us several iterations to find the right way to do it,” Pinto said. “I said at that meeting with the staff and manager to do 50 percent plus one. If we would have done it that way originally, we wouldn’t have had a problem. We worked on this policy until we got it right, and now the citizens have a choice.”
Webster is happy with the policy and wants to work to further educate village residents about the process.
“We have just initiated the implementation of the traffic calming along Sandpiper, and I have talked with those people, and they are very happy with it,” she said. “I have also spoken to the residents on Sparrow Drive who tried to initiate this policy, and they were very dismayed to find out that because they did not make the number required, they would have to wait for five years to bring this issue back.”
The candidates also answered questions on future development, school safety, affordable housing, shopping center vacancies and many more topics. Viewers can watch the entire candidate’s forum at the village’s video archive page at www.royalpalmbeach.com/civicmedia.