Royal Palm mayor candidates vow to bring civility to council, finish projects

In this sleepy, Mayberry-like village of nearly 35,000, there have been a number of issues that have concerned residents in the past year — the poor condition of the canals, a proposed — and controversial — pedestrian pathway to Commons Park, the future of the old wastewater treatment plant on Crestwood Boulevard.

But no issue, it seemed, caused more of a consistent stir than many residents feeling as if their voices were being silenced at council meetings, an issue that has become something of a rallying cry for the three challengers attempting to unseat two-term Mayor Matty Mattioli in Tuesday’s election.

Former councilwoman Martha Webster, businesswoman Felicia Matula and entrepreneur Laurel Bennett, have all voiced concerns over Mattioli’s somewhat rough-around-the-edges style.

“He’s impolite,” said Webster, who served on the council for five years and whom Mattioli told to “shut up” at a council meeting in April 2012. “The mayor does not work well with individuals. He continues to make it difficult for everyone during those meetings.”

Bennett said the meetings could be run more efficiently.

“We need to listen a little bit better to the residents,” she said. “I don’t believe we have anybody doing that right now.”

Speaking at the candidate’s forum last month, Matula cracked she thought about bringing popcorn to the meetings because they were so entertaining.

“I would like it to be more of a civil meeting,” she told “The Palm Beach Post” in a separate interview. “As a resident, if it were me up there and I didn’t get the opportunity to speak on an issue, I would feel slighted.”

Mattioli, first elected mayor in 2010 but on the council since 1994, dismissed his critics.

“I think they’re totally wrong,” he said. “When you’ve been the incumbent as long as I have, what else are they going to say about me?”

Mattioli, 86, said he’s running again because he wants to see projects that started on his watch come to fruition, referring to the potential SR 7 extension, the 650,000-square-foot distribution center discount grocer Aldi is building on SR 7 and Okeechobee Boulevard and the 125,000-square-foot center American Tire Distributors is building near Southern Boulevard.

The two construction projects, Mattioli said, will bring about 350 jobs to the village.

“I’m not planning on running for governor and I’m at the end of my career, so let me go out with a bang,” he said.

The 67-year-old Webster said one of her top goals would be focusing the budget on the village’s infrastructure, canals, roads and, especially, housing.

“We’re beginning to see some areas of our community deteriorate,” she said. “We need to take a look at the village and how we can resurrect some of these areas.”

Webster, a former vice chair for The Palm Beach County League of Cities and the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, said she would also bring back the Community Revitalization Advisory Board to help the village develop the assets it owns.

“That board should be made up of public safety personnel, Realtors and residents,” said Webster, once the board’s chairwoman. “They can help map out our village and to find out where we need to come up with ideas.”

As for Matula, the chief financial officer for Pinnacle Hotel Management, this will be her second mayoral bid. She lost to Mattioli in 2012. The knock on Matula the first time was that she didn’t have enough experience to lead a town. To bolster her credentials, Matula has served as chairperson of the Recreation Advisory Board and is an alternate on the Planning & Zoning Commission. She is also commissioner of the village’s Youth Softball Association.

“Two years ago everybody said I hadn’t paid my dues,” said Matula, 43. “My resume has changed.”

Matula’s top priorities are helping Royal Palm Beach High School secure an International Baccalaureate program and encouraging more community involvement in local government.

“We need to keep the 1,000 students that leave our village and go to other high schools to stay in our area,” Matula said.

Calling herself a “fresh voice,” Bennett, a 15-year resident who runs her own personal health records company, has been active with the Central Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce and served on the Economic Development and Government Affairs Committee.

“I’ve been fighting for (the residents) behind the scenes for years,” said the 57-year-old Bennett. “I’m not just somebody who shows up when I’m up for election.”

Bennett, for instance, has spoken out on the SR 7 extension and has fought the new Federal Emergency Management Agency flood zone maps.

Bennett said she would like to see the village bring in more revenue. Two ways the village can do that is by building a community pool at $23 million Commons Park where the village can hold community events and hold a Festival of Lights.

“We need to make a profit off the park to help with the maintenance of it,” she said. “A park that costs $770,000 a year to maintain…I think we could have looked at that a little more diligently.”

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