NEW: Royal Palm Beach mayor, councilwoman draw challengers in election

Jan 13, 2018
(Kristina Webb/The Palm Beach Post)

One councilman will retain his seat while the mayor and a councilwoman face challengers after qualifying closed Wednesday for the upcoming Royal Palm Beach village council election.

Mayor Fred Pinto will face challenger Martha Webster in the March 13 election, in a repeat of the 2016 mayoral election in which Webster lost by nearly 1,400 votes. In the Group 3 race, incumbent Councilwoman Selena Smith will face Sam Roman, a newcomer to politics in the village.

By qualifying unopposed, Councilman Jeff Hmara, 73, will retain his seat on the council, something he said Thursday he was pleased to find.

“I felt like I did a really good job and have done a really good job in my time with the village, and I think this is an indication that there are others who feel that way as well,” Hmara said.

He added that he plans to continue his strategy of meeting with people “where they are, in a physical sense and in a conversational sense.” Hmara said he has found value in visiting locations where residents are having issues, or where people want to note the village’s successes. A remnant from his years in the military and federal government, Hmara said being on the ground is key to understanding concerns.

Pinto said it was “a little unbelievable” to face the same challenger from 2016. “I feel really good about my chances,” he said.

“I feel like we as a council have done a tremendous job over the past two years,” he added. In the next two years, he said, he would continue working to keep the town’s tax rate steady as property values rise. Originally elected to the council in 2003, he pointed to some of his accomplishments, including the assisted-living facility that recently was approved near the village’s entrance on Okeechobee Boulevard. The village has been working to attract an assisted-living facility for years.

Webster, 71, said she wasn’t considering a run for the council again — she served as a councilwoman from 2008 to 2013 — until Pinto was arrested for domestic battery in November. The state declined to file charges against Pinto, 67, last month, with the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office saying the accuser would not participate. Soon after the arrest, Pinto told The Palm Beach Post he and his wife had gotten into a “heated argument” that escalated. He has said the couple is moving forward together, and apologized to the village at the council’s Nov. 17 meeting, its first after the arrest.

Webster said crime is one of her top priorities. “Many of our residents are concerned about rising crime,” she added. The village has battled a spike in vehicle burglaries, with Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office officials telling the council in September that many of the suspects were coming from out of town to commit the crimes. Also at that meeting, PBSO officals said overall crime is down in the village, even though there has been an increase in car thefts.

Pinto said arrests have been made, and PBSO’s plan to address the issue is working. “We do put strategies in place to catch the people,” he said.

Smith has served on the council since her election in 2016. A relative political newcomer herself, the 45-year-old Smith owns and operates Quad S Solutions, a public relations and marketing firm. Roman, her opponent, is a 48-year-old entrepreneur who owns Applied Advertising Solutions Inc. and Roman Security Services LLC. He served in the Navy as a petty officer from 1988 to 1991, and is the chairman of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Palm Beach County.

Neither Smith nor Roman returned calls for comment for this article.

Royal Palm Beach council members serve two-year terms. Groups 2 and 4, occupied by Vice Mayor Richard Valuntas and Councilwoman Jan Rodusky, will be up for election in March 2019.