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Orange Park Town Council 5th Seat Remains In Limbo; Seat Unfilled Since May

Picture of the Orange Park Town Hall
Ebyabe
/
Wikimedia Commons
Orange Park Town Hall

The Orange Park Town Council is deadlocked on who should fill the fifth and final council seat following the May departure of former Orange Park Mayor Connie Thomas. 

Thomas left the seat to focus her attention on a run for a Clay County Commissioner’s seat. Alan Watt took over as mayor. 

After trimming the list down to two finalists - Virginia Hall and Daniel Cobreiro - and interviewing them both, the council voted 2-2, with two votes going to each candidate. 

During a Town Council meeting Tuesday evening, neither side was willing to budge on their initial vote. 

“It’s hurting our council, [and] it's hurting our residents because our residents are sitting here waiting for a decision,” said Vice Mayor Randy Anderson. 

The council ultimately agreed to move on after the stalemate. The council could keep just four councilmen until the next Orange Park election, which is April 13,  2021, according to the Town of Orange Park’s website.

If they do that, they run the risk of bills dying on tie votes.

“Reality-wise, I think it's going to stay this way until April,” said Councilman Roland Mastandrea. “I think it's a disservice to the people in Orange Park.” 

Mastandrea wants Cobreiro to take the final seat, saying that while Hall has the better resume on paper, Cobreiro has been to more committee meetings and town events than the rest of the Town Council. 

“He knows Orange Park’s pulse, its heartbeat,” Mastandrea said. 

Mastandrea also pointed out that he and Cobreiro have different viewpoints on issues.

“It's not about voting for and appointing someone who thinks like me,” Mastandrea said. “It's about putting somebody in place that has the best knowledge and can step in and immediately start moving forward.” 

During the town meetings, Orange Park’s mayor and vice-mayor have pointed to Hall as the best choice because of her budgeting experience. 

Connie Thomas - who left the seat vacant for her county-wide run in May - said she understands how tough of a decision the council has to make. 

“I know that's what's on their mind,” Thomas said. “They want to make sure that they appoint the right person.”

However, she hopes that the council finds a solution before the election next year. 

The council has made some of its biggest decisions with just four council members, including approving next year’s millage rate and town budget. 

They can continue to have discussions on the topic, and the public can continue bringing it up, according to Mastandrea.

If the issue is voted on and deadlocked with a 2-2 vote again, the entire committee process would need to restart.

“It’s kind of ironic that we’re deadlocked on an issue of, ‘we don’t want to be deadlocked,’” Mastandrea said. 

Mastandrea doesn’t know if any of the council will be willing to budge.

“Reality, right now, tells me it’s been brought up a couple of times, and it hasn't made any difference,” Manstandrea said. “And I know I cannot compromise what I know is right, and what is the best.”

Due to Florida Sunshine laws, public officials can’t speak with each other on subjects that they will be voting on. Due to those laws, Mastandrea said he doesn’t have a great understanding as to why Watt and Anderson are so strongly in favor of Hall. Mastandrea plans to set up a meeting to have a fleshed out discussion on the subject sometime in the next couple months. 

A full list of candidates throughout Clay County running in the November 3 General Election is at this WJCT Election 2020 webpage. As mentioned earlier in the story, the Town of Orange Park has scheduled its next election for April 13, 2021.

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.

Photo used under Creative Commons license.

Former WJCT News reporter