ORANGE PARK – Town hall chambers were somber Tuesday night during the first council meeting since council member Ron Raymond’s death on Oct. 30.
The show had to go on, so the four other council members did their best to trudge through a packed agenda, but Raymond’s presence was still felt that during Tuesday night’s meeting.
Many of the items discussed were topics Raymond felt strongly about. All of the votes were missing his stern yes or well-explained no. Replacing Raymond will be nearly impossible according to the council, but state law mandates someone must fill the seat within 45 days of his death.
“As you consider appointment...I wish to respectfully request that within 45 days from the charter, which will be (Dec. 14), you seriously consider your responsibility to citizens and voters of Orange Park and contemplate the mission and vision statement and the core values set forth in the current budget and in the visioning service contract,” long-time citizen and meeting attendee Barbara Davidson said. “The enthusiastic passion and love of Orange Park possessed by the late Ron Raymond through the past 40-plus years is irreplaceable.
“A person’s ideals and personal dedications are never replaceable. Only an effort to provide a like-minded dedicated citizen is a challenge and obligation before the four of you this evening.”
The town council talked about how best to replacing his seat but determined it would take some time to determine who best represents what Raymond brought to the council. That discussion will be continued next month.
An awkward discussion for all during the meeting, the thought of replacing Raymond wasn’t a welcome feeling. He was their fellow council member and their friend.
“I have a few things to say about my friend Ron Raymond,” council member Roland Mastandrea said. “Yes, he was my friend even though it wasn’t obvious to a lot of people that come to these meetings, but he was a great friend. Before I decided to run for office, he was an early supporter and encourager of me as I often picked his brain for ideas and directions.
“I then decided to venture into public office. We didn’t always see eye-to-eye or occasionally even nose-to-nose, but he always had my respect.”
Mastandrea said that above all else, Raymond was a faithful representative to those that he served. Long-time citizen and meeting attendee Kenny Radwanski agreed.
“He put the residents first, always,” Radwanski said. “If someone just moved in or had been here for 30 years that felt they couldn’t speak before the council, (Raymond) would have no problem meeting them for coffee to help them in any way he could.”
Randy Anderson was elected to the council this year and only served with Raymond for a handful of months, but he said Tuesday in those few months he learned things from Raymond that he’ll take with him for the rest of his life.
“Ron will be missed,” Anderson said. “Being the junior councilman, he did everything he could to keep me aligned and I’d say he did a great job at it so he will be missed.”
Vice Mayor Alan Watt, who holds the council title previously held by Raymond, wanted to express what Raymond meant to him.
“I, too, will miss Ron a lot,” Watt said. “He had become a good friend and I will miss him and his wise counsel. Not that we agreed on everything but despite what some people think we actually agreed on a lot more than we disagreed on.
“He’s going to be missed and there aren’t any more Rons, so whoever we pick is not going to be Ron. But we will find the right person.”
Mayor Connie Thomas, who had to lead the meeting Tuesday night with Raymond’s shadow darkening the seat he used to sit in, said it was one of the most challenging meetings for the council.
“This is a very hard night for all of us,” Thomas said. “Ron’s going to be sorely missed. We have a lot of things ahead of us and it’s going to be tough to fill those shoes.
“I’m not sure if someone can.”
Raymond was elected to Seat 1 of the Orange Park Town Council on May 9, 2017. He took office a week later. He served on the council before then from 1985 to 1991. During his time on the council, he was Mayor from 1989 to 1990 and Vice Mayor from May 15, 2018, to May 21, 2019.