ORANGE PARK – Alan Watt is starting off his second term with the town’s council as the mayor and he’s been appointed to that position in an interesting period in Orange Park history.
The town is still hard at work on its years-long battle against stormwater maintenance and repair, after years of neglect in decades past. It’s wrapping up its months-long visioning process that will steer the town’s future forward and its citizens are currently at a crossroads over a potential development known as the Orange Park Plaza. Watt said his time as mayor will be a continuation of his message since the start.
“There’s a process in place,” Watt said. “We’re going to play this plaza straight, just like we do with everything else. We’ll follow the law, the standing rules, the process and make decisions based on requirements of the code. We will do all of that professionally and politely.”
Watt took the position after Connie Thomas finished her year in the job. Thomas has since resigned to focus her efforts on her campaign for the county commissioner seat for District 3. Watt said Thomas helped the council do a lot of good for the town. She did a great job, he said, and the council will continue to do things the way it's been doing them.
Watt said one thing that’s important is the council dais be used to handle matters professionally as town officials with the residents of the town in mind.
“The town council is not for the airing of personal issues,” Watt said. “It’s for professionalism in the name of Orange Park. We’re going to go through the process with anything and everything. There will be a vote and we’ll move on from there.”
Watt moved to Orange Park almost 26 years ago after working as an engineer in Jacksonville. With a job in Jacksonville, Watt could have moved to anywhere in the area but he chose Orange Park. He said what attracted his family to Orange Park was county still had junior highs that went through ninth grade, which is what one of his sons wanted.
“They’re great schools, too,” Watt said.
He worked as an engineer in Jacksonville for 21 years and during those 21 years, he spent 19 of them as a member of the Navy Reserve as a Seabee. He retired from the reserve in 2013 and then from his engineering job in 2015 before opening up his own business a shortly after. In the process of opening up his own business, Watt began to attend Orange Park Town Council meetings and it was there that he realized he wanted to serve.
“What was going on was terrible,” Watt said. “I was recruited to run by other leaders and the rest was history.”
Watt said he didn’t like the way things were being handled by the town council he saw at those meetings. He didn’t like their town either, calling it “too negative” and lacking professionalism. That’s why his platform was centered around professionalism. It was also centered on future planning and business support.
Watt said that during his first term, he’s stuck by his ideals, and he plans to do so during his second term. In the years of his first term, the town council got a grip on its stormwater maintenance after a wake-up call from 2017’s Hurricane Irma. A stormwater fund was established, extensive dredging took place, new equipment was purchased, and the town is moving forward in keeping stormwater maintained.
“There’s still work to be done though,” Watt said.
The council also paved Kingsley Road and River Road and secured its own ambulance for in-town EMS services. It began a visioning process months ago, which is about to wrap up, in order to determine how residents view the future of the town in the next five, 10, 15, 20 years – and beyond.
“We’ve accomplished a lot in my three years and I look forward to these next three,” Watt said.