Orange Park appoints Benefield to vacated Seat 1 on council

By Nick Blank nick@claytodayonline.com
Posted 8/3/22

ORANGE PARK – The Town of Orange Park now has a fifth face on its dais after two votes at Tuesday night’s meeting.

Doug Benefield, an accountant based in Orange Park, joined the council around …

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Orange Park appoints Benefield to vacated Seat 1 on council

Posted

ORANGE PARK – The Town of Orange Park now has a fifth face on its dais after two votes at Tuesday night’s meeting.

Doug Benefield, an accountant based in Orange Park, joined the council around 8:28 p.m.

During Benefield’s comments section later in the meeting, Benefield thanked council members.

“I’m looking forward to serving the council for the residents,” he said.

In May, Mayor Randy Anderson secured a second mayoral year with a 3-2 vote and former Vice-Mayor Henley’s candidacy earned a 2-3 vote. In June, Eddie Henley resigned. He presented emails from separate senders he claimed were racist and intimidating, departing 45 minutes into the meeting with a large crowd.

Town officials later moved to solicit candidates to appoint. Three candidates applied: Benefield, Frank Ricketts and Winnette Sandlin. COVID-19 issues derailed most of the July 19 general meeting, including a potential appointment.

On Tuesday, council members needed a simple majority, three of four possible votes, to fill the seat. The seat is up for re-election at Municipal Super Tuesday in April. 

A silent vote was conducted with council members writing their names on a piece of paper and handing it to town staff. The council members and their votes were read into the record right after.

The first vote ended with votes for Benefield from council members Alan Watt and John Hauber. Anderson voted for Sandlin and Council Member Susana Thompson voted for Ricketts.

It was inconclusive. Town Attorney Sam Garrison said since council members lacked a majority, there were a variety of options.

Anderson asked the council how they wanted to proceed. Hauber said to vote one more time and then push it to the next meeting and Thompson wanted to wait. Watt and Anderson wanted the appointment done Tuesday.

“We have a lot of stuff to do. It’s budget season. If we don’t do this tonight, whoever we eventually select will miss out on the budget process,” Watt said. “I think we need to make a decision tonight.”

A few minutes later, the second vote was conducted with Anderson flipping his vote to Benefield while Thompson again voted for Ricketts.

Watt was sworn in as vice mayor later in the meeting with a unanimous vote.

In other business, the town continued to discuss its American Rescue Plan act funding. Town Manager Sarah Campbell said home fixes through the program Builders Care garnered more than 20 responses.

“It’s helping residents who actually need some help and I hope in the future this program will continue to move forward,” Anderson said.

The town has also been looking at acquiring small parcels of land for stormwater purposes. With an opening bid of less than $2,000, Campbell pointed to a small piece of land near Railroad Avenue and Allen Lane. The goal is to extend the Doctors Lake Bike Trail north on Kingsley Avenue.

“It’s a piece of land that could be important to the council when you consider trail activity north along the CSX rail line,” Campbell said.

The council gave direction to purchase the land.

The town looked at land to potentially give the town more access to Johnson Slough near Park Avenue and Elbow Road. The town’s bid of $49,000 was answered with a $63,000 counteroffer from the owner, which council members unanimously accepted. A $55,000 bid for a parcel on Solomon Street was accepted, though town staff is still working on both properties, Campbell said.

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