ORANGE PARK – When council member Ron Raymond died on Oct. 30, he left behind a legacy in the Orange Park community. He also left behind a seat on the town hall dais that must be filled soon.
A subject nobody wants to talk about, or ideally, should have to talk about, when a council member dies, is their seat must be replaced within 45 days. This means the Orange Park Town Council, still very much grieving the loss of their fellow council member and more importantly, friend, must find Raymond’s replacement and continue with business as usual.
“All I can tell you is that again, it has to be done,” town attorney Sam Garrison said. “The manner in which you choose to do it is up to (the council).”
Florida charter law mandates that the replacement must be found within 45 days. How that process is to occur though is at the council’s discretion. The council can collectively select a single candidate to hold the seat or each council member can bring a recommendation. The council can interview would-be candidates before the public or simply announce that person A or person B will be taking the seat.
Once the person taking Seat 1, which was previously held by Raymond, is selected, they must hold that seat until Raymond’s term expiration date. As Raymond was elected in 2017, his term would be up next year so the selected candidate will have to hold the seat throughout the rest of the year and into the first few months of 2020.
This puts the election for Seat 1 next year into question. Some council members said that they’d prefer to see someone who doesn’t plan to run.
“My personal and political feelings are this: all of us made the effort to get here,” council member Roland Mastandrea said, referring to the campaigning efforts, including official filing, each council member had to make to be elected. “I don’t personally believe that anyone the four of us talk to or bring in here (should have aspirations to run).
“That gives them a personal leg up in the running and that’s not doing a service to the voters of this town.”
Council member Alan Watt said he doesn’t care if the person the council selects has aspirations of running or not because they’ll still have to go through the entire campaign process just as any other candidate would.
Long-time Orange Park resident and meeting attendee Barbara Davidson said she believes the seat should be replaced by someone who has already sat on the dais before. She suggested Gary Meeks, who termed out earlier this year, or Steve Howard, who was termed out of the council in 2017. Raymond was elected in Howard’s place that year.
Council member Randy Anderson doesn’t necessarily believe a previous council member should take the seat, but he does believe they should at least be considered.
“I would like to bring up ... looking at a prior council member,” Anderson said. “I think when we’re going through this process, they should be a part of it. Whether we pick them or not, it needs to be a part of the process.”
The town council decided they would select the new Seat 1 holder at their next regular meeting on Dec. 3. With such a tight turnaround, Garrison told the council how Sunshine State laws allow them to proceed in determining a selection. With at least 48 hours of official notice, two or more council members can meet with a potential selection in the town hall. The public would be welcomed to join in on these meetings as well.
Regardless of how the process plays out, come December, a new council member will sit in Seat 1. As each council member has publicly stated already, Raymond is irreplaceable – he was positively of Orange Park – but they hope to select someone that holds the same ideals in public service that the late council member held for his entire tenure.