The Town of Orange Park has a new council member and vice mayor.
Doug Benefield was sworn-in to vacant Seat 1 on the town council at Tuesday night’s meeting. In addition, Councilman Alan Watt was sworn-in as vice mayor.
“Thank you guys for having me. I’m looking forward to serving on the council and for the residents,” said Benefield. The new councilman is an accountant. Watt expressed his interest in the vice mayor position when the seat became available earlier this year.
The appointment was held via silent vote. First, the four council members wrote their names and votes on a piece of paper. Then, the town clerk read each vote into the record.
The appointment of a new council member requires three affirmative votes by current council members. Benefield’s appointment took two votes.
There were three applicants for the vacant seat, Frank Ricketts, S. Winnette Sandlin, and Benefield.
The first ballot ended in two votes for Benefield, one for Sandlin, and one for Ricketts. Council members Alan Watt and John Hauber voted for Benefield. Mayor Randy Anderson cast a vote for Sandlin. Councilwoman Susana Thompson voted in favor of Ricketts. The second vote was 3 to 1 in favor of Benefield, with one vote for Ricketts. Thompson was the lone vote for Ricketts.
Later in the meeting, Anderson called for a vote to elect a new vice mayor. There were two nominations, Thompson and Watt. In the end, there was a unanimous vote in favor of Watt for the position.
The need for a new council member and vice-mayor dates back to June when Eddie Henley resigned his position. Henley served in Seat 1 and was also the vice mayor.
Henley cited racism as his reason for resigning after receiving hate emails and being intimidated at his home. Henley left after he was passed over to be the town’s next mayor. However, he said the intimidation started before the mayoral vote. In May, Anderson received a 3-2 nod from the council for a second term as the mayor of Orange Park.