ORANGE PARK – Councilman Eddie Henley was officially sworn in Tuesday marking a historic night for the town.
Henley said he doesn’t want his time as a council member to be defined by race, but he understands the importance of his selection to the council: he’s the first African American council member in the history of the town. Henley could have been sworn in during the December meeting, but he opted to wait until Tuesday so that friends and family could be on hand.
“Tonight, would not have been possible without the confidence that took place on Dec. 3 in these chambers,” Henley said. “It’s because of what you did that night. That’s the reason I’m sitting here.”
Henley’s selection to the council comes by way of unfortunate and sad circumstances. After councilman Ron Raymond died last October, the council had to select a replacement. For the council, it was the first time in 27 years it had to fill a vacancy after Mayor Carlos Bedsole died.
Some of Henley’s first words as an official council member were in reflection of Raymond.
“Our hearts are still heavy ... but Ron doesn’t have to worry about egress and digress, or cracked sidewalks ... because he’s walking the streets of gold now,” Henley said. “His work and passion for the town will be felt forever.”
Henley said he’s already met with the town’s department heads and he looks forward to learning all he can.
“Thank you for this opportunity and I’m looking forward to working diligently,” Henley said. “There’s much to be learned and I’m going to dedicate my time to learning all that I can.”
In other business, the council voted 5-0 to allow the town to apply for a grant from St. Johns River Water Management District’s cost share program. This grant, if awarded, would cover up to 33% of construction costs on public property created by the town’s project to eliminate 41 septic tanks.
Of roughly 3,000 properties in Orange Park, 41 utilize septic tanks and the town is hoping to convert those properties to sewer lines. Orange Park already has applied for, and received notice of an award, for a Florida Department of Environmental Protection septic-to-sewer conversion grant. This grant will be used to cover costs incurred during the project on private property.
The SJRWMD grant that covers 33% of costs could cover as much as $1.5 million. An official price for the project has not yet been determined.
To receive the grant, SJRWMD requires a public hearing and a commitment from 51% of property owners to convert their septic tank systems to sewer. Town Manager Sarah Campbell said letters have been sent to all 41 involved property owners.
Campbell said Orange Park has the chance to be the first community to eliminate septic tanks and it will work to make that happen if all grants are awarded.