ORANGE PARK — The town council is struggling to decide who will fill its vacant seat.
Connie Thomas left her seat behind weeks ago to focus on her campaign for commissioner and she left in her wake a vacant seat as the council readies itself for important proceedings like budget making and more. Wanting to have a full dias before then, the town council has been spending its days determining who will replace Thomas.
“Charter stipulates that in the event of a vacancy, the town council shall pick someone to hold the seat until the next general elections,” Town attorney Sam Garrison said. “Special elections are automatic when there are two or more (seats to be filled).
The town began with four candidates that each voluntarily placed their name into the running: Daniel Cobreiro, Virginia Hall, Ron Lyons, Winnette Sandlin. Each were interviewed by the town council and each had standout qualities, the council agreed, but when it came time for a vote, Cobreiro and Hall were asked to continue on in the nomination process.
Cobreiro moved to Orange Park in 2014 and while the company he worked for helped facilitate the move, he was the one that decided on Orange Park over somewhere else like Fleming Island or Middleburg. His brother already lived in the town and Cobreiro and his family fell more and more in love with Orange Park with every visit to his brother’s house. He studied business management at Florida International University where he said he found a passion for solving real-life problems.
He’s been in real estate management for 15 years and believes it has helped him develop excellent intuition, an eye for detail, and it’s helped him become a straight shooter under heavy pressure and someone who is able to bring calm to a storm.
“I may not be a recognizable name or someone with deep connections, but I’ve built deep connections with the good people of the town,” Cobreiro said.
Hall has a degree in geography from Stetson University and is the president of J.P. Hall Children’s Charities and the Ascension St. Vincent’s Foundation. She served for six years on the Green Cove Springs city council with one of those years served as mayor.
“I have experience managing utilities, a police department, a fire department and a public works department,” Hall said. “I have the commitment and (ability for teamwork) required to strive for each goal (the town has) within my experience.”
Hall said she would bring her excellent relationship building skills to the town to build better relationships with not just council members, but constituents and business leaders as well. She said she has no interest in partisan politics and is undeterred by those who would resort to ungenerous tactics and messaging in dealing with council and staff.
Both were asked a handful of questions in an effort to distinguish between the two. They were asked what they knew of the town’s charter, the town’s mission and of Robert’s Rules. Both answered with similar success. One question met with a lot of discussion came from council member Randy Anderson who brought up the dissension within the town as of late as a result of the Orange Park Plaza project, a project rejected by the town’s Planning and Zoning committee but approved by the council.
There were some in town in favor of this project and there were some that weren’t. It was the divisiveness between those in favor of it, including those on the council, and those that weren’t that have caused the dissension currently felt in the town. Anderson asked what each candidate’s solution would be and both answered with communication.
“We need more community involvement,” Cobreiro said.
Cobreiro said he would make himself available to residents as much as possible and would always be willing to grab a coffee with somebody to talk. He said it’s important to him that he stay educated on issues so that residents feel better about his decision making and so that he can help inform others on the council should it be necessary.
Hall agreed with Cobreiro on these fronts and both said the town’s social media presence could be better used. They said that it’s important to keep the town in the know so that they’re not blindsided and social media could help close the gap.
When it came time for the council to decide between the two, council members Roland Mastandrea and Eddie Henley were in favor of Cobreiro and mayor Alan Watt and Anderson were in favor of Hall. Mastandrea and Henley cited Cobreiro’s commitment to the town as their reasoning for voting in favor of him. Cobreiro has served on committees before, is the representative for his zone in the town’s visioning and is present at most meetings even when he’s not serving in any capacity.
Watt and Anderson were in favor of Hall’s experience working in a town council and understanding of a town’s budget, utilities, various departments and more. They said since the council is about to begin the budgeting process, having someone who is able to hit the ground running would be very helpful.
The votes continued and nobody on the council would budge. Mastandrea and Henley saw experience with the town as more important and Watt and Anderson saw experience in a town council as more important. With neither party willing to budge, the appointment was delayed to a currently-unannounced date. All council members agreed that some free time to think more about the decision and meet individually with Hall and Cobreiro is necessary.