Orange Park council deadlock not good for town business

By Wesley LeBlanc wesley@opcfla.com
Posted 10/28/20

ORANGE PARK – The town council has a problem and it’s not its budget, its amendments, its ordinances or the like. It’s the fact the council can’t decide who should be a fifth member – and …

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Orange Park council deadlock not good for town business

Posted

ORANGE PARK – The town council has a problem and it’s not its budget, its amendments, its ordinances or the like. It’s the fact the council can’t decide who should be a fifth member – and deciding vote.

The council had a relatively quiet night in terms of voting on ordinances and purchases during its most recent meeting, but it did approve a lease agreement, a purchase of public works vehicles, a purchase of police tasers and more. It made all of those decisions with four votes instead of five. These votes were less impactful on the grander scale of town issues but they were votes nonetheless and because the council can’t agree on a fifth seat, the risk of a deadlocked vote was present all night.

And the stalemate has lasted for more than two months.

Two members have supported Daniel Cobreiro. Two have supported Virginia Hall. And neither side is budging.

“There has to be three votes (in favor of someone for the fifth seat) or it’ll remain open until next election,” council member Roland Mastandrea said. “We’ve looked at it, rehashed it, discussed it, reviewed it ... what are we doing to do to fill the seat?”

Every council meeting that passes without a non-deadlocked vote for a fifth seat council member is a meeting that could possibly prove pointless as the risk of deadlocked votes remains. It’s hasn’t been a big problem right now, although townsfolk have expressed their disappointment in a budget passed with four members rather than five, but such a problem could arise. There’s a reason the council is supposed to be made up of five members and not four – an odd number of members removes the possibility of tied votes.

A tie means the city’s business isn’t getting done.

It’s also counterintuitive to the purpose of the town council. The council is supposed to be made up of five members that represent the entire town and yet, the council is passing its budget, purchase orders, and more as just a four-member board.

To its credit, the council once again discussed their fifth seat problem during its Tuesday night meeting on Oct. 20. That conversation led to the same place the conversation has gone for weeks.

“I think we need to reevaluate our choices and [tell each other why we’re at where we’re at with who we want to vote for],” Mastandrea said. “I believe we have a chance and remember this seat will only be filled through April and then an election can occur in May and the people can decide what they want.”

Mastandrea and council member Eddie Henley want Cobreiro appointed to the council. Mayor Alan Watt and vice mayor Randy Anderson want Hall. Henley and Mastandrea like Cobreiro because he attends town meetings and puts in the work. Watt and Anderson want Hall because she has experience on a city council, city boards and has a great resume of experience.

Mastandrea argued that Hall’s past experience doesn’t trump the work Cobreiro has been doing. He even took a shot at vice president Joe Biden in doing so.

“I hate to use this but it’s a current example,” Mastandrea said. “Let’s look at what’s taking place in the country right now. Joe Biden, 47 years [in government] … was Vice President for eight years. I wouldn’t say he’s more qualified than anybody. Time, names, credentials, in my eyes, don’t mean you’re right for the job. In my eyes, how engaged have you been and how engaged will you be [is what matters].”

Watt disagreed with Mastandrea.

“I have felt and still feel that Hall is immensely qualified with a broad range of experience and not just government, but all the stuff she does to help people ... I’ve always felt she was the better candidate by some distance.”

Mastandrea floated the idea of starting the entire selection process over again but it begs the question: why would restarting the process end with the council selecting someone else or arriving at a conclusion different from a deadlocked 2-2 vote?

It seems the council may continue as a four-person board until May when the voters do the work the council is unable to do: select someone to represent them on the Orange Park Town Council.

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