ORANGE PARK, Fla. — Clay County voters adopted two amendments and reelected an incumbent back into council on Tuesday.
Orange Park held a general election April 11 for the town’s Council Seat 1. Tommie “Doug” Benefield, the incumbent, was voted back into the position after he beat his opponent, Kenneth “Kenny” Radwanski by 34.4% as of Tuesday night. The city of Keystone Heights held a mail-in-only election for amendment changes where two out of four amendments were adopted.
Benefield, 37, a Certified Public Accountant who co-founded Elevated CPA, won 67.20% of the vote compared to his opponent, Radwanski, who got 32.80%. As of Tuesday night, the preliminary results showed there was a 8.96% voter turnout.
The city of Keystone Heights had four amendment changes, and voters only approved two. The first will allow a “majority of the city council to set the maximum purchasing amount required for formal advertising and bids.” The other approved amendment will allow “city council members to censure or reprimand another council member for an alleged law violation of adopted city policy.”
The two that didn’t pass would have prohibited “the city council members from interfering with routine operations conducted by the city manager,” and allowed council members to select a mayor from among its members, as well as add one more council member position.
Benefield and Radwanski stood outside the Orange Park Town Hall from nearly 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. greeting voters and talking to supporters. Benefield stood on one side of the street with his father, Tommie Douglas Benefield Jr., who held a campaign sign for his son.
Benefield’s six-year-old and almost two-year-old children came out to greet him with his wife in the afternoon.
“I grew up here, basically raised my whole life,” Benefield said. “I have 12 family members in town. It made sense to be involved.”
Benefield was on the Orange Park budget and finance committee before he was appointed by the council in August 2022 to fill the unexpired council seat of then-Vice Mayor Eddie Henley, who had resigned. The position is up for reelection every three years, Benefield said.
Some of the things Benefield has focused on and said he wants to continue to do are to keep taxes low, find solutions to help people on fixed incomes save money and help manage solutions for the town’s population growth.
After finding out he won, Benefield said he was excited and will work to ensure the town remains a wonderful place to raise a family.
“I just want my children to experience what I got to experience, and I want to strengthen this community,” Benefield wrote in a text.
Joyce Tabor, 80, a retired professional tennis player, said she came out to vote because she wanted her neighbor, Benefield, to win.
“He’s a great guy, honest as the day as long. He’d do anything for anybody,” Tabor said. “He’s just good.”
Tabor said Benefield has been working hard to get a better traffic flow near the school and neighborhoods for safety purposes. He has the interest of the community in mind, she said. “If we have a concern, he has a concern.”
On the other side of the street, Radwanski, 67, sat in a green lawn chair with a sign that read “Vote Kenny Radwanski, Vote Veteran Today,” handwritten in black marker.
The retired Air Force veteran said he has been a regular at all the town council meetings for nearly 22 years. He’s been attending the meetings since 2001, he said, and wanted the chance to do more. “My passion is in the town,” he said.
“If I am in a wheelchair on oxygen, I will still attend the meetings to hear and listen,” Radwanski wrote in a text. “I am not here for the politics, I am here to make a difference.”
While he doesn’t think the current council is doing a bad job, he said it hasn’t been good enough, and improvements need to be made. He said he would have focused more on infrastructure, beautification and environmental concerns in the town if he had been elected.
During the campaign, Benefield raised $14,700 in contributions and reported $14,535 in expenditures. Radwanski raised $280 in contributions and reported $260 in expenditures.
Radwanski said his family and Benefield’s family know each other well, and “go way back to the ’70s.” No matter the result, he said they would still be friends.
“Tomorrow if I see him in a coffee shop not only will I have good conversation with him, but I might buy his breakfast and coffee because that’s the type of person I am,” Radwanski said.
Radwanski said no matter the result of the election, he was there and will always be there for “all the residents, all the time, every day.”
Gina Ledbetter, a 69-year-old retired public school teacher, said she voted for Radwanski. While she didn’t know him personally or know too much about him, she said she liked his values surrounding good communication with the people of Orange Park.