Lake Helen re-elected its mayor Nov. 5, and added a former city employee to the City Commission.
But in the weeks leading up to the vote that saw Mayor Daisy Raisler and Kelly Frasca victorious, the field of four candidates dealt with constant allegations, rumors and insinuations on the modern platform for political discourse: Facebook.
Topics of controversy included a pancake breakfast where volunteers were supposedly fed purloined donations, as well as fake Facebook profiles, and campaign signs that were posted around the city but not listed on anyone’s election-finance reports.
On a community Facebook page that usually has postings about lost dogs and goats and yard sales, trouble-stirring profiles popped up, including one whose profile pictures were stolen from online obituaries, and another whose owner took the name of a character in a popular science-fiction television show.
The accounts have since been deactivated.
The amount of controversy seemed outsize in an off-year election that garnered a mere 682 votes — a 30.5-percent turnout in the town of 2,235 registered voters.
The vitriol was most noticeable in the race for mayor, with both Mayor Raisler and her challenger, Vice Mayor Vernon Burton, posting denials of impropriety in the final days leading up to the election.
At times, the controversies verged into the ridiculous.
“I want to clarify any rumor that might be floating around with regards to the pancake breakfast and the unloading of 970 pumpkins at The United Methodist Church that myself and supporters participated in back in October,” Burton wrote on Facebook two days before the election.
Burton detailed that the supplies for breakfast were from Hurricane Dorian donations to the city, and said the city public-works director had donated the unused supplies to volunteers unloading a pumpkin-patch delivery.
“It's as if evil itself has taken over. Words of accusations and assumptions against myself and other candidates have revealed a different side of people who hide behind keyboards,” Raisler wrote on her official Facebook page on Election Day.
The tensions have been brewing for months, as questions submitted anonymously for an Oct. 29 candidate forum illustrated.
There were questions about perpetual Lake Helen concerns — traffic around the Ivy Hawn charter school, septic tanks and sewage services, and about how to maintain the Lake Helen way of life. But nine questions directly accused a candidate of impropriety, and five questions asked how the candidates would unify a divided community.
Incumbent Zone 1 representative Tom Wilson, who lost his bid to remain on the City Commission to former event coordinator Frasca, was the only candidate more or less spared in the fray. Wilson is also the only one of the four without a presence on social media. He lost by 38 votes, with 315 to Frasca’s 358.
“This year has been eye-opening,” Wilson said at the Oct. 29 forum. “After the dust settles, the city will find itself and move forward. And that is a day we all hope to see.”
After the election, Burton echoed the sentiment.
“As a community, we will have to do better to respect each other as neighbors because the world is but a mouse-click away from reading our thoughts and our actions toward one another,” Burton said. “The questions we should ask ourselves is, what can I do to be a better neighbor? … how can I help my community build a better bridge to the world?”
He added, about his 11 years on the City Commission, “Thank you for giving me the best job I have ever had.”
Raisler also spoke to The Beacon about the rumors and her re-election.
“It was 24 hours of stuff where it was like, I have never seen that before. It’s like having a baby — I couldn’t remember how hard the 2017 election was … I couldn’t remember how hard it was delivering the baby,” she said. “Regardless, this is something that is part of the beast.”
“Win or lose, we still are going to have potholes,” the mayor added. “Those other things are not the important issues — what’s important is making sure our services as a city are met, that we preserve our history and our amazing environment, and all the things that make our city great; that’s what really matters.”