Divided commission, feuding city leaders in Lake Helen

After losing a bid for mayor in Lake Helen's Nov. 5 election, Vernon Burton was reappointed to the Zone 2 commission seat he left behind Nov. 26, but it wasn't easy. The commission tied for three straight votes until Mayor Daisy Raisler switched her vote for Burton to a yes. 

Vernon Burton will once again represent Zone 2 as a city commissioner in Lake Helen — after he ran for mayor and lost the election — but the reappointment didn’t come easy.

It took the Lake Helen City Commission four tries to break a tie vote between Burton and longtime resident and former City Commissioner Olivia Cherry.

Two other candidates dropped out once they realized Burton was applying, the candidates said.

The first vote — on a motion by Zone 4 City Commissioner Jim Connell to appoint Burton — was a tie.

Connell and Zone 3 Commissioner Rick Basso voted yes, and Mayor Daisy Raisler and newly elected Zone 1 Commissioner Kelly Frasca voted no.

Frasca then moved to appoint Cherry. Because the mayor acts as the moderator of the meeting, Raisler had to pass the gavel to just-appointed Vice Mayor Jim Connell so she could second the motion.

The exact reason the City Commission needs five people was evident when the second vote was a tie, too.

This time, Connell and Basso voted no, and Frasca and Raisler voted yes.

Basso then moved to appoint Burton, and Connell prepared to pass the gavel back to Raisler so he could second the motion, but the farcical nature of the situation seemed to catch up to them.

“We’re going to do this dance for a while. So we should talk it out,” Connell said.

“Can we vote?” a member of the audience asked.

“I wish,” Connell replied.

Volusia County Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis was on hand at the meeting with a coin to toss, but the possibility of deciding the matter via chance was shouted down from the audience.

“I am here in case you did want to flip a coin. Don’t kill the messenger,” Lewis said.

Frasca and Raisler, the two newest members of the City Commission, both indicated they would like a fresh face in the Zone 2 seat.

Basso and Connell were of the mind that someone who was up to speed with city affairs best fit the job description.

One of the candidates who dropped out, Roger Eckert, pointed out that Burton had been, in fact, elected to a two-year term and had only served one year before the mayoral race, and so was the only one of the candidates who was actually chosen by the voters.

After a little discussion, Connell again moved for Burton to retake his seat. Again, the result was a tie.

For the next 30 minutes, commissioners and audience members went back and forth in increasingly tense exchanges.

Finally, in the fourth vote, and the third to appoint Burton, Raisler switched to a yes.

Burton was sworn in immediately, and retook his seat.

But even with a full City Commission of five members, the tension didn’t cease.

About an hour later, City Administrator Becky Witte brought up an email from Raisler, who had written to request a detailed calendar of Witte’s daily doings.

“I really feel like it’s because I am a woman you are trying to micromanage my activities,” Witte said. “That’s disheartening because of the passion I put in.”

Witte, visibly frustrated, said she often spends 13 hours a day on city affairs.

On top of that, she said, the city is short four key staff members, and she, and the deputy city clerk, have had to split a variety of county, district, and state meetings between them.

“If you don’t trust me, tell me you don’t trust me and let’s figure it out, and move on,” Witte told Raisler.

Less than two months ago, on Sept. 26, an 8:30 a.m. special meeting on “Commission Management Procedures” made it clear that Raisler and Witte were not working together seamlessly.

That 2.5-hour meeting ended with an exasperated Lake Helen Police Chief Mike Walker asking Witte and Raisler to work things out.

“What we got here is an issue that needs to be resolved. In a room. You, me, and Becky will sit down — I’ll mediate it,” Walker said. “Because what we are doing right now is just … kind of embarrassing as a city.”

According to Deputy City Clerk Lauren Olsen, so far that meeting has not happened.

A workshop on “Commission Procedures and Protocol” is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 12, at Lake Helen City Hall, first-floor conference room, 327 S. Lakeview Drive, followed by a regular meeting at 7 p.m. in the City Commission chambers upstairs.