After a previous meeting stretched almost to 1 a.m. — to the disgruntlement of commissioners and the city attorney — the Lake Helen City Commission has resolved to end its meetings no later than 12 p.m.
But since the resolution, passed March 12, only came into effect for future meetings, Lake Helen made the most of it; that night’s meeting lasted nearly seven hours, until almost 1:50 a.m., breaking any recent records.
“Me personally, I have a line, that when I get to it — and it’s my exhaustion line — it’s not that I don’t care, I just don’t know if I physically have the ability to care,” Commissioner Rick Basso said. “And I am doing you a disservice, continuing to make decisions beyond the point where I don’t have the ability to care anymore.”
Nevertheless three problems continued to gobble up time and push the commission into the wee hours of the morning — the spraying of herbicides in Lake Helen Lake, complaints about a demolition company near a residential area, and tension among newly installed Commissioner Kelly Frasca, Mayor Daisy Raisler and City Administrator Becky Witte.
The commission ultimately did not make any motions to stop the invasive-plant mitigation plan by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which includes some herbicide spraying, planting of native vegetation, and the recent removal of a land bridge that split the city’s namesake lake in two.
But again, the way forward on the latter two problems was not clear.
Regarding the demolition company, city officials said the city has no responsibility to the homeowners to prevent what residents say are loud, disruptive noises early in the morning hours, no matter how much they would like to, since the business was not breaking noise ordinances or zoning laws.
Finally, a request from Raisler to look into the city’s permitting process spilled over into a brouhaha over a long-brewing disagreement among Frasca, Raisler and Witte.
More than five months ago, on Sept. 26, a tense special meeting ended with the understanding that Raisler and Witte would sit down with a mediator to hash out their differences.
That meeting has yet to happen.
In the meantime, former city event coordinator Kelly Frasca was elected to the Zone 1 seat on the City Commission. At the March 12 meeting, Frasca expressed her distrust of Witte.
“Right now, I don’t feel like I have much confidence in our city administrator,” Frasca said. “It has been a very trying time since being up here — getting information that we should all be able to have access to has been [like] pulling teeth.”
“Let’s stay on policy and procedure,” Raisler responded, in an attempt to keep the conversation on track.
“Why not sit down with the city administrator first?” Commissioner Jim Connell asked Raisler. “I appreciate you looking out for all of this, I do — the approach sucks. You guys [Witte and Raisler] don’t talk. I wish you would.”
After a lively discussion, which swung from talking about the appearance of collusion between Frasca and Raisler, to how well Witte fulfilled her responsibilities as administrator, to previous meetings, and to the details of permitting and building code among other things, Witte responded.
“I’m just so frustrated,” Witte told Raisler. “I know you don’t trust me, and I know you don’t like me, and that’s fine.”
“We are in such a good place. And the negativity from two people on the commission is ridiculous, because there is so much positive,” Witte said.
She addressed the commission, and the few remaining residents, and referred to the city’s habit of administrator turnover.
“You always point the finger at the administrator. And that’s fine, that’s what it’s for. But that’s the disease, the cultural disease … Everybody who gives you their life, and their love, you attack. And that’s the culture, and it’s been the culture for a long time,” she said. “That’s the culture: The people who do the most, the people who take their time and their passion, get treated the worst … If you fire me tomorrow, your disease still exists.”
As the time neared 2 a.m., the owner of Lake Helen Villa, a 55-year-old-and-up community, Kent Titcomb, addressed the commission.
“You guys are my favorite — I have been in town 40 years … you guys are the best board I have ever had,” Titcomb said. “We are somewhat dysfunctional, but this is actually healthy.”
“I love you guys — I don't want to lose my favorite mayor and my favorite city administrator,” he added somewhat plaintively.