Former Lake Helen City Commissioner Rick Basso, 63, is back.
Basso was appointed to take over the Zone 3 seat left vacant by the resignation of Michael Woods. Woods left in early November after landing a job as executive director of the Lake Sumter Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Three applicants vied to finish out Woods’ term, which will end in November 2019: Basso, who served in the same seat 2009-15, former securities worker and retiree Rhonda Janitch, and Sean Abshire, a politically active Lake Helen resident.
The remaining members of the City Commission — three commissioners and the mayor — voted on the applicants at their Dec. 13 meeting.
The nature of a small town — Lake Helen has fewer than 3,000 residents — led to some interesting overlaps: When Basso won election in 2009, he did so by defeating Teresa Abshire, Sean Abshire’s mother. And, Sean Abshire was voted onto several Lake Helen boards by former Commissioner Basso, whom Abshire quoted as saying at the time, “What the heck — give the kid a chance.”
Those overlaps didn’t help candidate Janitch, who lives in the 55-and-up mobile-home community Lake Helen Villa, which was subject to a mistaken water bill earlier this year that led to the September resignation of City Administrator Jason Yarborough.
Commissioner Jim Connell pointed out that Janitch would have had to abstain from voting in that matter, had she been a member then of the City Commission.
Connell also asked Basso about conversations they had in 2015, when Basso decided not to run again. Apparently Basso had expressed frustration with the government and the citizens of Lake Helen.
“I have a different mentality, a different vitality if you will, now,” Basso said.
He noted the Great Recession had occurred during his earlier tenure.
When asked if he would sign up in June to run for a full term in Zone 3, Basso replied, “It depends on how much fun I’m having and how much good I’m doing.”
Commissioner Tom Wilson asked Abshire about an arrest record that scuttled his campaign to run for mayor in 2017 — the year that the mayor’s seat was won by Daisy Raisler.
“We have due process in this country, and I have not been convicted,” Abshire said.
Court records indicate Abshire was arrested in October 2017 on possession of trace amounts of cannabis, and the case has yet to be resolved.
Abshire, 26, repeatedly referenced the generational differences between himself and the current commissioners, as did at least nine speakers on his behalf during the public forum before the vote.
“It’s great for all of us with gray hair to get up there and say well, you know, you need age and all that — eh, it’s overrated as far as I am concerned,” said Betty O’Laughlin, the wife of a former city commissioner.
“I talk to a lot of young people, and let me tell you what … the knowledge that they impart, and how they are paying attention to what’s going on in the world — and I think it’s time that we gave youth a chance … Like someone said, give the kid a chance,” she said.
In remarks by commissioners after the vote, Commissioner Wilson, who has been battling health problems, contended that “The future belongs to the youth.”
But in the four-person vote, Basso won, securing the preference of Commissioners Vernon Burton and Connell.
Mayor Raisler preferred Janitch, and Wilson supported Abshire.
In a follow-up vote, Wilson was the sole “no” to confirm Basso.
Basso was sworn in immediately. His former placard with name and title had apparently been sitting in the city clerk’s position at the dais since he left.
“It was sitting under there for years,” said Interim Administrator Becky Witte. “I said — oh well, we might need it on Thursday, so I left it.”
Also at the Dec. 13 meeting, the City Commission made Witte city administrator. She had been serving as interim administrator since September.