Market in the Park, a weekly affair at Lake Helen’s Blake Park that has run for some 20 years, is finally formalizing its agreement with the City of Lake Helen.
It wouldn’t be Lake Helen, however, if the agreement was crafted without controversy. Commissioners debated background checks for vendors, gun sales and pornography. Even the city attorney got involved.
“If you look up the definition of pornography, forget about it. You’re not going to be able to get there,” City Attorney Scott Simpson told commissioners in regard to banning the sale of salacious materials.
The agreement ultimately passed, with a 4-0 vote by the City Commission.
For most of its tenure, Market in the Park has brought a diverse array of vendors, and the $10-per-spot the vendors pay was put into the city budget and used to finance Lake Helen’s yearly fireworks shows.
The agreement approved July 8 was the third attempt to craft a formal arrangement.
An addition to the agreement suggested by Commissioner Kelly Frasca — who was absent from the meeting due to a death in the family — was roundly shot down.
Frasca suggested an application process for vendors, as well as background checks that would cost about $26 each. The money could be taken out of the proceeds from the market, City Administrator Lee Evett noted.
But among the other commissioners, there was clearly very little appetite for the background requirement.
“This thing started out with a solution looking for a problem in the first place,” City Commissioner Jim Connell said.
“I don’t see any need for more than just a simple logbook registration on who’s there that day,” Commissioner Roger Eckert, who has also participated in the market as a vendor, said. “You’re putting such a heavy burden on people: You’re going to push people away.”
“I’d like to say, as a grandmother of a child that’s been through it. When you get that fear, you can’t let it go. You want to know who is in your city. Who are you buying from? Is this person trustworthy or not?” Lake Helen resident Annmarie Blair said.
Blair was the only public speaker who spoke in favor of applications and background checks.
“They pay $10 to rent a 12-foot spot from the city,” Karen Garyantes, administrator of Market in the Park, said. “I don’t think they need a $26 background check to stay for six hours in the city. In that case, we’d have to do a lot of background checks.”
The idea of background checks was ultimately nixed, and a simple logbook for vendors for the day was required instead.
City Administrator Evett suggested having the agreement prohibit the selling of “Guns, knives and other weapons” and “pornography.”
“Does that include kitchen utensils?” Eckert asked of the first provision.
“A screwdriver is a knife, a hammer is a knife, a wrench is a hammer — I mean, if I wanted to inflict bodily harm, all I’d have to do is go get my screwdriver,” Connell said, to thunderous applause from the audience, presumably because they were against extra rules.
The exemption of “Guns, knives, and other weapons” was kept, with the assumption that the city would use common sense to distinguish between weapons and kitchen utensils or tools.
But “No Pornography” turned out to be trickier.
Attorney Simpson said the city would have a tough time proving whether any item was, indeed, pornography.
“Just looking up in the dictionary when I Googled it — Pornography: printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings,” Simpson read.
“Good luck,” he added.
“I was just about to say I’m not against it because of the artist point of view. Because the body is beautiful,” Mayor Daisy Raisler said.
“This is only going to affect the ones that are selling books and the guy that sold the Playboy collection,” Eckert said.
“So how do you folks feel about that?” Raisler asked the City Commission.
“I haven’t seen pornography [at the market], but I have seen a couple of nude posters, you know, maybe a bumper sticker, you know, a topless trucker girl,” Connell said.
“And how’d you feel about that?” Simpson asked, to laughter.
“It didn’t bother me,” Connell replied.
“Are we a solution trying to find a problem? Have we had a problem with what was being sold?” Simpson asked. “If we haven’t, are we stirring something up that we don’t need to by putting that language in?”
The “no pornography” provision was eliminated.
More than a year ago, an anonymous complaint to the Florida Health Department put a stop to fresh baked goods and eggs for sale at Lake Helen’s Market in the Park.
The Health Department came and inspected the park, and found no specific problems, according to the organizers and vendors. But, the representatives of the Health Department told market organizers they must follow state guidelines, which include cleaning eggs with proper cleaning solutions, refrigeration, selling them on a flat instead of by the dozen, and paying a $110 annual fee to the state.
“I don’t sell them anymore because I am not going to wash them — they have their own self-protection. They’re good for, you know, a month, six weeks out of the refrigerator,” City Commissioner Roger Eckert explained.
“So it’s the official response from the state regulatory agency that’s kind of put the spotlight on us, so to speak. They are obligated to go ahead and say what they had to say. They are legally required to. But that’s a darn shame,” City Commissioner Jim Connell said.
Other news from Lake Helen:
The millage rate is going up for residents, from 6.52 mills to 6.85. A property owner whose home has a taxable value of $100,000 would pay about $685 in Lake Helen property taxes. Because 6.85 mills is above the “rollback” figure that would give Lake Helen the same income as last year, it will be advertised as a tax increase.
Clearing the air about the dirt
The Mitchell Brothers Sports Complex, known locally as Mitchell Field, has been in need of repair for years. Former Police Chief Mike Walker has been working on repairing the football field (located behind the baseball field), and has arranged for local football teams to use it for practice.
After the Parks and Recreation Board brought up concerns about the state of the field, the city administrator gave Walker notice the field must be made safe before football camp, set to begin July 24.
“I know how Lake Helen is — things can get misconstrued,” resident Alan Cooke Jr. said.
In 2020, Cooke provided a reduced price for dirt to build up the field, and graded the property to make it close to level, he explained. COVID-19 put a halt for plans to sod the field properly, Cooke added.
According to the city administrator and the mayor, who recently walked the property, there are large rocks in the field, now overgrown with weeds and difficult to see.
There are a scant two weeks to get the property in shape — and have the city deem it so — before the planned football camp.
Walker, who was absent from the July 8 meeting, has indicated that he has donated funds available to make the necessary improvements.
Melissa Park parcel
At the July 8 meeting, the city approved the purchase, for $11,500, of a small privately owned parcel that bisects sections of Melissa Park, located at 450 W. Ohio Ave. The city ultimately aims to completely renovate the park, which has been in disarray for years.