Read about the Lake Helen City Commision races HERE.
Lake Helen is trying again this year to get residents to amend the city’s outdated charter.
The saga of the town’s attempts to amend its charter began around 2000, when voters shot down a revision of the charter that had been written in 1943.
That year, voters declined to delete outdated provisions that violated state law and/or were obsolete, including rules for city judges (the city has no judges), the city jail (which no longer existed), and voter age (requiring that voters had to be 21).
In 2002, after lobbying by frustrated Lake Helen city commissioners, the state Legislature handed Lake Helen a new charter, which also quickly went out of date. The state-written charter requires several boards that don’t exist, for example.
There have been three subsequent ballot measures to amend the charter since the 2000 failure, including at least one that never made it onto the ballot due to public outcry.
This year, some officials are hopeful that dividing the changes into separate ballot measures will allow passage of at least some of the modifications the city attorney and multiple charter review committees have deemed necessary, or useful.
Those changes include repealing outdated provisions, changing city commissioners’ terms from two years to fours, and giving the city administrator authority to hire and fire employees, an authority that is currently, and awkwardly, held by the City Commission (at one point, City Commission meetings included hiring and disciplining dishwashers for a now-defunct restaurant).
Because of the staggered two-year terms in the charter now, every year is an election year in Lake Helen, a city of around 2,863 residents and often passionate politics.
Along with the charter amendments, two City Commission seats are on the ballot this year, in Lake Helen’s Zone 2 and Zone 4.
In some ways, the charter amendments are hopelessly intertwined with the politics of electing city commissioners, albeit as only one facet of perpetual Lake Helen concerns about development, water quality and maintaining the small-town charm of the city they call “The Gem.”
The three proposed charter changes would:
Update the city charter to remain consistent with state law, repealing outdated and inconsistent provisions; incorporate provisions consistent with current operations and good-management practices; and incorporate changes to make the city’s operations more efficient.
Create four-year staggered terms in office for city commissioners.
Give the city administrator administrative and supervisory authority over city employees.