UPDATED JUNE 12 (original title: Lake Helen fires their city administrator):
It appears Lake Helen City Administrator Lee Evett will hold onto his job a little longer, after the City Commission, with all five members present, voted 3-2 June 12 to retain Evett until later this year.
Mayor Cameron Lane, who had been on vacation, flew back from Vermont to hold a special meeting of the Lake Helen City Commission, after Evett was fired in a surprise vote at the June 8 regular meeting that Lane had missed.
Lane urged the City Commission to reconsider on the basis of timing. He argued that this time of year, with no interim city administrator in place, was a dangerous time to lose key staff, with budget planning, FEMA payments and other assorted city business looming.
The effort to reconsider Evett’s firing required a series of procedural motions.
Eventually, commissioners hatched the idea — approved by a 3-2 vote — of allowing Evett to retire Nov. 8, the day after municipal elections will select commissioners for Zones 1 and 3, and the mayor, and the day before the new City Commission’s first meeting.
The City Commission will vote on that proposal at their July 13 regularly scheduled meeting.
The June 12 special meeting, held in the conference room at City Hall because the Commission Chambers were found earlier this year to have hazardous levels of toxic mold, was standing-room-only and took wild swings, from calls of unity to fiery bickering between commissioners, between commissioners and the public, between members of the public.
One resident summed up five minutes of yelling by somewhat sardonically saying (after a rare moment of silence): “God bless America.”
The commission also signaled that they intend to rehire Public Works Director Rick Mullen, whose sudden retirement nearly two years ago led to a slew of problems with the city’s water system.
Mullen, who said at the June 12 meeting that he had been forced to retire, is asking for a $22,000 pay raise, from $73,000 to $95,000, a number that most attendees described as a bargain.
Mullen’s relationships with other entities, several people attending the meeting said, brought Lake Helen millions of dollars in in-kind donations over the years, most notably for the new Public Works building. The large state-of-the-art building ended up costing only an estimated $100,000.
A meeting set for June 29 that was originally to determine whether Evett would be terminated for cause or without cause (the latter would have put the city on the hook for 20 weeks of severance pay, around $44,000) is now set to determine the terms and conditions of Rick Mullen’s rehiring.
ORIGINAL STORY BELOW
Third changeover in top spot in five years
Unsurprisingly, trouble has been brewing in Lake Helen. City Administrator Lee Evett, who has been administrator for a little less than two-and-half years, was forced out at a June 8 regular meeting of the Lake Helen City Commission. Evett has 15 days left in the top spot in the city.
Evett went afoul of the commission for several reasons in the past months, including a city truck improperly taken off of city property and lack of communication with businesses looking to join the city.
Compounding that, there has been no Public Works director since 2021, when 25-year veteran employee Ricky Mullen resigned months before his retirement during scrutiny of credit card receipts and spending. A slew of problems with the water system then emerged over the past two years. Mullen has reapplied for the job, although there were allegations his application was blocked from City Hall.
The vote to fire Evett was spurred by a motion by Roger Eckert, at the June 8 regular meeting of the City Commission. Eckert has clearly been frustrated with the city administrator for months, occasionally tangling with Evett during commission meetings. City Commissioner Heather Rutledge has also frequently brought forth items she was unhappy with. Rutledge seconded the motion.
The motion passed 3-1, with Mayor Cameron Lane absent and City Commissioner Rick Basso voting no. City Commissioners Rutledge, Eckert and Charlene Bishop voted yes.
A special meeting is set for Monday, June 12, at 4 p.m. by Mayor Cameron Lane.
Additionally, a special meeting is set for Thursday, June 29, to determine whether the termination will be for cause, or without cause. Finding the termination is without cause would keep Lake Helen on the hook for severance pay, which could be up to 16 weeks of pay, or around $35,000.
Evett was making $115,000 annually in 2023, according to his employment contract.
The timing of his termination is particularly inconvenient — the day after the meeting, Director of Administration Dominique Drager left for a weeklong vacation.
That leaves the city with a skeleton crew in City Hall during what happens to be the qualifying period for Lake Helen’s 2023 municipal elections. Lake Helen is on a once-a-year election cycle, with an upcoming election for mayor and Zone 3 commissioner.
At the conclusion of the June 8 meeting, Rick Basso announced that he will not run for his Zone 3 spot again, after 10 nonconsecutive years on the dais.
“I’m exhausted,” Basso said.
Longtime former commissioner Vernon Burton joins the 2023 race for mayor
After a surprise vote to oust Lake Helen City Administrator Lee Evett, longtime former City Commissioner Vernon Burton contacted The Beacon to announce he is running for mayor in the 2023 election cycle.
Burton last ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2021.
“What I see in the city is that this chaos — it ain’t working,” Burton told The Beacon.
Burton joins current Mayor Cameron Lane and former City Commissioner Kelly Frasca in the race.
In Zone 3, where City Commissioner Rick Basso has said he won’t run again, newcomer Lynda C. Donato has filed to run.