Lake Helen is a small town that has always relied on relationships. Previously, if there was a problem with the town’s water system, for example, someone would just call Public Works Director “Ricky” Mullen on his cellphone. Better than anyone else, Mullen knew the equipment, and where the unmapped water pipes lay.
But then Mullen resigned in September 2021, as part of an exodus of city workers that included the police chief, the city administrator and the deputy clerk. Most of the city departments were left severely understaffed to provide services to the town’s 2,800 or so residents.
Now Mullen is coming back. At its June 29 meeting, the Lake Helen City Commission agreed, with a 3-2 vote, to rehire him.
He will start work immediately at an annual salary of $90,000, a boost from his salary of $73,000 when he left.
Mullen was one of the most integral parts of Lake Helen’s operations, although he chafed at accusations subtly leveled at his department by then-Mayor Daisy Raisler and Charlene Bishop. Bishop was an involved resident then; now, she’s a city commissioner, and she voted against rehiring Mullen.
Since Mullen’s departure, faulty water meters, exorbitant bills, malfunctioning chlorine sensors and burst waterlines have underscored how integral he was to a city that has struggled to adjust from its small-town roots.
Lake Helen officials also discovered Mullen had been the only employee with the necessary licenses to perform certain maintenance and operational work on the water system, which forced the city to contract for the work with an outside company.
During his tenure, Mullen also brought in in-kind donations, as evidenced by a new Public Works building that cost the city only about $100,000.
He resigned just a scant two years short of having 20 years in the Florida Retirement System, a pension plan mile marker that would have guaranteed a comfortable retirement. His re-employment agreement includes the city making an extra contribution to his retirement.
Joining Bishop to vote against rehiring Mullen was Mayor Cameron Lane, who has taken an active role in another personnel matter the City Commission has dealt with recently, in its unusual role as an elected board with the job of hiring and firing all of the town’s employees.
Mayor Lane flew home from Vermont June 12 for a special meeting he called to prevent the firing of City Administrator Lee Evett.
It was decided at the June 29 special meeting — also by a 3-2 vote — that Evett will stay on until Dec. 15. Previously, the City Commission had proposed Nov. 8 as his final day. That would have been the day after municipal elections to select commissioners for Zones 1 and 3 and the mayor, and the day before the new City Commission’s first meeting.
The extra time, Evett argued, would allow for a new city administrator to be found, vetted and hired, with overlap, so Evett could show the newcomer the ropes.
City Commissioners Roger Eckert and Bishop voted against the motion.