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Winter Garden Politics

Bennett calls out Mueller for “made-up lie,” ignores own false statements

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Norine Dworkin

Editor in Chief

Wednesday, April 3, 2024


Norine Dworkin/VoxPopuli

At a Jan. 26, 2024, workshop, Commissioner Lisa Bennett holds up a binder that she falsely said contained Commissioner Ron Mueller's emails threatening to fire city staff. There are no such emails. She's never retracted that statement.

Winter Garden Commissioner Lisa Bennett last week read a one-minute prepared statement at the end of the March 28 city commission meeting, saying she “needed to go on record” regarding Commissioner Ron Mueller's statement in an Observer story that “taking money from the Ramos family in exchange for an endorsement is a made-up lie.”

Bennett went on to say that she had endorsed Mueller’s opponent in the District 2 election, Iliana Ramos Jones, “because I feel she’s the best person for the job, and I care about my city.” She added that she believes “there’s something seriously wrong with Ron’s character … and he should not be in this position.”

She called the “lies to injure my reputation” slanderous, libelous and defamation.

(Slander and libel are the two categories of defamation; libel is written while slander is spoken.)

Bennett added that if she had “had disposable income right now, I would sue” (See Could Lisa Bennett Win A Lawsuit?)

[Mueller and Jones are in a run-off for the District 2 commission seat. Neither pulled 50 percent of the vote in the March 19 election therefore a run-off is scheduled for April 16. Early voting starts April 4 at the Orange County Supervisor of Elections office at 119 Kaley Street in Orlando.]

Mueller had his own prepared statement that offered apologies to the Winter Garden public for the March 14 “intrusion of personal and political interests into a space meant for public service”; asked that commissioners “find forgiveness for one another” for mistakes made; and pledged to “redirect our focus solely to the work of making Winter Garden a better place for all.”

In his own end-of-meeting comments, Mayor John Rees told Mueller that he had “started this” with his comments in the Observer, and that “all this would not have started or happened if you hadn’t said that.”

Even as the mayor said that Mueller’s statement “really bothers me,” and he wanted Mueller to say it was not true, Rees said he never characterized Mueller’s statements as defamation. “I didn’t use the word defame. I just thought what you said about me was incorrect.”

Mueller did not retract his statement, but he did offer an apology. “If my words offended you, if my choice of words were poor, then I apologize to you, sir. It was not meant to defame your good character, nor your many years of service here. So I will unreservedly apologize to you if I’ve offended you.”

“What about me?” Bennett asked.

He offered her an apology as well.

Bennett, however, did not acknowledge or apologize for the false statements she has made about Mueller over the last eight months in her drive to have him removed from the commission ahead of the March 19 election. Even on the day the commission dropped its pursuit of a forfeiture hearing without penalty, Bennett held up a binder containing Mueller’s emails from his years in office and falsely proclaimed that it was full of emails threatening fire employees.

It was not.

As we’ve reported, VoxPopuli examined the same collection of emails that commissioners received and found none that threatened to fire any city staff. The mayor finally admitted that the issue wasn’t about threatening to fire staff but about the volume of emails sent to staff and not through the city manager.

Bennett seems to have a history of making false statements. During her 2020 campaign against Joseph Richardson, a longtime Winter Garden resident and VoxPopuli board member, Bennett told the Observer that Richardson wanted to “remove prayer before commission meetings and do away with our tradition of Light Up Winter Garden.”

She neglected to mention the two hour-long meetings she had with Richardson. He told VoxPopuli that at her request, he sat down with her to explain that he was circulating a petition to gauge interest in different options for the invocation, including opening it up to people of different faiths. Regarding Light Up Winter Garden, he wanted the city to distance itself from the prayer service produced by the West Orange Ministerial Association — something it did this year, clearly stating on the holiday flyer that it is not a city-sponsored event.

Richardson told VoxPopuli he never wanted to cancel Light Up Winter Garden. But even though he asked Bennett to clarify her comments, he said she has never corrected her remarks nor apologized.

Bennett did not respond to a request for comment.

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