Vicki Vargo is quickly making a name for herself as an independent voice on the Orlando City Council, a governing body that has traditionally had a toe-the-line mentality.
In the past, commissioners often spoke against an issue but still voted in favor of it. Not Vargo. At the Sept. 25 council meeting, she cast two lone votes: She was the only council member to vote against giving a pay increase to city commissioners, and the only one to vote against funds to build a charter school in Parramore.
But there's a price to pay for nonconformity. City commissioners are grumbling that Vargo isn't a team player and that her vote against the pay increase smacked of pandering. Vargo, like commissioners Don Ammerman and Daisy Lynum, faces re-election in 2002.
Commissioners argue that Vargo, a former president of the Rosemont Homeowners Association, gets the best of both worlds: She voted against the pay increase but still gets to keep the $8,400-a-year raise.
And they're bothered by Vargo's open pleas for money for her district, which covers College Park and Rosemont, even as she opposed the charter school and projects in other districts.
Commissioners felt that Vargo went too far when, at a recent council meeting, she made a political faux pas by saying she wanted money that wasn't going to be spent in two other districts so she could put it toward traffic-calming devices in her district.
There are already signs of tension and backlash. At a Sept. 28 "Keep Orlando Beautiful" banquet at Leu Gardens, Vargo sat alone even though several city commissioners and aides were in attendance.
"When you're a neighborhood association president you can be a little bit ballsy and outspoken," says Patty Sheehan, District 4 commissioner and former head of the Colonialtown Homeowners Association. "But when you're on the council, it's a matter of dealing with everyone's perspective and having to work as part of a collegial body. There has to be some give and take."
Vargo seems unaffected by her new role as outsider. "This will pass," she says simply.
At the same time, she has taken an unusual step with regard to the salary increase, which went into effect this week: She's investigating ways to turn it over to charity or a civic organization. "I don't want to give it back to the city because I don't always agree with the way the city wants to spend money," says Vargo, who took office June 1.
As for being able to work with commissioners on future projects, Vargo says she doesn't anticipate a problem. "The majority of council members understand my positions," Vargo says. "We are reasonable people, and from time to time, reasonable people disagree."
If not, Vargo could be dining alone much more often.