Opinion/Analysis

By Reggie Connell/ Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice

As a writer, journalist, and columnist, it’s important to inform, enlighten and inspire the readers of The Apopka Voice. And probably because we are online and more interactive than a traditional print publication, we get a lot of comments, replies, and thoughts on our news site and on our Facebook page as well.

Interaction is a double-edged sword. Sometimes it’s a welcome forum to hear from the community of readers in Apopka that follow the news so closely. Other times it can become sarcastic, mean-spirited, or even border-line libelous.

But last week, those of you who commented were impressive, thoughtful, and clearly informed on the issue at hand.

In an article entitled “Commissioner Nolan confirms her critical remarks on social media about Carnesale, Nelson” readers of The Apopka Voice responded on social media with observations and thoughts that I felt compelled to share.

Here are just a few among the dozens of comments and replies I collected from The Apopka Voice news site, Facebook page, and on other local Facebook pages that shared the article to their sites.

Readers questions and comments are in bold and italicized:

“Just for clarification, these are messages sent privately from (Commissioner Alice Nolan) to her friends on social media?”

It’s a great question.

Why are we publishing the private messages of a city commissioner? Should private conversations be made public? It feels unfair. There should be a level of privacy even for the Apopka City Council. I know I have said things in private I wouldn’t want others to know, and I would be upset at a friend who betrayed that trust.

However, in the case of Commissioner Nolan, those private conversations were on a social media site, which makes them open to a public records request. The original request did not come from The Apopka Voice, but from an anonymous private citizen who then posted them on social media with his or her own opinions about Sunshine Law violations. The Apopka Voice made a separate request to verify the authenticity of the comments made by Commissioner Nolan and gave her the opportunity to explain the context in which they were made.

Those comments, however, were about removing Apopka’s fire chief Chuck Carnesale – which is clearly city business and crosses any expectation of privacy an elected official can expect. Because of this, The Apopka Voice chose to publish her comments, but it was not without careful consideration, and only after we gave Nolan the opportunity to explain, and comment on her posts.

Another reader wanted to know the reasons behind Commissioner Nolan’s assertions:

“She stated numerous times the chief is not doing the job. I would like to hear what exactly is bringing her to this conclusion?”

In her comments, Commissioner Nolan cited morale, overspending, and not doing his job as reasons to remove Chief Carnesale, but without specific examples and figures, it’s just personal observations from an elected official with no ability to replace him or any Apopka employee.

If you have specific reasons for your opinions Commissioner Nolan, they should be stated in a public forum like an opinion/editorial piece or better yet, before the public on the record at a City Council meeting. Do not make allegations this serious and then go silent. There are consequences to your actions and comments. Explain how you are measuring overspending and low morale in the Apopka Fire Department.

“It’s a sad day when you can’t trust your elected officials.”

Unfortunately, this skepticism extends beyond Commissioner Nolan’s comments.

Many readers expressed a distrust in the City Council after learning of Commissioner Nolan’s private opinions, but also after learning that a separation agreement for Chief Carnesale was drafted by Apopka City Attorney Joseph Byrd, emailed to City Administrator Edward Bass in March, and later denied by Mayor Bryan Nelson in an April City Council meeting.

It’s important for the residents of Apopka to trust its elected officials, but the silence coming from City Hall and the Council dais is deafening. It’s eroding the trust the city has for these elected officials, two of whom burst into office with sizeable margins of victory just over a year ago.

An electoral mandate can only go so far.

“Maybe it’s time for the council to have a vote of confidence for Chief Carnesale.”

Another way of coming out of the shadows would be to have a non-binding discussion at a City Council meeting about the status of the Apopka fire chief. Perhaps it’s time for a commissioner or the mayor to call for a motion offering Chief Carnesale their vote of confidence, or if you have issues with him – state them.

Mayor Nelson too should explain his intent and desire to replace Carnesale. Explain how the email from Byrd to Bass matches up with his April statement to the city that denied any intent to replace the chief and brushing it aside as a social media rumor. If he wanted a new slate of department heads, that should have happened in his first 100 days. If there is a cause, then state it. No one should have to operate such a vital department under these conditions, which brings us to another astute observation made by a reader…

“City employees should not have to live in fear every time there is an administration change.”

Certainly, a mayor’s team should be made up of the leaders he wants. All department heads work at the pleasure of the administration. But charges like the ones Nolan posted should be out in the open and not dispersed through whispering campaigns, forced retirements, and misleading public comments or investigations started well after the fact.

It’s not fair to Chief Carnesale to absorb these allegations week-after-week, followed by denials and non-comments by the administration, followed by a secret investigation into the AFD, with the innuendo that Carnesale is the subject.

Review the budget items, morale issues, and anything else that frustrates you about the AFD with the professionalism it deserves and then make your case with transparency.

“Thanks for your comments, replies and thoughts, Apopka Voice readers!”

 That last quote is from me to you, the readers of The Apopka Voice. Keep up the wise interaction on this site and on our Facebook page, I’ll keep learning from you, and I’ll do my best to keep you informed about the news of Apopka.

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