Deputy Fire Chief Sean Wylam named acting fire chief
By Reggie Connell/Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice
It’s been a cruel summer in Apopka.
First and foremost there was the controversy surrounding Apopka Fire Chief Chuck Carnesale and the investigation into wrongdoing at the Apopka Fire Department. Before its conclusion, Carnesale retired, deputy fire chief Sean Wylam was named by Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson as the new fire chief… oh and there was the threat of a Category 5 hurricane on Labor Day weekend, and into the preceding week.
So Wednesday’s City Council meeting had the feel of a new season – one where a new fire chief would be ratified, the investigation into the AFD would conclude, a new budget would soon be approved, and a sense of normalcy might return to the city, the council, the fire department, to the administration, and maybe even a milder, more predictable weather pattern.
But just as autumn in Florida often resembles summer, it was still hot and humid at the City Council meeting on Wednesday.
Near the close of the meeting, Apopka City Commissioner Kyle Becker was using his time during the City Council Reports section to thank Carnesale for his service.
“I just wanted to publicly thank our outgoing chief. We haven’t had an opportunity to do that in a public setting. Chief Carnesale served this city for 37 years. He did so respectfully, and from where I sit admirably. He was well respected in the community. I’ve got family that are in the fire service industry in Central Florida and I think Central Florida viewed him in high regards and with respect. In my heart, I know that he still wanted to serve. But from where I sit I don’t have that responsibility. I can appreciate where the administration and Chief Carnesale had gotten to, and I don’t have control of that from where I said, but what I can do from where I sit is to ratify appointments as per the charter. My frustration, and where my commentary will come today, is case in point, we’re trying to make a decision on the next wave of leadership for our fire department, and yet we have been handed an investigation just prior to this meeting – I don’t have enough time to really consume and ingest this report to understand how that plays across the entire department. There are names in this report that apply to people in this room, and I don’t know where this investigation lies in the scope and scale of what these findings apply to. Initially, I went to the report and count one is inconclusive, count two is inconclusive, count three is inconclusive, count four is inconclusive, count five is unfounded…
But before Becker could finish those remarks, Apopka City Attorney Joseph Byrd interjected a warning to him and to the Council.
“I gave that report to the Council as a courtesy. It has not been officially signed. It’s inappropriate in my opinion for anyone to discuss it until it is finalized. I would ask the Council… I would ask the commissioner to please refrain from referring to specifics in an investigation report that is only in a draft form and was given as a courtesy and on the very front explains that.”
“My apologies. Nowhere on here does it say not to discuss,” said Becker in response. “But what I’m getting at is we have a report in front of us that I don’t know what the results of that investigation imply – as to… what it’s telling me.”
“The Commissioner is continuing to ask something about an investigation before it’s completed,” said Byrd. “It’s already leaked out about certain criminal investigations that are going on. There should be no further comment and I would admonish this Council not to speak publicly about this.”
“Duly noted but I’ll make a final comment here,” said Becker. “We’re being asked to ratify the next leader of the Apopka Fire Department. We have his resume’ but we also have… paper… that has words on it… that imply things about our fire department… (About) current staff, and former staff. I don’t know how to interpret it because I’ve been given this document and I’m sitting here trying to make a decision about the leadership of the Apopka Fire Department when there’s an investigation still ongoing. For me personally, I cannot sit here and make a decision about our department when I don’t know what this investigation is going to tell me. There are things in here I’ve noted that I have problems with. I’m not going to say them publicly. I’m sorry if this is inconvenient, but it has to do with me making a decision.”
It has nothing to do with inconvenience,” Byrd said. “Deputy Chief Wylim was not the subject (of the investigation). These two matters are separate issues. It’s inappropriate, and I admonish the Council not to talk about an ongoing investigation that has not been finalized. That’s my final word on the matter… take it or leave it and I did express to you (Becker) in an email about a criminal investigation that should not be discussed in public.”
“I appreciate what our counsel has told us,” said Becker. “I’ll make my final point. There are things that I’ve already read in this report that will be applicable to my decision-making ability for this particular piece of business. I would want to have time to consume this report before we make a final determination.”
Byrd later told Nelson that his intention was to release the investigation to the media either later that evening or the next morning.
“It’s just a matter of getting everything together in a way that’s most accessible. The report will be issued. If the report was not issued until next week I suppose the question would be ‘would we want to wait until the next week to make a decision on the next fire chief?’ It just so happens that this report… I was completing it today, and then we decided you would get a courtesy copy.”
But Becker wanted to clarify his point of not having enough time with the report whether he received a courtesy draft at the beginning of the meeting, or not at all.
“My commentary leading into today was that we didn’t have the report… so how would we know what’s in that report and ultimately what impacts it might have with our decision on the Apopka Fire Department and that’s all I’m saying… and I can refer to a specific paragraph…”
“I don’t know how many times I need to caution counsel not to speak about the investigative report,” said Byrd. “But do whatever you feel you need to do Commissioner Becker. But it’s against the advice of counsel.”
“Duly noted,” Becker replied. “Thank you.”
As the Council discussed the ramifications of delaying the vote on Wylam, Commissioner Alice Nolan also expressed a preference to wait in order to read the report and to actually meet with Wylam.
“I agree with Kyle. I think we should definitely push up the voting on this because I too would like to get everything in and then I would like the courtesy of being able to sit down (with Wylam) as I have everyone we have voted on. It would give me time to meet with him one-on-one as I have with everyone else.”
Wylam was named acting fire chief by City Administrator Edward Bass, and the ratifying vote is scheduled for the next City Council meeting on September 18th.
Oh, and there is another tropical disturbance in the Atlantic Ocean with the potential to escalate into a tropical storm or hurricane with projection models that include the Bahamas and Florida.