The longest burning fire in Apopka is smoldering again.
Apopka City Commissioner Alice Nolan spoke candidly both on and off the record about the fire department, its chief Chuck Carnesale, and even about Mayor Bryan Nelson in a series of private social media messenger posts between her and Apopka residents. She also talked to The Apopka Voice after the messages were originally sent, and then posted on social media.
In her limited interview with The Apopka Voice, Nolan chose not to comment on questions asked of her but did confirm that the messages were sent by her to Apopka residents on the threads. Some of them were posted on a local social media page after Nolan provided them to the City Clerk through a public records request. The Apopka Voice confirmed the messages through a separate public records request and discovered additional messages not posted on social media.
And although Nolan believed the messages were private and among her friends, she still complied with the request. In those posts, Nolan is critical of the job performance of Apopka Fire Department Chief Chuck Carnesale and is in support of replacing him. She cites the condition and morale of the AFD as reasons for her opinion, as well as overspending.
“I’m telling you what I witnessed,” Nolan writes. “What I have seen is not secondhand. Let me take you on a tour of the fire departments. They are miserable. I made the suggestion to get rid of him after I did my first tour with him and my first budget meeting with him. Everyone else wanted to give him a chance.” Nolan would not comment on whom she was referring to that ‘wanted to give him (Carnesale) a chance’ or who she made the suggestion to. But in her messages, she did rule out that it was because former Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer hired him.
“It has nothing to do with him being a part of the last administration. We kept mostly everyone from the last administration. Unless you did something wrong we kept you. We gave everyone a chance. Not exactly what I personally would have done, but that’s what Bryan (Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson) wanted.”
Nelson responded to a text message from The Apopka Voice and denied ever speaking to Nolan about Chief Carnesale in private, and did not recall her making these assertions during a city council meeting, workshop, or in any official City Council capacity.
Nolan also wrote in the messages that she believed Carnesale was not performing his duties as fire chief to the standard she believes he should. She did deny, however, that he was being forced into retirement.
“(He’s) not being forced out. He isn’t doing his job. If I wasn’t doing my job, I would be fired.”
Fellow Apopka City Commissioners Doug Bankson, Kyle Becker, and Alexander H. Smith were also contacted by The Apopka Voice and all three denied ever meeting privately with Nolan about these issues, or recall her stating those positions during any City Council function.
Bankson is hopeful Nelson and Carnesale can iron out any issues that may exist, and expressed support for Carnesale.
“Though I have no personal knowledge of any allegations, I reiterate my support of Chief Carnasale who has a heart of gold and truly loves this city and department,” said Bankson. “I trust what the mayor has said regarding the matter and that they will work together to bring the best resolve to any issues the AFD is facing.”
Becker also expressed support for Carnesale, and frustration at the ongoing drama.
“I am very concerned with all of the rumors swirling around the past several months regarding Chief Carnesale, and I made my support clear at our City Council meeting a few weeks ago at which the administration said there was no intention of relieving Chief of his duties. This is a man who has dedicated his entire life to this city through his EMT and Fire service, starting as a Fire Explorer and rising to the rank of Chief in a manner that has rightfully garnered the respect of those he works with, and the residents with which he is sworn to keep safe. Our Fire Department is a shining light in our city and highly respected, with much of that due to Chief Carnesale’s thoughtful and personable leadership. We have seen the opening of Station 5 to serve the growing north side of our city, partnerships with Advent Health to bring a Station 6 for our south side service area, upgrades to equipment to serve vertical developments coming to Apopka, presence at community events, fire camps and youth events, and countless other improvements for which the Chief has advocated. As a Commissioner, I do not have a direct say in personnel decisions other than to ratify new appointments, but I hope Chief Carnesale’s tenure as the leader of our Fire Department lasts as long as his passion to serve our city of Apopka.”
But despite the City Council’s support, Nolan is adamant in her criticism of Carnesale.
In a separate thread of messages, Nolan seems to confirm a meeting between the administration and Carnesale that was reported on earlier, and confirmed by an email sent to City Administrator Edward Bass from City Attorney Joseph Byrd about a separation agreement that called for Carnesale to retire in September. She also seems to suggest the plan began up to a year ago.
“Either retire or get fired. That seems like getting forced out,” was a response to Nolan in the thread, in which she replied:
“…Or do your job. He chose not to do his job. We gave him a chance. We just offered this to him. He has a full year to figure things out. I made a suggestion a year ago. I don’t think they just now decided to go through with it.”
On a separate thread, Nolan again seemed to anticipate Carnesale’s retirement.
“All the things on Chuck you didn’t hear from me. I’m trusting you guys on this, please. Like it’s fine once Chuck announces.”
Nolan chose not to comment about the meaning of ‘We just offered this to him. He has a full year to figure things out’ or her knowledge of a pending Carnesale retirement, or the meeting she referred to between the administration and Carnesale.
In other messages written by Nolan, she is more specific about her frustrations with Carnesale’s job performance, but also states that she likes him as a person.
“Hell, I would vacation with the dude. He just isn’t doing his job. He had the chance to change. We told him to bring up the morale. Move your people that make sense and stick to your budget and stop blowing money. Literally not hard to follow. Talk to the three old men who work at a fire station that has the second highest calls. While you put seven at a brand new fire station who have half the calls. Talk to the four people who can’t respond to two calls at once even though they have the number one amount of calls. That’s why we have other stations.”
In another thread of messages, Nolan seems to be open to having a dialogue with Carnesale, although a great deal of criticism is still unresolved.
“(I could) have a one-on-one with him… have him walk with me to where I have concerns… see if I can work something out. I’ve said this before but not since the administration talked to him. I can’t go through with something without really making sure he understands why I am making the decision I am and see if he changes my mind. But I’m telling you guys the morale sucks. I even helped him out and spent my discretionary funds on it (the AFD). Discretionary funds to help boost morale for him. In a lot of areas, he does play favoritism. But I’m willing to talk to him again and bring this to his attention and really have a more heart to heart instead of ‘this is what I see’. I have personally asked him to pull up morale in areas and that the overspending needs to stop. I go back to all the stations and check-in unannounced periodically. Nothing has changed. The money situation hasn’t changed because I see those. I have had firefighters leave. I love Carnesale as a person. He is jolly. He is great with the kids. Honestly, I have mentioned he still be the face of the fire department on the public side. But as a chief, he isn’t doing the job.”
Nolan chose not to comment on the content of those messages or her knowledge of the administration “talking to Carnesale”. On another thread the day after the April 17th City Council meeting in which Nelson announced that “…the last two weeks have been a real challenge, but the short answer is he’s (Carnesale) not being removed.”
“I know for a fact that after yesterday they aren’t getting rid of him, Nolan said.”
She also noted what she believed was the reason for what she described as a small turnout in support of Carnesale at the meeting.
“Kind of telling that when the police have issues there is only standing room (at the City Council meeting) but when the fire chief who supposedly has 100% support the room wasn’t that packed. I would think if a boss I loved so deeply was on the chopping block I would be there.”
In another thread, Nolan is critical of Nelson, although no specific reasons are given.
“Yeah, for reelection, don’t vote him (Nelson) back in,” Nolan wrote. “I think I was the only stupid one on that one. LOL.”
Nolan chose not to elaborate on her comments about Nelson to The Apopka Voice.
The Apopka Voice also contacted Carnesale for a response to Nolan’s remarks. He did not directly reply to her but maintained his responsibility as fire chief to the community and to the AFD.
“I appreciate the continued support from the public and I stand committed to the residents and firefighters of this city.”
Editor’s Note: A previous edition of this article included a quote from Commissioner Nolan that she believed was off the record. The Apopka Voice removed it from the article.