Public comments at the Apopka City Council meetings have typically been one-sided events, with the speaker making their statement and the mayor saying “thank you” as they leave the microphone a couple of minutes later. Occasionally there is an interaction between the speaker and the Council but rarely is there debate, disagreement or any sort of controversy.

But at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting, that trend changed amidst the tension that has engaged Apopka for the past several months.

Apopka City Commissioner Alice Nolan

Mariah McCullough, a vocal critic of this administration on many social media sites, was the second speaker during public comments. McCullough, a lifetime resident of Apopka and the city’s former recreation director, took exception to the events relating to the investigation of the Apopka Fire Department and to the events related to its former Chief Chuck Carnesale.

She read from a prepared 529-word statement which was critical of the administration, City Attorney Joseph Byrd, and Commissioner Alice Nolan.

 “Good evening, Mayor and Commissioners. I come before you tonight to express my concerns regarding the handling of the Fire Department investigation, the admonishments of Commissioner Becker during the last Council meeting, and commissioner involvement in Fire Department operations.

It became clear while reviewing the Apopka Fire Department investigation documents, that the City Attorney continuously asked leading questions of witnesses during interviews; appeared to give testimony with his own questions; left assertions made by witnesses unchecked, essentially accepting all accusations as true; and failed to follow up with or interview involved parties explicitly named by witnesses. The city attorney revealed a clear bias in the execution of his “investigation” towards the outcome the administration was seeking. 

This was further made clear during last week’s Council meeting when Commissioner Becker questioned the investigation and was shut down and publicly admonished by the city attorney for referencing the investigation findings.

Commissioner Becker was elected by Apopka residents, including myself, to speak and make decisions on our behalf. It is offensive and reprehensible for the city attorney to publicly admonish and interrupt Commissioner Becker because he referenced a PUBLIC document that was relevant and critical to the decision he was being asked to make. 

According to the section of the Government in the Sunshine manual referencing Attorney Notes and the caselaw noted therein, “documents prepared to communicate, perpetuate or formalize knowledge constitute public records and are therefore subject to disclosure in the absence of statutory exemption.” Once the city attorney provided a copy of the report to the Commissioners—if not sooner—it became public record and therefore wholly appropriate for Commissioner Becker to reference.

It’s suspicious and does not look good that the report was provided to the council just prior to the meeting where they were being asked to ratify the Mayor’s recommendation for Chief, especially considering all allegations were either inconclusive or unfounded. 

I appreciate Commissioner Becker’s initiative and wherewithal to request for a delay in the vote and I encourage all commissioners to exercise the same good judgment and initiative if necessary, in the future. 

It has been publicly reported, well-documented, admitted, and confirmed that a sitting commissioner gave orders to and dictated the removal of Chief Carnesale. This is in direct violation of Section 2.06 of the City Charter. 

The citizens of Apopka are owed an explanation as to why this commissioner felt it was appropriate or legal to become involved in the operations of the fire department; what specific competencies, certifications, education or experience this Commissioner possesses to qualify them to assess and dictate the operations and leadership appointments of an ISO-1 Fire Department; and who, specifically, was this commissioner collaborating with on a staff-level or otherwise, referenced in communications as “we” and “us.” 

Clearly, this commissioner did not seek out on a rogue mission to transform fire department leadership. 

Finally, Section 2.04(d) of the City charter entrusts enforcement of the provisions of the Charter to the Mayor. Mr. Mayor, until you act, the citizens of Apopka are left to wonder why nothing is being done. The longer it takes you to act, the longer the public will be left to draw its own conclusions.

Thank you.”

McCullough turned to walk back to her seat when Nolan chose to respond.

 “I’m very vocal,” Nolan said. “I did say, to who I was supposed to report to, how I felt about things. I say how I feel about a lot of things. Some things are ‘that’s not the direction we are going’ and other things are ‘we’re looking into that’, but yes I was very vocal. I did not do any direction. I did not violate any laws. I do not go to the mayor’s office and say ‘you have to hire this person’. I did not go to the fire chief and tell him he had to be fired. I did not do any of that. I expressed my opinion. I expressed my opinion to citizens who directly asked me, and I’m not going to lie… so yes I did.”
Nolan was referring to an incident in which she made candid remarks about Carnesale, and Nelson while using facebook messenger to communicate privately among friends. The comments were later released during a public records request.
By the time Nolan finished, McCullough had returned to the microphone and responded directly to Nolan.
 “From your own words and communication that’s been documented…it is available from the public record… you did state that you gave direction to Chief Carnesale, therefore you did violate the charter. In your own words you said that. So now you’re saying you’re not, but in your own words you did, so excuse me if I don’t believe what you’re telling me right now.”
 “That’s fair. That’s fair,” said Nolan. “I just wanted to let you know how it went and how things can come out.”
 “Well, you can understand how it sounds,” said McCullough. If you have communication… going back and talking about ‘we were wanting him out’, you’re having communication saying ‘we’ and ‘us’ gave him this opportunity… ‘we’ and ‘us’ had these conversations with people in the fire department. You can see how this looks. It puts a bad view on the whole matter. And I know we’re going to ratify someone today (for fire chief) and I have nothing whatsoever against this individual, but it’s this entire process that was followed that I have an issue with.”
“And I appreciate you,” said Nolan. “It takes a lot of courage to come up here, and I want to say thank you, and I do appreciate that.”

3 COMMENTS

  1. Another thing that is aggravating to me is now that the film reel icon is posted on the last council meeting of the city, meaning that the audio of the meeting has been posted, I can’t get it. I do not know why either. I tried our two cell phones, and my laptop. All show the film reel icon meaning the audio has been posted, yet where the frame of the city hall photo is normally, with the arrow to start the audio, the photo is blank within. I do not get it. I am getting all other photos and videos on this browser. Does the city not want the citizens to hear this audio, or is it something I do not understand as to the computer? Is anyone else getting this audio of the last council meeting, the one where the new fire chief was ratified?????? I really would like to know…….

  2. I am glad Ms. M. M. got to have her say-so about how see felt regarding the fire dept. investigation, speaking before the council, and at the public podium. Glad she was given the opportunity to speak her mind, and hey, she wasn’t given the gavel by Mayor Nelson either… like I was, by our last mayor, Mr. K……….LOL Ha Ha Ha!

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here