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Carnesale still in the crosshairs of city administration


Separation Agreement runs counter to statements made by Nelson and Bass

By Reggie Connell/Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice

Is Apopka Fire Chief Chuck Carnesale being forced to retire?

Apopka city officials called it a social media rumor in April and dispelled it both in public, to the media, and in statements made during an April 17th City Council meeting. However, an email sent on March 22nd, 2019 from City Attorney Joseph Byrd to City Administrator Edward Bass obtained by The Apopka Voice through a public records request runs counter to those assertions:

"Edward: Attached is the draft of the separation agreement for Chief Carnesale. Thanks, Joe"

The attached Separation Agreement referenced in the email was not provided to The Apopka Voice because it was not finalized, and therefore not a part of the public record, according to Byrd.

"The 2017 Florida Supreme Court decision of Braddy v. State is controlling law as to attorney draft documents," Byrd stated in an email to The Apopka Voice. "In its holding, the Court addresses documents beyond the attorney work product exemption for litigation and held “handwritten attorney notes, draft documents and annotated copies of decisional law” do not constitute public records. Braddy v. State, 219 So.3d 803, 821 (Fla 2017). Accordingly, any document that the City Attorney drafts that reflects solely the impressions and thoughts of the attorney and is not adopted or revised by officials nor is broadly disseminated, is clearly not intended to communicate, perpetuate, or formalize knowledge and pursuant to the holding in Braddy is not a public record as defined by Section 119.011(12) F.S. nor is it subject to disclosure."

However, two sources with knowledge of the event confirm that the document was shown to Carnesale during an April meeting with Bass and the expectation was that he would sign the document and retire as Fire Chief of the Apopka Fire Department (AFD) in September of 2019.

Those sources also claimed that a whistleblower in the AFD sent an email to Nelson, Byrd, and Bass detailing alleged misconduct within the AFD. Byrd would not verify the existence of a whistleblower but did confirm an investigation.

"I will acknowledge that on April 29th, 2019, the City of Apopka administration received written allegations of misconduct in the Apopka Fire Department, some of which by law require investigation," Byrd said in an emailed response to The Apopka Voice. "The task of investigating the allegations was assigned to the City Attorney. That investigation is ongoing."

Although sources with knowledge of these events named the alleged whistleblower, it is The Apopka Voice's policy not to reveal the name unless they choose to come forward.

Byrd also denied The Apopka Voice's request to release the whistleblower's email or even acknowledge its existence. Instead, he emailed this statute:

"Pursuant to statute, any documents related to that investigation cannot be disclosed. Section 119.071(2)(k), Florida Statutes mandates that Disciplinary Complaints and all information obtained pursuant to an investigation by the City of the complaint of misconduct are confidential until the investigation has been completed and officially closed. Accordingly, any documents related to said investigation will only be released upon completion and closing of that investigation pursuant to statute. If there was a complaint sent by any person alleging misconduct (even under the whistleblower statute) it would be confidential pursuant to Section 119.971(2)(k) F.S. and not subject to disclosure, regardless of who is requesting it or what they purport to have heard. This response does not confirm that any such email exists but is sent to assist the requester to understand why the very nature of request could not be fulfilled even if such an email did exist."

Carnesale confirmed his knowledge of an investigation into the AFD but declined to comment on it, or the email from Byrd to Bass, or the meeting with Bass, or the Separation Agreement.

"I've been advised to have all questions go through the city attorney," Carnesale said.

Bass confirmed a meeting with Carnesale but said that no action was taken at the time.

"We have met but did not ask for [Carnesale's] resignation," Bass wrote in an email to The Apopka Voice. He did not respond to a follow-up question asking the nature of the meeting, however.

Bass re-affirmed his assertions today in an email response to The Apopka Voice that he met with Carnesale, but denied he did so to seek his resignation.

"Chief Carnesale and I have talked about the current operations and organization of the Apopka Fire Department on many occasions," said Bass. "I did not ask for his resignation."

Nelson was also contacted by The Apopka Voice for comment about the March 22nd email, and his previous comments about the status of Carnesale in a text message and an email at noon today, but did not respond by the time of publication.

In April, The Apopka Voice asked Mayor Bryan Nelson and Bass to confirm, deny, or clarify what was posted on social media about Carnesale's future as Apopka's fire chief.

"No, he is not being fired or asked to resign," Nelson wrote in a text message to The Apopka Voice."

"The last two weeks have been a real challenge," Nelson said in response to public comments during the April 17th City Council meeting. "But the short answer is he's not being removed nor is the police chief. I've got a former resident of Apopka who went on about me firing the police chief and the fire chief and it's not true... so I apologize... I know Linda and I have been dealing with this guy and it's really gotten kind of out of control. I know a lot of you have asked me over the weekend about this, and I had a lady this afternoon tell me that she saw all of this stuff online and she would be worried... scared for your own life. It's about him losing his wife five years ago. We've done testing... water and soil testing for him. But he just goes off on a rant... it seems like nothing helps. He's off the chain. So I don't know how to handle it. But social media, it's the new media that you have to live with. I wanted to give you a little background, but the last two weeks have been a real challenge... But the short answer is he's not being removed nor is the police chief."

In 2016, the Apopka City Council voted 5-0 to approve Carnesale as Apopka's Fire Chief, replacing Lee Bronson.

According to the City website, Carnesale joined the Apopka Fire Department’s Explorer program in 1983 at the age of 13. He graduated from Lake Brantley High School in 1989 – the same year he completed the Fire Academy/EMT school and earned a part-time job with Apopka as an emergency dispatcher/911 operator.

Carnesale earned a full-time position the next year, and by 1990 he was hired as a full-time firefighter/EMT. In 2000, he was recognized by then Gov. Jeb Bush as Apopka’s Firefighter of the Year.

He was promoted to engineer in 2001, a lieutenant in 2005, captain and EMS coordinator in 2006 and assistant fire chief in 2013. Carnesale attended Seminole State and Valencia colleges, Florida State Fire College and the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD.

For the rest of the series:

Commissioner Nolan confirms her critical remarks - July 5th

Listen to residents - July 12th

Nelson planned to replace Carnesale in 2018 - July 26th

Carnesale retires - August 28th

Wylam named Apopka Fire Chief

City Attorney releases findings - September 12th

Honesty and Transparency - October 3rd

Apopka City Administrator Edward Bass, Apopka City Attorney Joseph Byrd, Apopka Fire Chief Chuck Carnesale, Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson, City of Apopka


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