Dennis New is a longtime Apopka resident who is often verbally critical of Mayor Bryan Nelson during public comments at most City Council meetings.
New was the subject of controversy this summer during the Apopka City Commission Seat #3 election between Commissioner-Elect Kyle Becker and his opponent Lynetta Johnson. Johnson posted a photo of New's backyard fence with a confederate flag the size of a license plate and alluded to New being a friend of Becker. Nelson responded to Johnson's post with a "frown face" of disapproval about New.
New continued his criticisms of Nelson after the election, but did Nelson's response escalate from frowny faces on Facebook to foreclosure of New's home for code violations in his backyard? Is this retribution for New's withering attacks during the City Council meetings, or is this standard operating procedure on code violations to move from violation to lien to foreclosure proceedings that quickly?
On local social media, New's pending foreclosure was the hottest topic on The Apopka Critic - a site with over 10,000 followers. On October 24th, Jack Martin, the administrator for The Apopka Critic, wrote the following lead-in that had over 125 comments as of 9 pm October 26th.
"CITY BEGINS HOME FORECLOSURE PROCESS AGAINST
PROMINENT LIFELONG RESIDENT;
STANDARD POLICY OR POLITICAL RETRIBUTION?
Apopkan Dennis New and his wife today received notice from the City.
According to the document, the city attorney has been given direct authorization to foreclose on Mr. and Mrs. News' property for failure to pay the $500 per day fines that began accruing on September 22nd.
The decision was made by the Code Enforcement Board to proceed against the New home on October 18th. Mr. New was not made aware of impending action, nor was this item listed on the board’s agenda for that meeting.
Mr. New was cited earlier this year for several code violations stemming from a citizen complaint over items in his privacy fenced-in back yard and began addressing them. A serious shoulder injury and subsequent major reconstructive surgery halted his efforts.
Mr. New has been a regular speaker at council meetings for several months, where he advocates on a number of issues, including firefighter safety, neighborhood flooding, abuses of administrative power, and the city's failure to maintain many of its own properties to the same code standards they hold property owners to, among others. So is this action normal procedure, or is it an attempt to silence and punish Mr. New?
In addition to coping with his own current physical limitations, Mr. New provides 24-hour daycare to his wife, who is confined to her bed or motorized wheelchair."
The responses on the Critic page were almost unanimous in support of New not being evicted.
Robin Faro posted her support to New.
"This is utterly ridiculous!" Faro said. "How can we help? I'd like to help with legal fees or organize a fundraiser if possible."
Ed Gufler agreed with Faro and wanted to organize a support system for New.
"People should rally behind Dennis New. He has the courage to speak out about what is wrong with Apopka and doing this all alone. We need to show him Apopka is behind him."
"Disgusting," said Apopka resident Terri Morrell. "This city action has the stink of retaliation written all over it. If anyone thought Apopka had risen above its good ol' boy insider reputation, then think again. This is proof positive that it is still here and going strong."
Will Dull, another Apopka resident, said he has also dealt with local code enforcement.
"Code Enforcement came by my place a few weeks ago to inform me that my fence (that came with the house I bought ten years ago) wasn’t installed to code and needs to be taken down," he said. "Mind you, my wife and I had no idea. We didn’t install the fence. We figured it was fine because we got a home inspection, but apparently, we were wrong.
The fence has survived many hurricanes, but because of some code that claims it’s a hazard, it needs to be torn down with three weeks' notice. Insane. Not to diminish this family’s problem, but people were asking about others dealing with code enforcement."
New agreed with Dull.
"You are right," New said. "Code enforcement is out of control. Heck, the City does not even maintain its property to code and refuses to fix many buildings with issues worse than that of the taxpayers.
Twila Fowler-Houseman called for the community to gather at the next City Council meeting to express its concern.
"We should gather as many folks as possible and go to city hall all together at the next ‘meeting’ they have," she said. "Demand they reverse this ridiculous scam they perpetrated on this man!"
Apopka resident Donna McMillen says she sees code violations all over the community... especially after the hurricane. After looking at New's property, she doesn't see why there is such a strong reaction from the City.
"He does not live in an HOA. His front yard is clear and completely clean of any debris," she said. "His home looks very nice from the outside. I could complain about all the debris (tree limbs) from my elderly neighbors left from Hurricane Ian, and yet I don’t. Nelson really should bark up another tree. Foreclosure is a strong, strong word."
Longtime Apopka resident Francina Boykin also believes foreclosure is a rush to resolution in the case of code violations.
"Foreclosing on a person’s property should be the last resort for code violations and fines," she said. "Even Orange County wave fines or reduces them or takes into consideration hardships of individuals who struggle with bringing their property up to code. There is something missing here."
Dianne Tomarelli-Faircloth believes all of this hinges on New's scathing remarks about Nelson at City Council meetings.
"Unbelievable," she said. "This is absolutely retaliation for speaking out at City Council meetings."
New was appreciative of all the comments and words of support in the thread about his plight.
"I would like to thank everyone for the thoughts and concern," New said. "My yard has been cleaned up. They say I did not call, and I did. The officer came out. This fight is not over. However, it might be expensive. I ask and encourage you all to come to a council meeting, speak out stand up not for me but for our city. Email all the council members and let them know your thoughts. Seems Nelson has forgotten he was elected to represent the citizens, not rule them. It's not a kingdom."
Editor's Note: This is a developing story and will be updated as more details are learned by The Apopka Voice.