Hello Apopka. This is Reggie Connell, Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice. To be clear, I am the author of this article.
A story I published last week, "The City of Apopka vs. Dennis New," took an interesting turn this week. I thought it was important to update it, as did Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson.
I asked Nelson to comment on the article last week. Instead, he released the following statement at the November 2nd Apopka City Council meeting:
"I do want to put out some information... there was some misinformation that's been put out on the property at 105 West Magnolia, so I want everybody to kind of have the timeline and the facts, so I'm going to give that out, and as well I'm going to give it to the media for their perusement."
Rather than read his response into the record during the Mayor's Report, Nelson handed out and emailed a "Timeline of code enforcement case (22-00017) regarding 105 W Magnolia".
Here is the timeline/statement from Nelson - unedited at his request. After Nelson's statement, there is a response from The Apopka Voice about his critique of the article:
"The following is a timeline of code enforcement case(22-00017) regarding 105 W Magnolia
Jan 13, 2022- complaint received. Fence was open and violations plainly visible from street. Body cam video for Lt. Brick and Code Enforcement Officer Whitty available. Mr. New cooperative, photos taken and Mr. New give 60 Days to comply.
Jan 19- Mr. New first City Council appearance( since that date almost every Council meeting) March 19- Reinspection attempt. Gate closed but property did not appear to be in compliance April 12- Reinspection attempt. Gate closed but property did not appear to be in compliance
May 17- Reinspection attempt. Mr. New has not called for a re-inspection. Additional photos taken from Magnolia St. Notice of violation mailed.
June 2- Reinspection attempt. Debris remained behind fence visible through the gaps in the fence
June 8- Notice of Hearing was posted at City Hall and on the property. Notice of Hearing was mailed via certified mail(available upon request).
June 16- Reinspection attempt. No contact from Mr. New.
June 21- Case was heard. Mr. New was present. Case was found to be in violation. 60 days to comply.
August 24- Contact with Mr. New via phone. He stated that cleanup would be completed by the weekend. Appointment to reinspect on August 29th. Mr. New stated he was having shoulder surgery on Tuesday August 30th
September 6- Officer Whitty reinspection with Mr. New present. Significant progress was made but still not in compliance.
September 20- No contact with Mr. New and fines begin to run at $500/day October 31- Jesse Daniels gives Mr. New $500 to pay the outstanding code enforcement lien.
Apopka Critic- “Apopkan Dennis New today received notice from the city of Apopka that they have initiated foreclosure process against he and his wife”.
FALSE- they received an “Order imposing Fine/Lien”. Paragraph 5 states in part “The City Attorney is herby authorized to foreclose on the lien arising out of this Order Imposing
Fine/Lien(“Final Order”) in accordance with and subject to the requirements of Section 162.09(3). Florida Statues. The City cannot foreclose on any homesteaded property…period!!!
Apopka Critic- “Mr. New was not made aware of the impending action, nor was this item listed on the board’s agenda for the meeting.”
Misleading- Florida statues do not require a hearing before issuing a “Final Order”."
Misleading- Mr. New did not start showing up to Council meetings until after he was notified of the code enforcement violations on his property. This appears to make it look as if the city was retaliating against Mr. New when in fact Mr. New was retaliated against the Mayor and the City.
Code Enforcement Department
The department has had two officers for years and in June we added a third officer to help keep our CRA area of the city clean. They have handled 776 case in the last 12 months and were able to settle fines collecting over $500,000. Do to State Legislation last year, anyone who files a complaint must give their name for the record. No anonymous complaints are allowed. What our Code Enforcement did not charge Mr. New with includes the following; two unpermitted structures, structures that didn’t meet setback requirements and a screen room without a roof."
There are several parts to Nelson's timeline/response letter that The Apopka Voice takes exception to:
1. The difference between Social Media and an Online News Site
The Apopka Voice is not a social media page. We are a local independent online news site with an average of 50,000 unique visits per month. We do have a Facebook page and often post articles on social media (as does Mayor Nelson and the City of Apopka), but the articles we publish originate from our news site and are scrutinized and edited as journalistic pieces and not simply a post on Facebook.
2. The meaning of "From Staff Reports"
Using the title "From Staff Reports" doesn't mean the article is unsourced. It means that the story is coming from multiple sources and not written/reported on by one specific writer. Most of the article was republished from a post on The Apopka Critic Facebook page, as was stated. There was no attempt to hide the author's identity. I just didn't write enough of it to take credit (byline). This is standard journalism practice, understood and used by news sites and newspapers across the country.
3. Dennis New's attendance at City Council
Nelson makes the assertion that "Mr. New did not start showing up to Council meetings until after he was notified of the code enforcement violations on his property.."
Nelson goes on...
"This appears to make it look as if the city was retaliating against Mr. New when in fact, Mr. New was retaliating against the Mayor and the City."
It's difficult to get into the minds of Nelson or New to fully understand who (if either) was retaliating against the other. It is, however, factually incorrect to state that New did not attend meetings until after he was notified of code enforcement violations.
New recalls a specific issue he was present for and spoke on well before 2022.
"Yes [I attended meetings] on many occasions before 2022," New told The Apopka Voice. "When there has been an issue, I went. I was the push behind all the four-way stop signs a couple of years ago. It was 2022 when I started speaking at every meeting because of the severe issues in our city."
4. "An Apopka Voice Reporter (who worked on my opponent's campaign)" vs. a Marketing Director with no editorial responsibilities
Mayor Nelson, let me introduce you to Megan Garcia. She is the Marketing Director of The Apopka Voice - not a reporter. Megan did not assist me in writing the article in any form. If she did, her name would appear in the story as a contributing reporter or quoted as we did with several Apopka residents in the article.
Megan is the owner of Create Bridge Media and worked on Commissioner Kyle Becker's campaign (your opponent, as you phrased it) both as a paid consultant and volunteer. She is also a consultant and volunteer for local non-profits Loaves and Fishes and Re-Imagine Communities and is engaged in many other contributing capacities in Apopka on her own time and dime. Megan wears many hats, but one she does not wear is as a reporter forThe Apopka Voice. As marketing director, Megan holds no editorial responsibilities.
Without reservation, I can state I have NEVER written a critical word about anyone or any institution without significant hesitation beforehand and without first allowing that person, department, or business to tell their side of the story. If this had been an article reporting on what the City or New had or had not done, I would have reached out to both parties. However, The "City of Apopka vs. Dennis New" was an article reporting on residents' unusually high number of comments and reactions to a social media post. This was not an editorial nor an investigative story. It was essentially a re-publishing of the comments made in the Apopka Critic post. The Apopka Voice offered Nelson the opportunity to respond to the October 26th article, but he chose to wait until the November 2nd meeting.