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The Friday Editorial

Take the high road Mayor Nelson, accept the censure and strive to do better


They say July 4th, 2023 was the hottest day on record worldwide. But in Apopka, I happen to believe that the hottest day may have been July 5th at the Apopka City Council meeting.

It's not every day, after all, that a mayor gets censured.

Well, actually, there was a proposal to censure that was pushed off until August 2nd to give Mayor Bryan Nelson an opportunity to answer the charges.

Here are the facts as I understand them:

  • At the May 3rd City Council meeting, City Attorney Michael Rodriguez verbally resigned from that position.

"At this point, I have serious concerns about the directions this council is taking and the means of which certain things have been communicated," Rodriguez said. "I ultimately fear that I can no longer ethically represent this council. I fear this council may be on the verge of conducting ultra vires actions, and I cannot remain as its city attorney. Therefore I am tendering my resignation so I can save you some money. I will make arrangements with the Human Resources director to finalize the matters. I will save you the time. I will assist in the transition to bring in a successor Council, and I will basically tender my resignation and proceed forward pursuant to Florida State statutes."

Certainly, that does not mean Rodriguez was expected to leave the meeting, never to return, but it did confirm his intent to leave his position.

  • At the June 7th meeting, Commissioner Nick Nesta asked Nelson if Rodriguez was no longer employed by the City of Apopka. Nelson's response: 

"As of today," said Nelson. "As of 1:30... yes."

  • At the June 21st meeting, Nesta followed up and learned that Rodriguez was still acting as City Attorney; two weeks after Nelson confirmed he was not.

"On April 5th, we had a 3-2 vote to fire him," Nesta said. "On April 19th, a 4-1 vote to seek additional help to look at our charter. He resigned on May 3rd very abruptly and aggressively here, and then tendered his letter the next day. And the last meeting, I specifically asked, 'Is he no longer employed here?' And you (Nelson) said as of 1:30 [pm] that day he was no longer employed by the City of Apopka... so is he employed by us, or is he not?"

"He is," said Nelson.

  • At the July 5th meeting, Commissioner Kyle Becker proposed the censure based on the above facts.

I'm surprised Nelson didn't answer the charges immediately. If there is an explanation, it's probably short and simple. Why would it take a month to craft a detailed response?

But then, only a week later, Nelson responded when Spectrum News 13 contacted him about the censure.

“Could I have done it better? Absolutely, no doubt about it, " Nelson said. "Did I misappropriate funds? Absolutely not. We got the best bang for our buck with Michael Rodriguez."

This seems to be a new trend with politicians - ask your own questions when the ones asked don't suit your narrative. Is it effective? Absolutely. Should they do it? Absolutely not.

Nelson also told Spectrum 13 News that the censure was based on politics.

"Ever since that loss for mayor, he’s [Becker] been nothing but just trying to put a stick in the mud rather than trying to put the city forward,” said Nelson.

When asked what he wanted to say to the commissioners, he wanted to look ahead, not at the censure.

"Do you want to move the city forward, or do you want to keep doing the gotchas?" Nelson said. "If that’s what you want, I’m here. I’ll take it. I’m a big boy.".

Then, in his final quote, Nelson denies misleading the Council.

“I didn’t lie,” he said. “Yeah, probably could’ve done it better, I would agree. I would go back and adjust the day he had the blow-up with Commissioner Becker, I would just say let me give you a 20-week severance package, and you move on.”
But for some reason, you didn't do that. You kept Rodriguez on for an additional six weeks, did not tell the commissioners, then said he would be terminated on June 7th. Then you kept him on as city attorney until June 22nd without informing the commissioners once again. 
According to Merriam-Webster.com, a lie is:
"To make an untrue statement with intent to deceive. She was lying when she said she didn't break the vase. He lied about his past experience. 2. : to create a false or misleading impression."
Did Mayor Nelson lie? You would have to know his intent. Was he purposely misleading the commissioners, or did the facts just get out in front of him? Either way, the facts are the facts. 
And it's not the first time Nelson was less than honest at a City Council meeting. 
In 2019, I wrote a column entitled "Honesty and transparency go a long way in difficult situations" that encouraged Mayor Nelson to overcome his statement to the City Council that he had no intention of firing then-Apopka Fire Chief Chuck Carnesdale.
"No, he is not being fired or asked to resign," Nelson wrote in a text message to The Apopka Voice in April 2019.

Then at the April 17th, 2019, City Council meeting, Nelson said this:

"The last two weeks have been a real challenge. 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."

Shortly after those remarks, The Apopka Voice, in a public records request, found a separation agreement drafted prior to the meeting, outlining Carnesale's ouster, dated March 19, 2019.
The City Council, in 2019, did not attempt to censure Nelson for the misleading comments he made about Carnesale, but in 2023, his actions need to be held accountable, even if only in the form of a non-binding censure.
There is, however, a path you can take, Mayor Nelson, that could move the city forward and away from the "gotcha's" you think the City Commission is aiming at you.
1. Provide compelling evidence at the August 2nd meeting as to why you said what you did.
2. Admit your mistake, accept the censure, even vote in favor of it, strive to do better in the future, and treat your commissioners as more than a group of ceremonial voters.
The high road awaits Mayor Nelson. All you need to do is choose to take it.
Apopka, Apopka City Council, Censure, Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson, Opinion