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The four interviews I didn't get...

Mayor Nelson, Commissioner Smith, City Admin Vavrek, Chief Wylam, and the questions not answered


Denise and I were recently in town for a week after a 15-month tour of America. It was an incredible trip, but it felt good to spend time in Apopka.

One of my priorities was meeting with as many elected officials and community leaders as possible. I reached out to 16 and was able to set appointments with nine. 

Among the interviews I secured were three city commissioners, two 2024 Apopka municipal election candidates, a state house representative, an Orange County Soil and Water Conservation District director, and the police chief... more on those interviews in the coming days. 

Unfortunately, there were four interviews I did not get to conduct that would have helped to resolve a number of issues facing Apopka. 

  • Commissioner Alexander Smith did not respond to a text requesting an interview.
  • Interim City Administrator Chuck Vavrek did not respond to an email requesting an interview.
  • Apopka Fire Chief Sean Wylam did not respond to an email requesting an interview.

I also texted Mayor Bryan Nelson before we arrived:

"Mayor Nelson: I'll be in Apopka October 8th-15th. Would you have a free hour for an interview any time that week?"

Much to my surprise, I received an optimistic reply:

"I have availability on Tuesday."

I followed up with three texts asking for a specific time on Tuesday but did not receive a response. 

My final text:

"I still have times left, Mayor Nelson. If we meet, I'll ask tough questions, but the story will be in your own words. Just let me know if you have availability anytime next week."

No response.

I had a lot of questions for Mayor Nelson that the community is already asking... and they shouldn't go unanswered.

Among them are:

  1. What did you learn about your city administrator candidate that caused you to withdraw a formal offer? 
  2. Why is it taking so long to find an economic development director?
  3. Why haven't you taken a stronger position in advancing the Apopka City Center beyond its standstill pace?
  4. Why haven't you created a plan for Apopka's future that goes beyond the next budget cycle?

Rather than seeking an alternative media source, attacking the questioner, or making statements unrelated to the subject, why not take each question at face value and answer honestly - with no political spin? I've interviewed you before, Mayor Nelson. From experience, you know I would give you every opportunity to answer those questions without interruption or edits. It would be in your own words.

Chief Wylam: You and I have never had an interview, but I have emailed you several times over the last few years. You have always been timely to respond and always send back more details than I ask for - unless it's a tough question. If you and I sat down for an interview, I would have asked these questions:

  1. Why did you allow the AFD Safety Commission to be spiked before it finished its work on the Austin Duran case?
  2. What did you learn from the Gannon report?
  3. Why aren't you pushing for additional firefighters and higher salaries for your department?
  4. Who ordered the sand trailer back into use after being mothballed for so many years?
  5. Wasn't there enough institutional knowledge that the sand trailer was too dangerous to be put back into service?
  6. What disciplinary actions should you take to ensure no other firefighter suffers a fatal injury needlessly?

Mr. Vavrek: You and I have never met, butThe Apopka Voice has always had a good relationship with previous city administrators dating back to 2015. I hope you and I can keep that streak going. If we had met, I would have asked you:

  1. What were the merits of sending an email, which immediately became a public document, to the commissioners blaming them for not being able to hire an economic development director or other city positions because of their conduct at City Council meetings?
  2. Can you name anyone who cited the commissioners' conduct as the primary reason they did not take the job?

Commissioner Smith: I have interviewed you several times since you took office, and I am inspired by your life story, and excited by your agenda. But now, it's time to make that agenda a reality. If you had taken an interview, I would have asked you:

  1. Why didn't you attend the meeting where the City Council censured Mayor Nelson?
  2. How would you have voted?
  3. What are you doing to get South Apopka annexed?
  4. Whatever happened to your request for a diversity, equity, and inclusion committee? Whatever happened to your request for a South Apopka annexation committee? Whatever happened to your request for a plan to help affordable/workforce housing flourish in Apopka? It's been almost two years since you made these requests... where do they stand?

Mayor Nelson, Commissioner Smith, Mr. Vavrek, and Chief Wylam, I know that old-school politics teaches you to avoid tough interviews, surround yourself with people who agree with you, and have them ask the questions you want them to ask. But let me offer an alternative plan - kind of the opposite of the one you are currently employing. Talk to anyone who will listen to you about city issues. Answer any and every question until the questioner has no more questions left. Be forthcoming and transparent. Have the confidence of your convictions that got you to the leadership roles of mayor, commissioner, city administrator, and fire chief.

I may not always agree with you on every subject, but I am always available for you to explain your side and understand. Perhaps Apopka residents are just as willing.

Apopka, Apopka City Council, Mayor Bryan Nelson, Commissioner Alexander Smith, City Admin Charles Vavrek, Chief Wylam,