Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh says she 'probably' will resign by end of 2022
Baugh she is tired of 'hatred' she feels from some of her fellow commissioners
Story updated Jan. 9, 2022, to include reporting on Baugh saying she is considering running for a seat in the Florida House of Representatives.
Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who is facing state ethics charges related to vaccinegate, said Thursday she may resign by the end of the year.
If she does quit, Baugh said it would be, in part, because of the “hatred” she feels from her “enemies” on the commission. Two commissioners, Misty Servia and Carol Whitmore, on Thursday harshly criticized Baugh for her ethics troubles as the commission debated on whether Baugh should be allowed to keep representing the county on a regional transportation planning board.
“Probably by the end of this year, I will be resigning, because I’ve had all of this board that I want, ” Baugh said during a commission meeting Thursday. “I have bigger and better things to think about.”
If she does quit the commission, Baugh later said it won’t be because of questions about her ethics. The Observer reported Friday is considering a run for a seat in the Florida House, depending on how new legislative districts are drawn.
(Fast forward to the -50:20 second mark to watch the commission’s discussion about Baugh)
Baugh in November 2020 was elected to a third term representing Lakewood Ranch and other parts of East Manatee, and last year served a turbulent term as chair of the commission. Her current term expires in November 2024.
In 2018, Baugh started a bid for a seat in the Florida House but soon after dropped out, citing family reasons. The seat is now held by state Rep. Tommy Gregory, R-Sarasota.
The pending ethics case against Baugh, which is related to how she helped organize a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Lakewood Ranch last year, came up Thursday after Commissioner George Kruse implored commission Chairman Kevin Van Ostenbridge to reverse his earlier decision to remove Baugh from the board of directors for the Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Kruse and County Attorney William Clague noted that state law requires the full commission, not just the chair, to decide who will represent the county on the MPO, which sets transportation priorities for Manatee and Sarasota counties.
Kruse said that regardless of what he and other commissioners think of Baugh, it’s in the county’s best interest that she stay on the MPO board, which Baugh is set to chair during 2022.
However, Servia and Whitmore, who frequently clashed with Baugh when Baugh was the commission’s chair last year, said they did not want her on the MPO board because of the pending ethics case.
The Florida Commission on Ethics last month found probable cause to believe Baugh misused her office when she helped organize a vaccine clinic exclusively for residents of her commission district, counter to county policy at the time, and for putting her name and those of four others on a “VIP list” of people Baugh wanted to make sure got shots.
The probable cause is comparable to an indictment in a criminal proceeding, but as Baugh noted Thursday, “I haven’t been found guilty of anything.”
The next step is for an administrative law judge to hold a hearing. If Baugh is found to have broken state ethics laws, she could face a variety of sanctions, including removal from office by the governor. She could also reach a settlement with the ethics commission.
Baugh was near tears as she defended herself and lashed out at her critics on Thursday.
However, Servia said, she has no one to blame but herself.
“No one hates you. You’re not the victim,” Servia said. “You are in a place where you exactly placed yourself.”
“This is not hatred,” Servia continue, “These are just facts.”
Servia, who also is on the MPO board, said the county would not suffer if Baugh were removed from her position.
“The attention you brought with the ethics probable cause … is not the light we want shined on Manatee County.”
Van Ostenbridge did not explain why he wanted Baugh off the MPO board, while Commissioner James Satcher indicated he favored letting Baugh keep her position.
In the end, the commission was unable to vote on whether to remove Baugh from the MPO board because Commissioner Reggie Bellamy had left the meeting, leaving the commission without the required quorum.
Earlier, Bellamy had lamented that it appeared he would be the swing vote needed to break a 3-3 tie on whether Baugh would stay on the MPO board. That, he said, put him in a position that would help neither him nor his constituents.