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Manatee commissioners vote 4-3 against asking Chair Vanessa Baugh to resign over vaccine controversy

County leaders say it's now time to move forward.
Credit: Manatee County

Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh will hold onto her county leadership position, despite a motion Tuesday that tried to oust her.

Commissioners voted 4-3 against a motion asking her to resign.

Baugh made national headlines after she told her colleagues during a workshop earlier this month that she chose to make available 3,000 coronavirus vaccine appointments to those who live in ZIP codes 34202 and 34211 in and around Lakewood Ranch instead of randomly through the county's vaccine lottery system. 

Emails first reported on by The Bradenton Herald and later obtained by 10 Tampa Bay show Baugh asked for herself and four others to be able to get vaccinated there. She later apologized "to all the residents who I have disappointed in any action that I’ve taken according to some news outlets." 

Baugh has already admitted responsibility for sending the message, clarifying she herself did not receive a vaccine. But she double-downed on the decision to bring the site to Lakewood Ranch without the knowledge of other county commissioners, according to the Herald-Tribune.

On Tuesday, fellow Commissioner Reggie Bellamy, the third vice chair who represents District 2, made the motion to remove Chair Vanessa Baugh. It was seconded by Commissioner At Large Carol Whitmore.

"No one can make a mistake or make a decision that has impacted so many and reached the level of magnitude that this has, and we do not address it," said Bellamy.

First Vice Chair George Kruse opposed the motion, which would have elevated him to the chair position. Kruse said he would not cast a vote to remove Baugh, largely because he felt there were more pressing issues for the people of Manatee County than the headlines surrounding Baugh's conduct as it relates to vaccine distribution. Following the vote, he said the situation was unfortunate, but he made clear it was time to move forward.

Ahead of the split decision, Commissioner Misty Servia had argued the people of Manatee County had lost faith in Baugh.

"We need a chair that’s going to provide a strong base of moving forward. And I just don’t think today that Commissioner Baugh is the one," said Servia.

Manatee County Democratic Party Chair Tracy Pratt published a letter Monday in the Bradenton Herald, calling for Baugh's immediate resignation. But, Baugh, a Republican, later confirmed she fully intended to remain in her seat.

"I have apologized to my constituents and my colleagues for a lapse in judgment," Baugh wrote in a statement to our news partners at WWSB. "These petty partisan political calls are nothing more than the divisive politics our Nation needs to steer away from..."

The vaccine site in Lakewood Ranch was criticized for its placement in an affluent, predominately white neighborhood. U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, a Democrat, this weekend called upon the Department of Justice to investigate Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and whether the state's vaccine sites are being set up to "benefit political allies and donors."

Crist in his letter stated Lakewood Ranch's parent company is owned "by one of the largest Republican donors in the country, including contributing over $900,000" to DeSantis.

Baugh, during the workshop earlier this month, said she assisted DeSantis and Rex Jensen, the president and CEO of Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, in setting up the site.

Data shows the coronavirus has disproportionally affected racial and ethnic minority populations across Florida. According to the latest report by the Department of Health, more than 1.7 million white people in Florida have been vaccinated. That compares to just more than 920,000 people who make up several demographic backgrounds.

The data is comprised of people who have received just their first shot and those who are considered "series complete" in receiving two doses.

"She’s apologized. She’s accepted responsibility for her actions," said Commissioner Kevin Von Ostenbridge. "She has the answer to her constituents."

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