Baugh to remain Manatee County Commission chairperson, but deputies now investigating vaccine site

Protesters voiced their concerns outside the Manatee County Commission building Tuesday over commissioner Vanessa Baugh's actions in setting up an exclusive, pop-up COVID-19 vaccination site in Lakewood Ranch.

"We aren't being partisan. We just want fairness and to follow the rules," said Ruth Lawler, a 50 year resident of Manatee County.

She was one of many upset and calling for Baugh's resignation. Records show Baugh selected residents from two ZIP codes for the state-run vaccination site offered by Governor Ron DeSantis.

PREVIOUS: Vaccine clinic in 'whitest and richest' Lakewood Ranch sets off fury in Manatee County

"No one can make a mistake or a decision that has impacted so many and reach the level and magnitude that this has and we do not address it," said Commissioner Reggie Bellamy, who wasn't alone as he discussed Chairperson Vanessa Baugh's actions.

"This is a right and wrong issue," he said.

Commissioner Bellamy made a motion to have Baugh resign as chair, but remain on the board. 

"This is not targeting Vanessa Baugh. This is supporting our constitutes and making sure that as public servants we stand for what’s right," said Commissioner Bellamy.

Commissioners Servia and Whitmore agreed.

"We are an embarrassment right now. Let’s get back on track," said Commissioner Whitmore.

MORE: Crist pushes US Attorney General to investigate DeSantis, vaccine clinics

Some support for Baugh was felt among commissioners.

"She's apologized. She’s accepted responsibility for her actions. She has to answer to her constitutes as do I and the rest of us," said Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge.

Ultimately, 4 out of 7 commissioners voted against removing Baugh as chair, including commissioner George Kruse.

"We keep finding ways to distract ourselves to the detriment of Manatee County. It needs to stop, collectively," said Kruse.

After less than four months of having three new commissioners on the board, commissioners agreed they need to work together instead of against one another.

"We've got a responsibility to the people of Manatee County. We all need to put our egos in check. We are seven people," said Commissioner Kruse.

Manatee County Commission Chairperson Vanessa Baugh with Governor Ron DeSantis

Sarasota-based paralegal Michael Barfield filed a complaint with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, asking for an investigation into the Lakewood Ranch COVID-19 vaccination site.

The complaint alleges Baugh broke state laws. The sheriff's office says they've assigned detectives to look into the allegations.

The complaint includes an e-mail from Baugh to Director of Public Safety Jacob Saur with the subject "Names for list" in which she added a number of people to the list to receive extra doses of vaccines at the pop-up site. That list included Lakewood Ranch developer Rex Jensen.

Barfield wrote in the complaint, "By including herself and individuals on a COVID-19 vaccine distribution list, Baugh acted contrary to the adopted Vaccine Standby Pool."

The complaint alleges that Baugh violated at least one of three state statutes - Misuse of Public Position, Official Misconduct, and Misuse of Confidential Information.

The complaint includes an email sent by a citizen to the commission last Tuesday.

It read, "My husband is a year overdue in having a heart valve replaced for the second time and I have asthma and type II diabetes yet we live in zip code 34203 - wrong side of I-75 - too bad for us!"

Congressman Charlie Crist is also calling for the acting U.S Attorney General to investigate Governor Ron DeSantis and his pop-up vaccination locations similar to the one in Lakewood Ranch. DeSantis has maintained he's sending vaccines to where seniors are located and where vaccination rates are low.

This story has been updated to reflect that Michael Barfield filed the complaint as a private citizen and watchdog, separate from his role as the president of the ACLU of Florida.