SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - The chair of the Manatee County Democratic Party has called for the resignation of County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, after complaints surfaced about Baugh placing a COVID pop-up vaccine distribution site in the affluent community of Lakewood Ranch.
In an open letter posted on the party’s website, Tracy Pratt accuses Baugh, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Rex Jenson, the CEO of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, of circumventing the county’s random vaccine selection process and placing the vaccination pop-up site in Lakewood Ranch, “for their own political, personal and business benefit.”
“Manatee County Democrats believe that the COVID-19 vaccine should be equitably distributed as was intended by the Manatee County Commission,” the letter states. “We stand in opposition to Manatee County Commission Chair Vanessa Baugh, who acted outside the authority of the County Commission in collaboration with Governor DeSantis and Rex Jenson, president and CEO of Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, to schedule a VIP pop up vaccination location restricted to people living in two specific Manatee County zip codes. This special treatment of limited Manatee residents included Commissioner Baugh herself.”
Questions about the location of the Feb. 17 pop-up clinic arose that day during a DeSantis news conference at the site. One reporter asked the governor why wealthy neighborhoods like Lakewood Ranch were being given preference for vaccine distribution. DeSantis challenged that assertion, saying that vaccines weren’t decided by ZIP codes, rather they were targeted in areas of higher numbers of infected persons.
During a Manatee County Commission work session the next day, Baugh apologized, taking responsibility for the controversy and defending DeSantis. “I feel like I put him in jeopardy because of Lakewood Ranch,” she said.
Baugh, the county commission chair, represents District 5, which includes the more affluent areas of the county including Lakewood Ranch.
“In the best interest of the residents of our county, The Manatee County Democratic Party seeks the resignation of Commissioner Baugh, effective immediately,” Pratt wrote.
The full text of the letter can be read on the Manatee County Democratic party’s website.