MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WWSB) - Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh will remain as chair of the county commission after an effort to remove her failed in a 3-4 party-line vote Tuesday afternoon.
District 2 Commissioner Reggie Bellamy made the motion to remove Baugh over a firestorm of criticism over her selection of two affluent areas in her district to host last week’s COVID-19 vaccine pop-up sites.
Questions about why neither of the vaccination sites were in less-wealthy areas of the county were put to Gov. Ron DeSantis during a news conference in Lakewood Ranch. DeSantis denied having anything to do with the selection of the locations. At a County Commission work session last week, Baugh took full responsibility for the decisions and asserted that DeSantis, was blameless.
At the commission meeting Tuesday, Bellamy acknowledged the turmoil the incident has caused. “There’s a level of frustration,” Bellamy said. “I’ve heard from people from Sarasota, from Hillsborough, from Pinellas ... ‘What is going on there?’” To move forward, he said, changes have to be made. “I have to make a motion for the Board of County Commissioners to ask Commissioner Baugh to resign as chair,” he said.
“If we believe this was not the right thing to do, what are we willing to do about it, as leaders and for the people that we serve?” Bellamy asked.
At-Large Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who seconded the motion, said the county has suffered damage to its reputation over the matter. “We’re an embarrassment right now,” she said. “Someone needs to take the helm here. We’ve lost our credibility.
“If (the motion) doesn’t pass, I hope the community raises heck,” she said.
Republican commissioners agreed that what Baugh did was wrong but argued it wasn’t enough to force her removal.
“This has been a waste of 30 minutes,” said At-Large Commissioner George Kruse, who contends the controversy has been blown out of proportion. “Nobody actually cares,” he said. At a recent meeting with constituents, “not one person asked me about the Lakewood Ranch vaccination program.”
District 3 Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge noted that every commissioner has received criticism over various issues. “We’re in some turmoil here. Commissioner Baugh made a terrible mistake. She compromised the fairness of the lottery system. I stated that on the record. She’s apologized; she accepted responsibility for her actions. She has to answer to her constituents, as do I and the rest of us.”
The vote on the motion failed 3-4. Commissioner Servia, Whitmore and Bellamy voted yes. The rest of the commission voted no.