Baugh faces new ethics complaint over vaccine pop-up site controversy

Baugh faces new ethics complaint over vaccine pop-up site controversy
Commissioner Vanessa Baugh. (Source: WWSB)

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WWSB) - Manatee County Commission Chair Vanessa Baugh is facing an ethics complaint over her handling of site selection for a state-run COVID-19 pop-up vaccination clinic.

Ellenton attorney Jennifer Hamey filed the complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics, alleging Baugh of misusing her public position “by ignoring the county’s lottery system for the COVID-19 vaccine distribution and instead unilaterally picking two ZIP codes in her district to receive 3,000 additional vaccines,” the complaint said.

“Further, she knowingly and willfully put her needs before those of her residents of her county by creating a VIP list that she was on, as well as two people on that list that didn’t even live in the ZIP codes she chose to receive the vaccines,” Hamey wrote.

The ethics complaint is the latest in a series of reactions to the controversy. Michael Barfield, a paralegal, has filed a complaint with the Manatee County Sheriff’s office alleging an abuse of the commissioner’s position. The chair of the Manatee County Democratic Party, as well as Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, have called for Baugh’s resignation. Baugh survived a 4-3 vote by the county commission to remove her as chair Feb. 23.

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.

Hamey’s ethics complaints include copies of emails by Baugh sent to Manatee County Emergency Director Jacob Saur that included a list of people to be included in a vaccination pool. The list included Baugh and Rex Jenson, president and CEO of Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch. Baugh represents District 5, which includes the more affluent areas of the county including Lakewood Ranch.

“Trust has been lost and cannot simply be regained by an apology,” Hamey writes in her complaint. “Respondent should be held accountable for these violations.”

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