Baugh Retains Chair Post, Coryea Parts With County

Todays News

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY WEDNESDAY PHILANTHROPY EDITION WEDNESDAY FEB 24, 2021

The divided nature of the Manatee County Commission went on full display Tuesday as the commission chairwoman Vanessa Baugh held onto her post in a narrow 4-3 vote. That occurred the same day the commission voted to part ways with County Administrator Cheri Coryea, who has appeared to maintain the support of the same three commissioners who voted to strip Baugh of her chair.

“This is all going a little off the rails here,” said Manatee County Commissioner George Kruse. “I’m talking about the last 90 days, not the last 90 minutes.”

Kruse, who was sworn onto the commission in November, had been the swing vote in pushing Coryea out, though the commission on Tuesday ultimately voted 6-1 in favor of a severance with the administrator that included $204,000 in pay.

But the biggest contention on Tuesday came courtesy of a push to take away Baugh’s gavel, if not drive her from office completely. Baugh was at the center of a controversy last week when the state coordinated with Lakewood Ranch to establish a pop-up site to administer 3,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Gov. Ron DeSantis faced national criticism when those shots were only made available in the wealthy community, though DeSantis stressed at a press conference last week the doses were supplemental to Manatee County’s regular allotment of vaccines.

Baugh helped negotiate the site, but faced greater criticism after asking that she and four others be put on a VIP list to receive the vaccine. The Manatee County Commissioner ultimately did not receive any dose of vaccine and issued a public apology after the Manatee County Democratic Party called for the Republican commissioner’s resignation over the issue.

“I have apologized to my constituents and my colleagues for a lapse in judgment,” Baugh said. “These petty partisan political calls are nothing more than the divisive politics our Nation needs to steer away from.”

County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, also a Republican, read a state statute at Tuesday’s meeting and inferred that by seeking the special treatment Baugh may have broken state law. A complaint alleging the same is being investigated by the Sheriff’s Office.

None of Baugh’s peers suggesting quitting her term early was warranted. But County Commissioner Reggie Bellamy, the only Democrat on the board, made a motion to ask for Baugh to resign the board chair post and for the commission to remove her from it. “This was a bad decision,” Bellamy said of the VIP request. “There should be some consequences. We are misled about the power we have. We work for the citizens.”

Whitmore and County Commissioner Misty Servia voted in favor of the motion, but a majority of the board, including Baugh, shot it down.

County Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge, also elected in November, said ultimately commissioners are accountable to voters and no one else. He noted some called for his own resignation after he raised the issue of firing Coryea days after taking office, but every county commissioner has seen someone call for their job in the past few months. The board, though, should not respond to the outcry of the moment and instead start to focus on the good of the county long-term.

“We do have a lot of infighting up here,” he said, “and I’m ready for that to end.”

Image from Facebook: Vanessa Baugh and Cheri Coryea.

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