Ethics Commission Finds Probable Cause Baugh Abused Power

Todays News

The Florida Ethics Commission found probable cause that Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh abused her office when she helped select a vaccine pop-up site in her district and recommended a VIP list for shots that had her name on it.

The commission on Wednesday released a round of findings on complaints filed against public officials around the state. Baugh’s case, which earned national attention at the time, was among the most prominent.

“Probable cause was found to believe Ms. Baugh violated the constitutional amendment prohibiting the abuse of office to obtain a disproportionate benefit by placing her own name at the top of Manatee County’s randomly selected list of recipients to receive a COVID-19 vaccination,” the Ethics Commission release states.

“In addition, probable cause was found to believe Ms. Baugh misused her position or public resources to assign vaccine distribution priority to serve specific individuals and zip codes, contrary to Manatee County’s COVID-19 vaccination policy.”

Notably, Baugh never received a vaccine at the pop-up site, which was opened in February in Lakewood Ranch. The fact the site, located within Baugh’s county commission district, only served residents of two wealthy Manatee County ZIP codes at the time generated significant controversy over Gov. Ron DeSantis’ use of the short-term sites to serve populations not obtaining vaccines at a fast rate compared to the state as a whole.

Baugh issued a public apology when news broke in February of the VIP list. But she brushed off calls for her resignation as a county commissioner or as chair of the county board. She could face a fine of up to $10,000 or suspension from office, but that’s unclear as the finding of probable cause is just an early step in the evaluation process, something counsel for Baugh noted.

“The Commission’s decision to find probable cause is not an adjudication of guilt, but simply a decision to allow the matter to proceed to the next phase,” said Baugh attorney George Levesque.

“It was by no means a unanimous decision, which speaks to the real concerns as to whether any law was violated and the complex nature of these types of cases. Some Commissioners noted the clear political nature of the attacks, expressing significant reservations with moving forward. We look forward to this next phase of the proceedings to bring truth and perspective to the allegation and to demonstrate that Commissioner Baugh did not violate any law and did not violate any of her ethical obligation to her constituents.”

 

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