Manatee commissioner faces growing calls to step down after Lakewood Ranch vaccine event

Coronavirus

MANATEE Co., Fla. (WFLA) — Calls are growing for a Manatee County commissioner to step down following the opening of an exclusive and controversial state-run vaccine clinic in Lakewood Ranch.

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh worked with the state to organize a vaccine clinic solely for residents of the 34202 and 34211 zip codes, which covers most of the Manatee County portion of Lakewood Ranch and other wealthier neighborhoods in East Manatee County.

Normally, Manatee County’s wait list program randomly selects residents to sign up for a vaccine, but according to emails obtained via public records request, Baugh’s staff manipulated the database to pull only residents from those two zip codes.

Baugh also admitted to making a special list of people to get vaccinated in the clinic, including herself. 

“I want to apologize to all the residents I have disappointed, according to some news outlets,” Baugh said at Thursdsay’s public meeting. “It is true that I sent the email because I wanted to make sure certain people were on the list.”

The Manatee County Democratic Party is now calling for the commissioner to step down.

“Vanessa Baugh is an elected official who has betrayed the trust as a voters by creating a pay to play VIP system that benefits her and a select few in the community,” Manatee County Democratic Party’s Tracy Pratt says.

A demonstration is also being held Tuesday to call for her ouster.

Congressman Charlie Crist said he wants the Department of Justice to investigate the Governor Ron DeSantis’ selection of locations for vaccination clinics, including the Lakewood Ranch site.

In a letter to the acting Attorney General, Crist said instead of prioritizing people most at risk, the governor chose vaccine distribution sites where it would benefit political allies and donors.

DeSantis’ office has not responded to 8 On Your Side’s request for comment.

The demonstration is scheduled for 8 a.m., an hour before Tuesday’s commission meeting.

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