MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The Manatee County Commission elects its chairman at the first regularly scheduled meeting in the month of December. Tuesday night, the county leaders chose to elect Kevin Van Ostenbridge for 2022. This year’s decision was of particular interest to some residents as the current chair faces scrutiny over her handling of a pop-up vaccine clinic earlier this year. Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting comes less than one week after the state’s ethics commission announced it will be moving forward with complaints against the current chair, Commissioner Vanessa Baugh.
The 2021 chair, Baugh, has been under fire since February this year after her role in organizing an exclusive vaccine clinic in Lakewood ranch, limited to the two zip codes she represents. She’s also been criticized for bypassing the county’s random vaccine waiting pool and creating a ‘VIP list’ of residents to be vaccinated at the state-run clinic, including herself.
18 individuals filed ethics complaints with the state earlier this year. The Florida Commission on Ethics announced the complaints against Baugh will move on to its next phase; they found sufficient evidence that the public servant violated her oath of office.
Baugh’s attorney George Levesque sent 8 On Your Side the following statement last week following the probable cause finding.
“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. 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 allegations and to demonstrate that Commissioner Baugh did not violate any law and did not violate any of her ethical obligations to her constituents.”
Over the year, there have been multiple calls for Baugh to step down from her position as chair of the board. Other commissioners tried unseating her back in February, but the motions failed. Commissioners eventually agreed to move forward.
Once the vote was finalized Baugh rejoiced to say “hallelujah’ and she was ‘thrilled’ to turn the position over to Van Ostenbridge.
Residents, however, have made it clear that they haven’t forgotten what happened ten months ago. One woman who spoke before the board Tuesday referred to the incident as ‘vaccine gate’.
“I just want to say there are those of us who are very concerned about it and we did not forget about it or as when Commissioner said when all this happened, nobody really cares, it is going to go away. Well it didn’t,” said resident Tina Shope.
Van Ostenbridge’s terms will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1.