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Manatee Commissioner Remains Chair Amid Vaccine Controversy, Investigation

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is investigating whether Commissioner Vanessa Baugh broke state law by putting herself and others on a VIP vaccine list in Lakewood Ranch.

Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh will keep her position as board chair following controversy over her role in helping Gov. Ron DeSantis secure a COVID-19 vaccination site in Lakewood Ranch.

On Tuesday, a majority of Baugh's colleagues voted against a motion to remove her.

Commissioner Reggie Bellamy made the motion to remove Baugh as chair, stating that he believes there should be consequences for her role in the event.

The vote followed public criticism when it was revealed that Baugh directed county health officials to secure vaccinations for herself and political donors. Additionally, the one-day pop-up event was restricted to just two ZIP codes in wealthy, predominantly white areas in Baugh's district.

DeSantis defended the event — saying his priority was getting vaccinations to senior citizens. However, Baugh has since apologized.

Michael Barfield, a Sarasota paralegal, and president of the ACLU in Florida filed a complaint against Baugh on Monday saying her actions violated three state statutes including misuse of a public position.

The Manatee County Sherriff’s Office is investigating Baugh's actions.

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Cathy Carter is the education reporter for WUSF 89.7 and StateImpact Florida.