Elections complaint filed against Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh

Vanessa Baugh is officially sworn in as Manatee County District 5 Commissioner in 2012.
Vanessa Baugh is officially sworn in as Manatee County District 5 Commissioner in 2012. File photo

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh’s opponent in the Aug. 30 Republican primary has filed an elections complaint against the commissioner.

Kathleen Grant, a Lakewood Ranch resident, filed the complaint with the Florida Elections Commission on Wednesday, alleging that Baugh violated the state statute 104.061(2) “Corruptly influencing voting.” According to the complaint, Baugh violated the statute when she stated during a Tuesday evening community meeting, which was held against a proposed development that will be coming before the commission later this summer, that she “supports their opposition to the rezoning, and planned to vote to deny the application to rezone the property.”

“There was no reason for her to come out and announce her position, except that she wanted voter support,” Grant said.

Grant is the sole opponent against Baugh, a Republican who was elected to the commission in 2012. The winner of the primary will take office as the commissioner for District 5, which includes Lakewood Ranch, Myakka City and other parts of East Manatee.

The community meeting was on a proposed infill development, called Myara Subdivision, that would include up to 32 houses on about 33 acres in the wooded area behind Braden Woods in East Manatee. The rezone request to planned development residential and a preliminary site plan is scheduled to go to the planning commission July 14 and county commission Aug. 4. The project is located in District 5.

Grant alleges in the complaint that Baugh was speaking at the meeting against the county attorney’s “legal advice and in knowing violation of the rules.”

“I think she is using her position inappropriately,” Grant said.

County Attorney Mickey Palmer said Thursday afternoon that it is his “legal opinion that (Baugh) has not violated any law by appearing at a neighborhood meeting and speaking.”

On Thursday afternoon, Baugh said she “checked with the Manatee county attorney before I went and he instructed me that I would not be breaking any law.”

“I am concerned about my community,” Baugh said. “The county attorney instructed me that if I did go, I would not be breaking any laws. They prefer that we don’t do it. I will have to announce if, in fact, this project ever comes before us. I would have to discuss the fact that had ex-parte communication but no law against it. ... I feel very strongly about this issue and you will hear more about that from me when we get back from recess. I made it very clear that as the project stands today, I oppose it.”

Palmer confirmed that did in fact talk with Baugh prior to her attending the meeting.

“It is true that Commissioner Baugh conferred with me in advance of the meeting and sought my advice and counsel,” Palmer said. “I credit Commissioner Baugh for checking with me in advance.”

Complaints filed with FEC are “confidential until there is a probable cause determination,” said Amy Toman, FEC executive director.

Toman said if the complaint was filed this week, it likely would not be considered at the FEC’s next meeting in August.

Grant said she filed the complaint because she wants “the right thing to be done with respect to the election.”

“I just want a fair fight,” she said. “She should be campaigning on her record, not on promises that she can make to quote on quote bribe voters. I am campaigning on issues. I don’t have a record yet. I think she should be campaigning on record.”

Claire Aronson: 941-745-7024, @Claire_Aronson