Elections

District 5 Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh files for re-election

Just days after retired county administrator Ed Hunzeker announced he would run for the District 5 seat on the Board of County Commissioners, incumbent Vanessa Baugh has officially thrown her hat into the ring.

Baugh, a Republican who has served on the board for two terms, filed her paperwork Thursday. In a press release, she explained that improving quality of life, infrastructure improvements and fighting against tax hikes will be her campaign priorities heading into 2020.

“Manatee County is finally at a point where we are moving forward and getting things accomplished,” Baugh said in a prepared statement. “We’re making investments in public safety, critical infrastructure improvements, protecting our natural resources and waterways and being fiscally conservative with taxpayer dollars.”

Hunzeker, who served as county administrator for 12 years, retired from his post in March. He announced Monday he would challenge Baugh for the GOP nomination in District 5, which encompasses Lakewood Ranch, Myakka City and other parts of East Manatee.

Both candidates position themselves as staunch supporters of Republican values and President Donald Trump.

In his campaign kickoff, Hunzeker boasted of his performance in navigating the county through the Great Recession, long-range planning and his ability to deliver a balanced budget.

“I have 51 years of experience in government,” he said. “I’ve been with Manatee County for 12 years and I truly understand the workings of government.”

Baugh, on the other hand, touted her close relationship with constituents since she was first elected in 2012. In recent months, Baugh has advocated for lower taxes, and fought to block residents in Lakewood Ranch community development districts and homeowners associations from having to pay a new stormwater fee.

“We still have lots to accomplish to keep Manatee County moving in the right direction. We need to focus on lowering taxes and fees on families and small businesses and keep big government out of the way of free enterprise. I am a proven conservative who has and will continue to work hard every day to ensure Manatee County continues to be a wonderful place to live,” Baugh said.

Baugh has been critical of Hunzeker’s performance as administrator in the past. While he worked for the county, Baugh said she “lost trust” in his professional judgment and penned a letter signed by five other board members reprimanding him for his administrative approval of a public safety radio tower at Kinnan Park that commissioners felt was sneaky and disingenuous.

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Retired Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker is running against Commissioner Vanessa Baugh to represent Manatee’s District 5, which encompasses East Manatee, Lakewood Ranch and Myakka City. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

“(Your actions) clearly demonstrated a lack of follow-thru that the County Commissioners requested from the Administration and Staff resulting in insubordination. This created a major lack of trust of the elected officials, administration and staff by the general public,” she wrote.

In 2016, Baugh voted in favor of a motion to start a national search for a new county administrator, instead of renewing Hunzeker’s contract. A lack of suitable candidates, however, ultimately caused the board to extend the contract to January 2019.

“I wish (Hunzeker) the best, and we’ll have a good time running,” Baugh said Monday in an interview with the Bradenton Herald.

Both candidates are set to face off in the Republican primary election next August. The winner will advance to the November 2020 general election if there is a Democratic nominee and/or unaffiliated or write-in candidates.

Ryan Callihan is the Bradenton Herald’s County Reporter, covering local government and politics. On the weekends, he also covers breaking news. Ryan is a graduate of USF St. Petersburg.
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