Citizen Alleges Witnessing Commissioners Commit Sunshine Violation

Commissioners Vanessa Baugh and Kevin Van Ostenbridge. IMAGE via Facebook
Commissioners Vanessa Baugh and Kevin Van Ostenbridge. IMAGE via Facebook
Dawn Kitterman
 BRADENTON — Public records have revealed that a citizen requested Manatee County Commissioners Vanessa Baugh and Kevin Van Ostenbridge "avoid" future discussions of BOCC business outside of the Sunshine. The citizen informed commissioners via email on June 8, that he had personally witnessed Baugh and Van Ostenbridge discussing "county matters loudly" over lunch on Wednesday afternoon last week, which is a violation of Florida's Government in the Sunshine law.

Mr. Van Ostenbridge and Ms. Baugh,

I ate lunch at Robin's Downtown today. You sat down at the table next to me and talked loudly about various Manatee County matters. I assume you are aware that a conversation between two or more commissioners about public business, without public notice, violates the state's Open Meetings Law.

I'd appreciate you avoiding this sort of thing in the future.

Dave Tank

The citizen concluded his correspondence by pasting the link to the Open Government - Frequently Asked Questions webpage available on the website. 

TBT obtained the email through a follow-up public records request relating to an outstanding request for public records submitted to the county by our publication last week that had still not been fulfilled. 

Late Wednesday evening, June 8, TBT requested copies of emails between commissioners Carol Whitmore and Misty Servia to/from County Administrator Hopes matching the dates of last week’s BOCC meetings—June 7 and June 8. The county confirmed receipt of the request before 7 a.m. the following morning (Thursday). 

On Friday morning, TBT sent a follow-up to Manatee County Record Manager Debra Scaccianonce inquiring whether IT had collected the requested records in query and returned the records responsive to our request to her department for their production. In recent weeks, Administrator Hopes has publicly stated (more than once) that IT is "turning record query results around" in less than 24 hours. 

Scaccianonce responded to our request for an update that Friday before 9 am, writing, "Let me check and see if they have provided the info. Thank you for your patience." 

As of 10:30 a.m. Monday, no additional updates on the pending request for public record emails were provided to TBT by the county. Likewise, no records had been produced in response to the request either. 

Due to the seeming lack of communication and/or a reasonable time of production of records, TBT submitted a duplicate request for public record emails directly to Commissioners Whitmore and Servia Monday morning, June 13. 

Under Florida Statute 119.07, the public has a right to request to inspect or copy public records. Email communications relating to government business are included under the law as public records. Additionally, custodians in possession of public records, or their designee, are required per the law to provide such public records for public inspection.

Commissioners who are in possession of public record emails are "custodians" of emails in their possession. 

Commissioner Servia immediately responded to our request, apologizing for the delay in the county's fulfillment of our request. Servia responded by sending all emails she had in her possession between herself and Administrator Hopes. 

Although the original request for public records was submitted in an attempt to collect emails confirming accounts made by commissioners in last week's BOCC meetings that the county administrator had canceled and/or declined meetings with commissioners, among the public records responsive to our records request appeared the emails from Mr. Tank. 

In a reply to Mr. Tank's initial June 8 email, Servia wrote, "Mr. Tank. Thank you for the email. I hope they were not discussing county business, as that would be a criminal offense." 

Mr. Tank responded to Servia in brief, affirming what he had previously relayed with his first email.

"They were," Tank wrote. 

Records show the exchange between Servia and Tank was forwarded to County Attorney William Clague as well as County Administrator Scott Hopes. 

Upon discovery of the emails, TBT sent an email to all commissioners requesting public records of any emails to/from citizen Dave Tank of which they were custodians in possession. An hour later—having received no reply from the majority of the commissioners—TBT forwarded the request to records management. 

The county records assistant confirmed receipt of our request, but as of this reporting, no additional records had been produced responsive to our request. 

Last week, the Manatee Clerk of Court, Division of the Inspector General, delivered a memorandum to the Manatee County Administration and county commission announcing that the IG’s office had initiated a "project to review the process for responding to public records requests."

On June 9, TBT also requested copies of online calendars for the county administrator and each of the seven commissioners from the months of May and June. As of this reporting, that request also remains unfulfilled. 

TBT reached out to the citizen who alleged to have witnessed commissioners discussing county business over lunch, but Mr. Tank declined to comment. 

At the time of our reporting, neither Commissioner Baugh nor Van Ostenbridge had responded to our requests for comment. 

TBT will continue to follow this developing story and will provide any additional details and updates as they become available. 

Dawn Kitterman is a staff reporter for The Bradenton Times. She covers local government and entertainment news. She can be reached at [email protected]

Reader Comments
JUN 15, 2022  •  It sounds like Baugh and Van Ostenbridge never got fully trained on their responsibilities as elected officials in Florida. Or they’re just blatantly committing an offense knowing the Sheriff will give them a pass again just like when they got into trouble texting each other when KVO (and Kruse and Satcher) was newly elected. Baugh should know better. KVO seems smarter so I hate to guess his motivation for violating the Sunshine law this time around. Since the prisoners are running the asylum who’s in charge? Mr Tank can take another one for Team Manatee and contact Ashley Moody. Or County Attorney needs to wake up from his nap and do his job. Where is the parent in the room?! Voters should re elect the 3 (Whitmore, Bellamy and Serbia) at least they’re still trying to do there job despite the 4+1 Commission Circus sh**show. Yup Hopes is acting like a 8th Commissioner right now making policy decisions and doing land deals for the County. Servia is correct, there was no formal Board action taken on those items. See OTHER news on chaotic budget meeting. Honestly, someone needs to call Tallahassee to intervene. This is no longer funny or entertaining.
Cat L
JUN 15, 2022  •  Much appreciation to Mr Tank for emailing this, and consequently making it a public record.
JUN 15, 2022  •  she's definitely a typical politician, but at least she's against the developers & commission members that wanna pave every last inch of lakewood ranch, including those zoned for GREEN SPACE only.
JUN 14, 2022  •  DUI Kruse and Sunshine Violators Baugh and Van Ostenbridge should be prosecuted for felonies and told Hasta La Bye-bye.
Greg L
JUN 14, 2022  •  Does this behavior surprise anyone? Certainly not citizens of Manatee County. Sadly there probably won't be any consequences. I'm not a lawyer but Sunshine Laws seem pretty easy to understand and should be easy to obey.
Richard Correnti
JUN 14, 2022  •  Thanks TBT for reporting and following up on our Manatee County "Clown Show." The Queen of Transparency strikes again. Sadly, she just can't control herself. It's in her DNA to lie, cheat, connive, flaunt her position by staying at the Ritz, etc., etc., etc. The hypocrisy of her "transparency act" is so transparent it's a joke! As for KVO, a little power is a dangerous thing. A lot of power is destructive!! We have the vote. Gotta exercise it!! Just sayin'.
JUN 13, 2022  •  Baugh is a prime example of why term limits should be a thing. Once you get comfortable in your role and begin thinking you’re invincible, you tend to forget you work for the people and let the power go to your head. For Baugh, that happened long ago. The woman is beyond contemptible. She is narcissistic; she is self-serving and nothing is ever her fault. She is a habitual liar and she isn’t even a good liar at that. She is rude to constituents who disagree with her and she makes no effort to hide it with her eye rolling and scoffing on the Dias. She has an ego the size of this county and simply put, she is not working for the people. Anyone who stays at the Ritz Carlton in DC on the peoples dime is not a true conservative nor working for the people. Naturally, she will used the tired refrain of, “The leftists are attacking her” once this gets out but the reality is, the people in Manatee who can see past her political affiliation and see what she really is have had it with her. Until the people stand up and hold her accountable for the stunts she continually pulls, nothing will happen. The question is “When is enough, enough?”
JUN 13, 2022  •  Going back to the day she came into office she has considered herself above the law And the rules and role of a County Commissioner. Spiteful, vengeful when all the citizens wanted was someone to represent them not resent them. Then there is KVO, he doesn’t rise to the level of additional comments “What you see is what you got”.
David Provost
JUN 13, 2022  •  As Baugh is one of the most questionable political figures I encountered in my lifetime, I suspect this is episode is no unique. Rather, it is only one of the times she was caught at it.