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A Confederacy of Dunces

Manatee County Commissioners vote 5-1 to gut wetland protections


On Thursday, a sizable congregation of well-intentioned citizens assembled in the Manatee County Commission chambers to bear witness and enter testimony before their elected representatives went forward with a predetermined plan to gut our wetland protection policies, despite woeful water conditions and broad public disapproval.

The crowd was not as large as when the item failed to get enough votes from the planning commission or when the county commission voted to transmit the proposal to the state, despite its advisory committee’s negative recommendation. Most likely, that was owed to both the obvious futility of pleading with crooked politicians to exercise reason and the board issuing a notice Wednesday afternoon that the item would no longer be time certain.

Nevertheless, it was another impressive showing from the engaged members of a community that has found itself relentlessly beaten and battered by a bought-and-paid-for county commission and the stooges and cronies it has installed in our local government while ridding it of its best and brightest personnel. I won’t bother rehashing all of the particulars as to why the proposed policy was asinine and how members of the community schooled the board as to the many holes in the pretzel logic commissioners employed in its defense. If you haven’t been following along, you can get all of that here.

The short version is that the two local developers who own our county government have never liked the idea that the county requires a buffer between their developments and the wetlands that filter our waterways, despite the fact that they are extremely reasonable and—judging from the putrid state of our treasured waters in recent years—already inadequate. One of those developers, Carlos Beruff of Medallion Homes, even tried to sue the county on multiple occasions, arguing that the buffers somehow amounted to an unconstitutional taking of private property. Each time, Beruff lost.

Never one to give up easily, the Cuban immigrant and Miami transplant simply began pouring more money into county commission campaigns and dark money PACs. Once content to enjoy influence over traditional candidates he helped get and keep a seat, the developer seemingly realized that in order to enjoy full compliance, he would need to start running a different kind of candidate, namely right-wing idealogues who didn’t understand or care about growth issues but wanted a platform to grandstand about hot-button culture war nonsense unrelated to the board’s work. You know, things like abortion, gun rights, and what books are in the libraries. Most also had another thing in common in that they desperately needed a job and were willing to do and say almost anything if given one.

Once Beruff had his clown puppet board in place, getting his way became much easier. In the wake of the 2022 elections, it got easier still, and it became a safe bet that even something so publicly reviled as gutting wetland protections was sure to sail through. Yes, there will likely be at least some political consequences, but what does it matter? If the stooges had revolted against their sugar daddy, the price would have been even greater as they would have not only found themselves primaried but without anyone rich and powerful who owed them a favor and might soften the blow by way of a consolation gig of some sort.

All of that is of no matter to the developers. By the time next November rolls around, they will have ticked off their entire wishlist and will surely be able to absorb a loss or two on the seven-member board—six of whom are currently marching in lockstep. Puppets are both expendable and replaceable. Besides, any efforts to undo the damage are unlikely to be in place and enforced before they have built out all their parcels and flown off like a blood-fattened mosquito in search of a new host.

Nevertheless, the mood of the commissioners was foul on Thursday, and instead of meaningfully addressing the concerns of the public, one after another, they explained why they were the actual victims, having had to endure what they found to be unreasonable public backlash. The majority even united around a hilariously Orwellian narrative that the massive opposition was no less than a George Soros-backed communist coup that was seeking to infiltrate Manatee County and seize private property to advance the Green New Deal (see video below).

At one point, Commission Chair Kevin Van Ostenbridge even called Brice Claypool, a 15-year-old local who penned a thoughtful guest op/ed for TBT that was published the day before the meeting, a “political pawn,” as the young man sat in the first row with his family. In more than 13 years of covering this board, I have never witnessed such vile behavior from one of its members, but it is no surprise that it came from Van Ostenbridge, a man who has proven to be even smaller in character than he is in stature.

No commissioners, your community does not loathe you because you are "conservatives," or they are "communists," as Van Ostenbridge and others suggested. They loathe you because you are spineless cowards in league with special interests that are intent on destroying our quality of life for the sake of a few more McMansions and a slightly fatter bottom line.

Commissioner Jason Bearden did his best to be a good boy and do as Van Ostenbridge wanted, offering his usual painfully incoherent and imbecilic word salad, all of which danced around his repeated statement that wetland buffers are unconstitutional. When it was pointed out that the county’s legal victories were by way of the courts roundly rejecting that argument, he actually pointed out that courts are sometimes overturned 50 years later, ie. Roe v Wade. So, in Bearden’s rusty hamster wheel of an inner cranium, the constitution is important except for its provisions as to the court’s role in interpreting it. Do yourself a favor, folks, and don’t try to make sense of that. Like nearly every word that comes out of our Mr. Magoo's mouth, there is absolutely no sense to be found.

Strip club evangelist James Satcher, whose district is likely to be most impacted by the policy, also pitched in his fair share of Bearden-esque nonsense. Again, what did you expect? Satcher has proven himself a garden variety goldbricker who desperately needs the paycheck developers could easily rescind should he go rogue and exercise even a modicum of free thought. He and Amanda Ballard were apparently brought to heel along with Bearden when they had a momentary lapse and attempted to join Vanessa Baugh and oust Van Ostenbridge as chair. Baugh went on to an early retirement and the other three have been doing as Van Ostenbridge and the real bosses have wanted ever since.

Once more, only Commissioner George Kruse voted against the policy. Ray Turner, who was appointed to fill the remainder of Baugh's term, didn't show but had enthusiastically voted for the transmittal, so there is no doubt it would have been 6-1 had he been present. Mike Rahn, another developer install with ties to the BIA—a developer lobbying group that also has had ties with Baugh, Ballard, and Turner—did his best to try and make it look like he was casting an informed vote, but it was a thin veil that couldn't manage to obscure the puppet strings on his back when he cast it. BIA Director Jon Mast, a vacation buddy of Rahn's who recently tried to install Mast directly as county administrator, even acknowledged that it was the BIA white paper that led to us being here today, even though the item was supposedly brought forth by staff, saving developers a considerable amount of money in fees.

As I’ve said many times, we are not currently living in a democratic republic here in Manatee County. We are in the midst of what is called elite capture, in which a small group of wealthy people have managed to use the post-Citizens United political landscape to completely take over a government body and its bureaucracy and then use the power of those institutions to reshape the rules in their favor. Change will only be delivered at the ballot box and it cannot arrive quickly enough.

Dennis "Mitch" Maley is an editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times and the host of our weekly podcast. With over two decades of experience as a journalist, he has covered Manatee County government since 2010. He is a graduate of Shippensburg University and later served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. Click here for his bio. His 2016 short story collection, Casting Shadows, was recently reissued and is available here. 


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  • lib224

    We are wasting our time trying to influence this group of hacks. The only way out of this is to get better candidates and vote for them.

    Friday, October 6, 2023 Report this

  • barbstubbers

    Perfectly said! Thanks for this report.

    Barb S

    Friday, October 6, 2023 Report this

  • rjckeuka4

    AMEN!! But will we (citizens of the County) be smart enough and capable of changing the lineup? And as Mitch indicates it will not be possible to undue ALL the atrocities the miscreants have already achieved! SAD!!

    Friday, October 6, 2023 Report this

  • Dianna

    Embarrassing to watch Van Ostenbridge, Satcher, Ballard, Rahn, and Bearden belittling and intimidating both children and citizens who are clearly much more informed on the item than they choose to be. Turner was a no-show so his voting record will not appear on this item, but trust citizens, we won’t forget he voted for this at the previous meeting. This meeting should be required viewing before voting in 2024.

    Friday, October 6, 2023 Report this

  • san.gander

    Will Republicans ever return their party to a level of decency? Will they forever "stain" the Grand Old Party's name locally with corruption and autocratic rule by and for the wealthy - and to "hell" with working people?

    Friday, October 6, 2023 Report this

  • katherng23

    Speaking of "what books are in the libraries." the Board is scheduled to vote to nearly double the size of the Library Advisor Board from five to nine. Four seats that the Commissions will at their discretion.

    Friday, October 6, 2023 Report this

  • jimandlope

    What an incredibly well written piece and don’t know how you came up with it but “ a Confederacy of Dunces, “ is so accurate., Thank you Mr. Maley.

    Friday, October 6, 2023 Report this

  • Cat L

    "Strip club evangelist" omg...

    Friday, October 6, 2023 Report this

  • Cat L

    Note to self: emoji will cut off the rest of the message....

    Elite capture is a scary thing. There are many people who deeply care about this place and this is heartbreaking to watch. Narcissistic people are extraordinarily destructive

    Friday, October 6, 2023 Report this

  • Emac

    Thank You, Mitch, for continuing to outline the absurdity of the charade referred to as our County Commissioners. I look forward to joining any and all coalitions aimed at removing the current seat occupants. I live in the district represented by Van Ostenbridge. KVO MUST GO!!!!!

    Friday, October 6, 2023 Report this

  • Mtmartin


    Mark the date 5 October is the day the Manatee County Commissioners repelled a an attepted communist take over. Maybe it will become a national holiday. Thank God for KVO and the courageous commissioners who exposed a PhD geologist and a 15 year old whose plan for dominion was foiled. KVO must be put in for an award by Developers Association for outstanding leadership and bravery. We can all sleep safely tonight. God bless Manatee County.

    Saturday, October 7, 2023 Report this

  • JillBean

    This article serves as the latest reminder of the continual eroding away of any and all standards with respect to wetland protection, Air quality, land preservation

    ... and good governance. The only real but subtle difference... is where in Florida is it happening today? Yet, as some here and at other times have alluded to, who is truly to be blamed for what passes as government of the developer, for the rich and moneyed set, and by the influential?Aren't we all (yes that includes me of course) a little bit to blame? Some of us- I think a good many of us- have on many occasions voted for the Candidates who now occupy commission seats, School Board seats, etc etc. Maybe, even the Governor. We are allowing ourselves to be swayed by the faux- patriotic, faux- "pro-America", and pro "Freedom" cry that so many of these slippery critters have latched onto.

    And we vote for them. Many of us really need to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask, "am I the one helping put these guys in office? Am I helping to destroy my home, all in the name of "Conservatism" and "Freedom"? And too, those of you who don't vote are just as guilty, as it were, as those who vote to put these slick hucksters into commission seats state-wide. Your non-vote IS a vote, for those things you probably don't want, but don't care enough to speak out against. We all have a better job to do. We need to make alot more noise. I know, I know- "Citizens United" (for more influence with their cash); Gerrymandered districts; voter suppression and voter intimidation. Those are all real. But we have the numbers! They are few and we truly are many. So lets get together any way we can and do more, speak out more. It starts with me-I am not pointing fingers, just repeating something I say to myself all the time: "quit complaining" I say to myself, "And get up and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT." Florida and all her remaining beauty is certainly worth the effort.

    Saturday, October 7, 2023 Report this