MANATEE COUNTY — The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office has referred the case related to allegations contained in a former Manatee County Administration Official’s whistleblower complaint to the office of State Attorney Ed Brodsky of the 12th Judicial Circuit.
Before his separation from the county in August, former Acting County Administrator Lee Washington alleged in a whistleblower complaint that he was witness to “sunshine, ethics, and malfeasance violations” committed by two county commissioners—former commissioner Vanessa Baugh and current Commissioner Mike Rahn.
Last week, TBT reported that MCSO had opened an investigation into the allegations following a criminal complaint having been submitted to its office on the matter.
After completing its review of the available information, the MCSO found “probable cause” that Florida’s meeting law was violated by the commissioners, and the case was forwarded to the state attorney’s office on Nov. 2.
Neither the MCSO nor the state attorney’s office were able to provide any further information or comment on Tuesday, citing an ongoing criminal investigation.
The allegations stem from a series of events that Washington alleged occurred during his short time serving in the acting position. Washington claimed that Commissioners Rahn and Baugh conspired to pressure him into hiring their close friend and associate, BIA President John Mast, as a deputy county administrator.
Washington further alleged that when he decided to close the open deputy position without hiring any applicants, Baugh requested Washington’s resignation. According to Washington, Baugh told him that "someone" would be making a motion for him to be relieved of duty, but if he would resign willingly, he could avoid a public dismissal by vote of the board. Washington declined.
A week later, Commissioner Rahn made a motion to remove Washington as acting administrator and to replace Washington with Jon Mast.
The three basic requirements of Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law are: (1) meetings of public boards or commissions must be open to the public; (2) reasonable notice of such meetings must be given; and (3) minutes of the meetings must be taken.
According to Florida State Statutes, Chapter 286.011, 3(b), “Any person who is a member of a board or commission or of any state agency or authority of any county, municipal corporation, or political subdivision who knowingly violates the provisions of this section by attending a meeting not held in accordance with the provisions hereof is guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree…”
Should the state attorney’s office find there is enough supporting evidence to seek prosecution in the case, such a violation can carry criminal penalties, including fines, up to 60 days imprisonment and possible suspension or removal from office.