BRADENTON — Additional text message records obtained by TBT from the phones of Manatee County Commissioners raise further questions about the level of involvement a political consultant may have in county business.
In previous reports, TBT detailed text records obtained by our publication revealing multiple instances where political operative Anthony Pedicini had exchanged text messages with county commissioners and even the former county administrator.
Now, a new batch of text message records is providing more evidence of a pattern of attempted interference and potential influence by Pedicini into Manatee County Government business.
Pedicini operates the Tampa-based political consulting firm, Strategic Image Management (SIMWINS). His clients include four commissioners elected to the Manatee County Commission in 2020—Commission Chair Kevin Van Ostenbridge, District 1 Commissioner James Satcher, At-large Commissioner George Kruse, and former District 5 Commissioner, Vanessa Baugh. In 2022, SIMWINS also appeared on the campaign finance reports of District 4 Commissioner Mike Rahn, At-large Commissioner Jason Bearden, and District 2 Commissioner Amanda Ballard.
In our reporting last Sept., text message records from the cell device of former administrator Scott Hopes showed that he and Pedicini arranged several phone calls and, at one point, Pedicini suggested to Hopes that the county needed “a new clerk”—referring to Manatee County Clerk of the Courts and Comptroller Angel Colonneso.
In July of this year, TBT reported on text messages from Commissioners Jason Bearden and James Satcher's phones. These messages included Pedicini sending both commissioners a text instructing them on two citizens they should not appoint to advisory boards or committees.
There was also a text message Bearden received from Pedicini in which the consultant requested Bearden sign a “Mosaic Letter” and return it to him when he had done so. The document was a form letter addressed to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis advocating for a bill that would allow FDOT to study the use of a radioactive byproduct of phosphate mining (phosphogypsum) in roadway construction.
Most recently in August, TBT reported on text messages between Vanessa Baugh and Pedicini in which the consultant scolded the former commissioner before resigning as her consultant. Pedicini’s texted resignation came roughly 30 minutes after the board voted 4-3 to remove Van Ostenbridge as the commission chairman and vote Baugh into the role.
Prior to the text exchange, Baugh had filed to run for reelection in 2024, but later announced she would be stepping down from her commission seat before her current term had concluded. At the time of Baugh’s announcement, she cited family matters as the cause of her premature departure.
When taken in combination with prior text messages reviewed by TBT, the recently obtained messages between Pedicini and Commissioners Satcher, Kruse and Ballard suggest the consultant may be following county commission meeting agendas, watching meetings live, and texting commissioners about county government matters—sometimes even while a meeting is in session.
One such text message Pedicini sent to a commissioner appears to have carried a veiled threat about the upcoming 2024 election.
Commissioner Amanda Ballard
Of the text messages obtained between Ballard and Pedicini, several dated exchanges have been redacted by the commissioner. Ballard’s texts exist as photo screenshots taken from her phone and based on the photo gallery thumbnails at the bottom of the screenshots it appears that the commissioner used her device’s photo editing tool to “redact” certain exchanges between her and Pedicini.
The earliest appearing text is dated March 11, at 7:55 a.m. Though it is clear that Ballard received a text from Pedicini that morning—and responded—both messages had been redacted by the commissioner.
At the top of the screenshot containing the record of the March 11 text, there is an additional redaction made to the area where the contact’s information would be displayed. While Pedicini’s profile photo is visible, beneath the photo, the commissioner used her phone’s photo editor tool to black out the script below the photo.
Using photo editing tools to adjust the image's shadows, highlights, contrast, and other filters, TBT was able to reveal that Ballard had applied the redaction to Pedicini’s phone number. Commissioner Ballard apparently had not formerly entered Pedicini’s name as a contact in her phone when the screenshot of the texts had been taken. Phone numbers are not exempt under Florida’s public record law.
Notably, in later messages, the consultant’s name does appear as a contact on Ballard’s text records.
On April 11 at 10:15 a.m., Pedicini texted Ballard again, this time to request she sign and return the “Mosaic Letter.” The file appears to be the same form letter to Governor DeSantis that was seen in previous reporting which Pedicini also sent to Commissioner Bearden on April 11 at 10:16 a.m.
On May 2 at 12:10 p.m., Pedicini texted Ballard, the commissioner responded, and Pedicini texted a reply. All three texts have been redacted. There were two county meetings that day, a BOCC work session in the morning and a Council of Governments meeting late that afternoon. The messages were exchanged by Ballard and Pedicini in between these two meetings.
On May 5 at 8:25 a.m., Pedicini sent Ballard a text advising her, “Two people we cannot appoint to anything: Kurt Mattingly, Talha Siddique.”
This same text was sent by Pedicini to Commissioners Bearden and Satcher on May 5, also at 8:25 a.m., as TBT previously reported. As with Bearden and Satcher, there is no record showing that Ballard ever responded to Pedicini’s text about citizen appointments.
The next date that can be seen in Ballard and Pedicini’s text history is June 5. It appears sometime prior the two exchanged text communications as well, but the date of those texts was concealed by black box redactions applied by the commissioner.
The June 5 text is also redacted, though it appears Pedicini may have initiated the text. The timestamp of the text is 8:03 p.m. and occurred the night before a scheduled BOCC meeting.
The day of the meeting, during commissioner comments, former commissioner Baugh raised the subject of county libraries and policy/procedures she said she was anticipating would be returned to the board for adoption.
The text message from Pedicini came into Ballard’s phone while the board was actively discussing the subject of library policy.
“We should do a petition drive on the library issue, I have an idea. Call me after,” Pedicini wrote.
Based on the meeting video, it was at approximately 12:17 p.m. that Baugh raised the subject of library policy. At roughly 12:19 p.m., Ballard reminded the board that some items she had proposed in past meetings regarding library policy were never put to vote.
As the discussion on the topic continued, Ballard suggested that the board might reconsider returning some of her previous suggestions for a vote—Ballard made this suggestion at approximately 12:27 p.m. Pedicini’s text about a “petition drive on the library issue” was received by Ballard’s phone at 12:34 p.m.
To watch the moment Baugh raised the library policy topic during the June 6 meeting, click here. To replay the comments made by Ballard at 12:27 p.m., click here.
Another text message communication between Ballard and Pedicini was dated June 15. Though the messages have been redacted by Ballard, it appears as though these were texts she sent to Pedicini beginning at 5:22 p.m.
Again, as with the prior texts, there was a BOCC meeting on June 15. The meeting was a land use meeting that began at 1:30 p.m. and Ballard texted Pedicini while the board was actively taking up a quasi-judicial item.
The agenda item was number 23, Bayside Holdings LLC – PLN2209-0069. The applicant was seeking a rezone in advance of the property’s sale. The subject property was 6.7 acres at the southeast corner of El Conquistador Parkway and Bay Club Drive.
Based on the meeting video, at approximately 5:05 p.m., Ballard asked staff a question about the property’s inability to qualify for density bonuses.
Following Ballard’s question the item moved to public comment. Based on the timeline it seems likely that it was during public comment on the quasi-judicial item that Ballard sent Pedicini multiple texts that she later determined were exempt from release.
According to Florida’s public record law, texts of a personal nature can be redacted from the public record, or shielded from disclosure. However, any communications related to county business do not qualify for blanket exemptions. If the text messages Commissioner Ballard sent to Pedicini from the dais while the board heard sworn testimony from the public were not related to county business, then it appears the commissioner may have been text-chatting with Pedicini on personal matters while she was supposed to be listening to the public.
The final text exchanges between Pedicini and Ballard that appeared in the public records obtained by TBT were dated June 27. That evening, at 5:37 p.m., Pedicini sends Ballard the link to an op/ed written by Van Ostenbridge.
The op/ed titled, “Don’t Believe the Critics: Manatee County Commissioners are Getting Great Things Done,” was published in the Herald-Tribune two days after TBT reported that an audit by the Inspector General had determined Van Ostenbridge inappropriately used his county-issued P-card to purchase detailed voter data on constituents in his district.
Ballard responded to Pedicini, “Just read it!! This is great!”
“It is really well done,” Pedicini texted in agreement. “Next up one from you on the urban core and redevelopment!!!!!”
Ballard messaged back, “I’m in!”
To view the text messages between Ballard and Pedicini, click here.
Commissioner George Kruse
The text message records between Kruse and Pedicini begin with a text on Dec. 6, 2022, two weeks after newly elected Commissioners Ballard, Rahn, and Bearden were sworn in. Kruse texted Pedicini at 5:08 p.m. following a board meeting writing, “The chair elections went pretty smooth thankfully. Didn’t need division early on.”
Pedicini responded by asking Kruse, “Who is vice?” Kruse replied by sending a list of all the appointments.
Three months later on March 28, Pedicini texted Kruse, during a BOCC regular meeting. The meeting was still in session when Pedicini texted the commissioner. The text came into Kruse’s phone at 12:12 p.m.
One of the items on the meeting’s agenda that day was a resolution to declare Manatee County a 2nd Amendment Sanctuary. The item was a commissioner item, proposed by Commissioner Bearden.
At approximately 11:55 a.m., Kruse stated his strong opposition to certain language included in the proposed resolution. Kruse’s statements led to several minutes of a heated exchange between himself and Bearden. It was shortly after the exchange between the two commissioners that Pedicini sent the text to Kruse.
“Primary attack mailer there,” Pedicini wrote, apparently cautioning Kruse that statements he was making during the meeting could be used against him in a future primary election.
Perhaps the most noted thing about Pedicini in Florida’s political news is his method of “dirty campaigning.” SIMWINS and PACs associated with Pedicini are known for pushing out high quantities of glossy mailers, video advertisements, mass text campaigns, and other electioneering materials often used to attack his candidate’s competition. Some of the content and claims contained in materials produced by the consultant have led to lawsuits alleging defamation.
On April 11, at 10:16 a.m., Pedicini texted Kruse to send him the “Mosaic Letter” he also sent to other commissioners that same day. Kruse initially responded to Pedicini at 1:10 p.m. telling him that he had been in a BOCC meeting all day.
At 3: 53 p.m., Kruse responded to Pedicini again, writing, “FYI, Jorge has the letters, or at least mine and whichever the others he’s collected.”
Jorge Arana is Van Ostenbridge’s commissioner aide.
The next text message recorded on Kruse’s phone is dated May 5, 8:25 a.m. It is the same message Pedicini sent to other commissioners advising them not to appoint two specific citizens to any committees. Kruse did not respond.
On June 29 at 8:10 a.m., Pedicini again texted Kruse. This time, he messaged the commissioner to ask whether he was “against the garage.” Pedicini adds, “Your tweet made it sound like you were. We all know a garage is coming…”
Pedicini appeared to be referencing a Tweet Kruse made the day prior, on June 28.
Responding to Pedicini’s question, Kruse messaged back, “I’m for the bill and spoke in favor of it in Tally because it gave us the option and gives us a stick rather than a carrot to work with HB (Homes Beach), I’m against the garage being a 100% guaranteed done deal with zero information presented to date.”
“You’re so tough,” Pedicini texted back. “The garage is coming, just like the winter. You know it. Lol.”
“Well, if I don’t like the info, it’s not like I’m shocked by a 6-1 vote anymore,” Kruse answered.
“Lol,” replied Pedicini. “I don’t know what you wouldn’t like, it’s a garage. Hahhahahaah.”
To view the text messages between Kruse and Pedicini, click here.
Commissioner James Satcher
There were only two messages between Satcher and Pedicini included in the messages most recently obtained by TBT, both were dated Dec. 14, 2022. Both text messages appeared to have been sent to Satcher from Pedicini.
The messages were received by Satcher’s phone at 9:31 p.m. the night before a scheduled BOCC land use meeting. The messages contained two aerial photos of the SMR Taylor Ranch development—a related comprehensive plan text amendment was set to be taken up by the board in the next’s days meeting.
The photos are identical to the ones that can be found in the meeting’s agenda item materials, including in the staff report and the text amendment.
According to the text records, it appeared as though Satcher did not respond to Pedicini’s messages. The next day during the meeting, Satcher voted against the transmittal of the SMR Taylor Ranch text amendment.
This is not the first time Pedicini has texted Satcher on matters related to topics raised during a BOCC meeting. In July, TBT published text messages Pedicini sent to Satcher’s phone on April 20.
The messages arrived at 4:46 p.m., following a land use meeting held earlier that day. In the texts, Pedicini shared with Satcher information about Wetland Mitigation Banks—the subject of an agenda item brought to the board by Commissioner Rahn during that day's meeting.
When reached for comment for our July reporting, Satcher responded to TBT by email, writing in part, "I appreciate when people give me their input, but in the end, I make my votes according to the Constitution and God’s Word."
The text messages from Satcher and Bearden’s phones included in our July reporting also showed Pedicini had messaged both commissioners requesting they phone him to speak about the April 18 meeting where Van Ostenbridge was (briefly) removed as commission chair.
TBT requested comment from Commissioners Ballard, Kruse, and Satcher regarding the recently obtained text messages. Commissioners Satcher and Ballard had not responded prior to this story’s publication deadline.
Kruse told TBT by email that Pedicini is someone who has been around politics much longer than he has, and recognizing that fact the commissioner wrote that he would “bounce things off” the political consultant after first taking office. However, Kruse added, he and Pedicini have not always seen eye-to-eye.
“We have had enough differences of opinion regarding numerous policies (affordable housing, the retail pet ban, various pointless resolutions, etc.) and practices that we no longer discuss county business nor do I ask for, or receive his consultation,” Kruse wrote.
“He has still texted me thoughts at times (albeit rarely) but I cannot prevent incoming input from him any more than I can prevent the countless emails I get with others’ opinions. Everyone is entitled to their thoughts and has a right to express them to me, I don’t have to agree,” he added.
Regarding the messages between him and Pedicini on the topic of the Holmes Beach parking garage and the “Mosaic Letter,” Kruse offered his perspective on both.
“That’s a very common phrase,” he wrote in reference to his “stick versus a carrot” analogy.
“The story is about getting a donkey to move. You can dangle a carrot in front of it to lead it or threaten it with a stick if it doesn’t move. A carrot is a positive incentive to get someone to do something. A stick is a threat to get them to do something. The county tried to get more parking with a carrot through offers to add police, trash, find lots ourselves, etc. When that didn’t work, Representative Robinson tried the 'stick' with the threat of a parking garage,” he explained.
“It wouldn’t have been a credible threat if we didn’t have the rights to do it, which the bill allowed,” he added.
In his opinion, the “stick” worked.
“Once the bill was filed, Holmes Beach added parking, worked with churches for more lots, better labeled available spaces, etc. That was the benefit of the bill and essentially made the physical use of the bill unnecessary,” he wrote.
“As for the ‘Mosaic letter,’ I signed the letter of support as my research showed that multiple countries in Europe, Asia and elsewhere have done the same thing that this bill proposes and other countries are usually more environmentally conscious than the US.”
He cited the state's two dozen gypstacks with an estimated billion tons of phosphogypsum, adding "We eventually have to do something or it will sit around forever. The bill allows for a pilot test road that will still require Federal EPA approval and sign-off before it expands.”
Kruse estimated that doing nothing could lead to another "Piney Point."
TBT also asked the commissioner whether he currently pays Pedicini for consultation services. Kruse responded that Pedicini “is a campaign consultant, not a life coach.” Kruse added that he has not paid any fees to Pedicini since the end of his 2020 campaign.
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