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Pedicini Texted Commissioners about Committee Appointments

BRADENTON  — Text message records from two Manatee County Commissioners' cell phones reveal that political consultant Anthony Pedicini instructed commissioners against the appointment of certain citizens to county advisory committees. 
Citizen advisory boards and committees are composed of volunteer citizens—often with specific qualifications—and provide input intended to help guide the county government's decision-making process. There are multiple county advisory boards covering many topics, including land acquisition, historical preservation, tourism, children’s services, and others. 
Citizens interested in serving on a county advisory board or committee submit an application for the desired role and county commissioners make a final determination on appointees by vote. 
The texts were sent to Commissioners James Satcher and Jason Bearden by Pedicini, on May 5, 2023, arriving at both of the commissioner’s inboxes at the same time that morning (8:25 am). The texts were identical in language and formatting.  
"Two people we cannot appoint to anything:  Kurt Mattingly, Talha Saddique (sic)"
TBT confirmed that the two individuals referenced in the texts sent by Pedicini, Kurt Mattingly and Talha Siddique, had both recently applied for positions on county advisory committees. Mattingly had submitted an application for appointment to the Metropolitan Planning Organization Citizen Advisory Committee (MPO) and Siddique had applied for the Environmental Lands Management and Acquisition Advisory Committee (ELMAC). 
It is unknown whether Pedicini sent the same text instructions concerning Mattingly and Siddique to any other county commissioners. 
In response to our request for comment about the text, Commissioner Satcher responded via email, stating, "I appreciate when people give me their input, but in the end, I make my votes according to the Constitution and God’s Word. I continue to deliver on my pledge to my constituents to back law enforcement, invest in infrastructure, and be a local Conservative voice on national issues." 
Kurt Mattingly is a former employee of the Manatee County Government, a former member of the MPO advisory board, and a 2022 candidate for Palmetto City Commission’s Ward 2. 
Talha Siddique has been active in the community, volunteering with multiple organizations, addressing commissioners during meeting public comments, and recently founded  Speak Out Manatee, a community activist group heavily focused on local environmental issues. 
Rumors have been circulating within political circles lately that Siddique may be gearing up for a run in the 2024 county commission District 3 race. Van Ostenbridge, who will be the incumbent in that race, has already filed for reelection. 
In response to learning of a text message from Pedicini referencing him, Siddique told TBT by email, "Washington, DC is often referred to as the swamp, but most people haven’t seen the swamp that some of our elected leaders in Manatee County have created here in our own backyard." 
Siddique added that he believes local voters desire their community to be nothing like Washington before referencing a recent Inspector General’s audit that uncovered Van Ostenbridge had used a county P-card to purchase emails and detailed voter data of District 3 constituents. 
"They did not sign up for the theft of their taxpayer dollars to be used to acquire their personal, private data to be used for political gain… and they didn’t sign up for shady, backroom deals between political consultants and elected officials to keep members of our community from serving on county boards," Siddique added. 
When asked in a follow-up email about rumors he has plans to run for office, Siddique answered, "Many people have reached out encouraging me to run, but I have not declared my candidacy for any office at this time."
In 2022, commissioners voted to expand ELMAC to include additional members so that each of the seven commissioners could independently appoint one citizen member of their represented district to the advisory committee—citizens residing anywhere in the county can apply for the at-large committee seats. 
Earlier this year, commissioners changed the term expiration dates for ELMAC citizen members who serve in the roles of commissioner district appointments. Citizen members serving in ELMAC's district seats will see their terms expire concurrently with the terms of the commissioners who appointed them. Newly elected commissioners now have the ability to appoint an ELMAC member representing their district at the onset of their commission term. 
Siddique submitted an application to serve in ELMAC's District 6 (At-large) seat, a role to be filled by Bearden who was newly elected in the 2022 election. Siddique was one of more than a dozen applicants who applied for the At-Large appointment. Siddique was not selected for the role.
Mattingly told TBT by email that he submitted an application on April 18 to be considered for an upcoming vacancy on the MPO. However, a vote by commissioners for the citizen appointment to MPO that was set to be taken during a May 12 meeting was postponed to a future meeting—date unknown. 
When asked specifically about the text message Pedicini sent Bearden and Satcher about him and any possible future appointments, Mattingly declined to comment further. 
Additional text records obtained by TBT sent and received from the phone of Commissioner Bearden show that 10 days after the commissioner received the text from Pedicini about individuals "we should not appoint to anything," Bearden texted his aide asking for a list of committee applicants. 
May 15, 3:38 p.m.: Bearden texted his aide, "Can you please let me know who all have applied to ELMAC board. Just email me the applicants."
At 3:45 p.m., his aide wrote back, "Do you mean MPO? I don’t see any applications for ELMAC." 
Bearden immediately responded, texting, "ELAMC. Can you please find out. There should be." 
At approximately 4 p.m., Bearden’s aide sent a follow-up series of texts telling the commissioner, "I called Charlie Hunsiker, he is sending them over ASAP via email" and "Keep in mind applications are open until May 22."
At 4:30 pm, the aide texted again to let Bearden know he should expect an email with ELMAC applicants' information the next morning from Hunsiker. Bearden texted back, "OK, sounds good."
Despite our attempts to reach Bearden by email and text, TBT did not receive any comment from Bearden on his text records prior to this story’s publication. 
Pedicini is a political operative/campaign consultant and owner of Strategic Image Management (SIMWINS), a political consulting firm based in Tampa. Most notably in Manatee County politics, each of the seven commissioners currently serving on the Manatee County Commission are individual clients of Pedicini’s firm. 
In 2020, Commissioners George Kruse, Vanessa Baugh, James Satcher, and Kevin Van Ostenbridge hired the services of Pedicini and during the 2022 local elections, Pedicini’s firm appeared on the campaign filings of newly elected Commissioners Amanda Ballard, Mike Rahn, and Jason Bearden. 
In light of rumors that Siddique could be a possible challenger to incumbent Van Ostenbridge in 2024, a recent Facebook post on the Manatee County Government’s official social media page drew some attention when a photo appeared to be altered to crop out Siddique. 
On the evening of June 25, the official page of the Manatee County Government shared a Facebook post highlighting a recent community event of the local Salvation Army. Van Ostenbridge and Siddique were both volunteers of the June 23 event and one of the photos shared with the Facebook post included both Van Ostenbridge and Siddique standing alongside other volunteers. 
Four hours after the county's Facebook page shared its original post about the Salvation Army’s event, a duplicate post was shared about the event to the page, but in the newest version, the photo that appeared previously with Siddique alongside Van Ostenbridge and other volunteers had been cropped to remove Siddique from the frame. 
In the hours after the second post with the altered photo appeared on Facebook, several members of the public commented calling foul on the altered photo. 
One Facebook user responded, "How small of you to cut Talha Siddique from the picture, but then, I can imagine why." 
Another commenter asked, "Manatee County, you are cropping volunteers out of photos now?"
Sometime between 9:30 p.m. when the duplicate post appeared on Facebook, and the following morning, the duplicate post with the cropped images was deleted from the county’s Facebook page. The original post about the Salvation Army event was also edited to include a disclaimer that stated, "Please Note: The Instagram version of this post, which only allows square-aspect ratios, was inadvertently posted to Facebook after this post."
TBT was able to verify that a post was shared by the county’s official Instagram page about the event at roughly the same time the duplicate post appeared on the government’s Facebook page. However, Instagram does require a user to use a squared aspect on all photos uploaded to the site. 
Facebook and Instagram are "connected" apps and settings are available for users of Instagram who have profiles on both sites that allows for a post shared on Instagram to be automatically duplicated to Facebook. That said, if a user utilizes the setting that allows automatic cross-post sharing, the post that appears on Facebook will be an exact replica of the one the user originally shared on Instagram. 
In the instance of the two posts from Manatee County Government’s social media accounts, the second post that appeared on Facebook several hours after the county’s initial Facebook post was made—which the county said was inadvertently posted from Instagram—did not include the multiple hashtags that were included on the Instagram version of the post. However, the squared photos included in the Instagram version of the post did show the photos cropped as they appeared in the duplicate post that was later removed from Facebook. 
Besides text messages from Pedicini to Satcher and Bearden concerning appointments or Mattingly and Siddique, a couple of other incoming texts from the political consultant to the commissioners stood out. 
On April 18, at 5:07 p.m., Pedicini texted Bearden, "Please call me after the meeting." 
The text is notable because April 18 was a board of commissioners meeting where Bearden unexpectedly made a motion to remove Commissioner Van Ostenbridge as the board's chairman and replace him with Commissioner Baugh. 
Two days later during an April 20 meeting, Commissioner Ballard flipped her vote on removing Van Ostenbridge as chairman, reinstating him to the position. 
Pedicini also texted Satcher on April 18. At approximately 6:30 p.m. that evening, Pedicini texted Satcher, "Call me when you can. Can’t wait to download about the meeting." 
Satcher responded, texting back, "At a kid's band concert, will call later."
Pedicini then texted again, adding, "Copy. Everyone is absolutely blowing up mad." 
To view the text messages between Pedicini and Commissioners Satcher and Bearden that were originally obtained through public records request by the Florida Center for Government Accountability, click here, and here. 


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