I began hearing the rumors several months ago, so I wasn’t completely surprised when Manatee County Commission District 5 Candidate Vanessa Baugh called me one day with a dilemma: Rumors were circulating about her residency in Manatee County.
More specifically, that she didn’t actually live in Manatee, and that she’d try to lure business to Sarasota once elected.
Even before Baugh called me, I had begun pondering how to handle the situation, as I like to keep my hands clean of political drama and wasn’t sure the issue warranted coverage in the paper.
But during a taped segment at METC studios June 30, Baugh’s opponent, John Colon, suggested he was the only one of the two candidates who has paid Manatee County property taxes for a significant length of time and that Baugh had not been going to Manatee County Commission meetings for more than a year, as she had said. Baugh, who was given limited rebuttal, countered by offering documentation from the Sarasota Housing Authority that indicated Colon lived in Sarasota for two years while also living in Manatee. (We’ll go into that later). And I can attest that I, personally, have seen Baugh regularly at Manatee County Commission meetings since fall 2010, either in person or by watching the meetings online.
“He made me sound like a liar, and I need to be able to rectify that,” Baugh said.
True enough, perhaps. But here, we simply will clarify what needs to be clarified.
So, before I begin the rest of my column, let me be clear: In this piece, I am not endorsing either candidate, and I am also not suggesting that Colon is responsible for purposely spreading misinformation. I use the above-mentioned June 30 segment only as an example for a bigger-picture issue. Simply put, I’m just working to air the facts, so our East County community can base its decision on the District 5 race — which also includes two Democratic contenders: Frank Archino and James Golden — on the issues affecting our community, not on hearsay about candidate residency and tax contributions.
So, to start, let’s begin with the basics.
The Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office requires three things of candidates: They must be citizens of the United States; they must be a registered voter of the district for which they are qualifying; and they must be a resident of Manatee County.
All four of our District 5 candidates meet these criteria.
If you want to dig further into the Baugh/Colon dispute, both candidates own property in Sarasota County, but both live in Manatee County.
Colon works in Sarasota and co-owns a home (which has been vacated) with his mother in Sarasota County; he also has owned a home in University Park, which has a Sarasota mailing address but is in Manatee County, since 2000.
Additionally, Colon serves as chairman of the Sarasota Housing Authority Board, and Baugh had brought into question one of the answers on his application dated Sept. 7, 2007. In it, Colon states he had lived in Sarasota for two years. I asked for his explanation.
“I stayed in Sarasota for a couple of months to take care of my elderly mother,” he said. “I never changed my homestead, because I wasn’t there long enough. And my wife never moved there.”
He also noted the Sarasota Housing Authority’s reach extends into Manatee County and beyond, and the agency does not require you to live in Sarasota to be involved with it.
Baugh rents out her home in Sarasota to a couple that has lived there, according to a lease agreement, since November 2010. Baugh, herself, has rented a home in Manatee County since late 2010, and her business has been located on Lakewood Ranch Main Street (Manatee County) since December 2005.
“We were practically in Manatee 24 hours a day (because of the business),” Baugh said of why she and her husband moved to Lakewood Ranch. “We couldn’t sell (our home in Sarasota); we couldn’t take every dime we had to buy another home. We had to make sure we were in shape to keep our business going. Certainly people can appreciate that.”
Baugh may not have physically lived in Manatee County since 2000, like Colon has, but she has been paying real-estate taxes through her business to the tune of about $20,000 between 2006 and 2011, documents show. She’s also has been paying property taxes through her rent payments — which I verified with her landlord. And that’s in addition to other taxes and fees business owners in Manatee pay to the county and other governmental agencies.
And even with all that said, the issue still boils down to this: You don’t have to be a homeowner to be in public office. You just have to live in the district you hope to serve and fulfill the other requirements.
So, as you are preparing to cast your ballot in the District 5 race — or any other, for that matter — let your vote be decided by the ideas each candidate brings to the table and his or her credentials. Stick to the stuff that really matters in an election.