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East County Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021 1 year ago

Manatee County Commissioner admits affair, charges manipulation of his vote.

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Meanwhile, Manatee County Administrator Cheri Coryea back on chopping block
by: Brendan Lavell Staff Writer

After At-large Commissioner George Kruse admitted having an affair and accused a fellow commissioner of trying to manipulate his vote because of it, Manatee County commissioners voted Jan. 26 for the second time in less than three months to give County Administrator Cheri Coryea 15 days notice of a vote to possibly terminate her contract.

Kruse raised the motion in part because he said he blamed Coryea for her part in coordinating an informal meeting at 8 a.m., Jan. 22 about supposedly affordable housing with commissioner Carol Whitmore. Whitmore is the commissioner who he said was trying to manipulate his vote.

He said he will leave it up to the Board of Commissioners to decide whether the termination is with or without cause.

The motion to vote on Coryea's status was approved 4-3, as commissioners voted the same as they did last time the motion was raised Nov. 19. Whitmore, Misty Servia and Reggie Bellamy dissented. That motion was reconsidered and shelved Dec. 10 when Kruse said he wanted to give Coryea time to prove she could work with new commissioners.

Coryea said the Jan. 22 meeting was scheduled Jan. 14 and posted online, though the other five commissioners were not directly informed of it. Some Manatee County citizens expressed anger about the meeting, saying the manner in which it was organized lacked transparency. Manatee County Attorney Bill Clague said the meeting was organized and conducted legally.

Manatee County administrator Cheri Coryea has been given only a couple months to work with the new commission.

Kruse said he originally chalked up the organization of the meeting to carelessness, but he reconsidered when he said he was told Whitmore was spreading information about an extramarital affair he had in late 2020 (which he admitted to unprompted at the meeting).

“If you found out a coworker was having an affair, would your first thought be to get physical proof for your files?” said Kruse, who told the commissioners he though Whitmore was "obtaining the pictures to use them to manipulate votes on this board."

Kruse told the board his wife is aware of the affair.

Whitmore said a photo of Kruse talking with a woman at a bar was sent to her. She said she then alerted Kruse that the photos were being circulated in the community, telling him that she didn’t care about his personal life but that he should keep in mind he is one of the most powerful people in Manatee County and he would need to figure out how to work it out with his family.

“I think it’s just an excuse to terminate (Coryea),” Whitmore said. “I asked her to have someone coordinate a meeting for me, and she did her job. I’m one of her seven bosses.”

Kruse said there is nothing Coryea can do to show him she deserves to continue presiding over what he called a “fundamentally flawed system.”

He noted, "these past two months have shown me exactly how this county was run in the past, and unfortunately, in the present. It’s run by, and it’s culture is structured by, people longing for power at any cost.”

Multiple commissioners said it is urgent the board move past the infighting that has plagued it since the new commissioners took office in November.

“I think the majority of the commissioners here agree that what all has been going on needs to stop,” Commission Chair Vanessa Baugh said. “It’s tearing the county apart. And we’re playing into that.”

Baugh said she does not think Coryea is “terrible,” but added every commissioner has the right to have confidence in their administrator. She said the time between now and the vote to terminate Coryea’s contract will give Coryea and the commissioners time to think about what needs to be fixed in county government.

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Brendan Lavell is a general assignment reporter for the Observer. He earned degrees in journalism and history at the University of Missouri. He has visited 48 of the 50 United States, has a black cat named Arya and roots for the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, 76ers and Chelsea FC.

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