- April 7, 2021
After At-large Commissioner George Kruse said at a Jan. 26 County Commission meeting he thought fellow Commissioner Carol Whitmore was planning to use photos of him with another women to "manipulate votes on this board," county residents might have expected an official investigation.
Those residents might be disappointed.
Randy Warren, the public information officer for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, said the department would need a criminal complaint before starting any investigation.
State Attorney Ed Brodsky's office did not return repeated calls asking whether an investigation was in order.
Kerrie Stillman, the deputy executive director of the Florida Commission on Ethics, said the circumstances are out of the commission's realm.
"If somebody believes that somebody has misused their official position in some way for a personal benefit, they could seek to file a complaint with the Commission," Stillman said. "The state ethics laws relate to conflict of interest. And they all relate to someone's official position versus their private interest. If the allegation is that someone corruptly used their official position or official resources in a manner that's inconsistent with the proper performance of their public duties, and did so to receive a personal benefit, then they could look at the Misuse of Public Position statute and decide whether or not they wish to make that allegation here with the Commission."
Kruse, who admitted he had an extramarital affair during the Jan. 26 Commission meeting, said he is not pursing any sort of action against Whitmore. Whitmore, who denies that claim she was trying to manipulate votes, said the photos had been circulating through the community and were sent to her unsolicited. She has hired an attorney, Brett McIntosh, in the aftermath of the Jan. 26 meeting.
Kruse further said his Jan. 26 comments were not intended as an accusation, but rather an opinion to be considered within the context of his broader point about a “fundamental problem” in the culture of Manatee County government.
He said his comments about his affair and his comments about Manatee County government, which culminated with him raising a motion to give Administrator Cheri Coryea 15 days notice of a vote to terminate her contract, were only “tangentially related.” He said he wanted no speculation about whether his votes or actions were being compromised by Whitmore’s knowledge of his affair.
“I'm not going to have anyone in this town ever, in these four years, ever think that I made a vote, or passed a policy, or did anything because somebody donated to my campaign, or someone's holding something over my head, or somebody voted one way, so I'm going to vote their way the next time,” Kruse said. “That's not how I do business.”
Even so, other commissioners wondered if law enforcement or a state agency might follow up with an investigation.
"Commissioner Kruse used the word blackmail," said Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge. "And extorting a public official with the intent of altering votes is a very serious crime. I think law enforcement is going to investigate, regardless of my opinion."
Board Chair Vanessa Baugh said she would expect some kind of investigation.
"I can't imagine that something like that would be said and nothing come from it," Baugh said. "I mean, that would be ludicrous. But at the same time, you're innocent until proven guilty."
Commissioner James Satcher said he didn't have enough facts to offer his personal opinion, but he thought a law enforcement agency might compile the facts.
"If someone were to look into the facts, who knows what they might find," he said. "I would leave that up to law enforcement."
The catalyst for Kruse’s Jan. 26 comments about both topics was a Jan. 22 meeting between Kruse and Whitmore about community land trusts and affordable housing. Although County Attorney William Clague said the meeting was legal, the manner in which it was organized and conducted upset other commissioners and many citizens.
The meeting was posted only on the county’s calendar, not on the online list of county meetings. News organizations and the other commissioners were not directly notified of the meeting. It started at 8 a.m., which meant citizens could not listen to the start of the meeting because the doors to the Manatee County Administration Building don’t unlock until 8 a.m.
Additionally, Kruse said he began to hear rumors the weekend of Jan. 23 that Whitmore was spreading information about his affair and that she used the Jan. 22 meeting to blackmail him and talk about votes. He wanted to nip those in the bud.