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Public interest cited as reason for lawsuit against Manatee County commissioners

Kevin Van Ostenbridge says efforts to prove he and fellow commissions committed Sunshine Law violations are a witch hunt.

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  • | 11:20 a.m. January 6, 2021
Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge disagrees with Michael Barfield's assertion that the commissioner has not provided all necessary records.
Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge disagrees with Michael Barfield's assertion that the commissioner has not provided all necessary records.
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Sarasota-based paralegal consultant Michael Barfield said he has no intention of stopping his efforts to find out if Manatee County Commissioners Vanessa Baugh, James Satcher, Kevin Van Ostenbridge and George Kruse violated Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine Law before they voted to consider the termination of Manatee County Administrator Cheri Coryea on Nov. 19.

“I think there's so much controversy surrounding the attempted firing of the county administrator, that finding out how that happened and went down, serves a public interest," Barfield said.

Although Coryea’s job is no longer in jeopardy (commissioners voted Dec. 10 to throw out the previous motion), Barfield said he doesn’t believe in no harm, no foul.

On Dec. 18, he amended an existing lawsuit against Satcher, adding Baugh and Van Ostenbridge as defendants as he seeks judicial relief in his attempt to gain public records. Barfield, the president of Florida's American Civil Liberties Union executive committee, filed public records requests in November against the four commissioners — Baugh, Van Ostenbridge, Kruse and Satcher. 

Barfield said Kruse has cooperated with the records requests, and he claims the other three commissioners have not. Van Ostenbridge and Satcher, however, dispute Barfield's account, saying they have provided all the documents required. Baugh, saying she is working with an attorney, declined comment.

"Clearly, there are powerful people behind this," Van Ostenbridge said. "It's no coincidence that the three commissioners who are the strongest supporters of President Trump are the only three commissioners who are being targeted in this witch hunt. The only thing that Barfield's handlers are attempting is to run up my legal bills, create headaches for me. I came into office wanting to drain the swamp, and I followed through on campaign promises. And the establishment is angry about the change that voters asked for."

"This is just a vendetta to bog down the agenda of putting the citizens first, shrinking government, watching people's taxes and putting a Manatee-first agenda into place," Satcher said.

Florida Statute 286.011 states that violations of Sunshine Law are punishable by fines not exceeding $500. Additionally, a knowing violation of Sunshine Law can be a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days of imprisonment.


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