The State Attorney's Office has announced it will not pursue charges against former District 5 Commissioner Vanessa Baugh or current District 4 Commissioner Mike Rahn after investigating a complaint about possible Sunshine Law violations.
The complaint was filed after a lunch meeting at a downtown Bradenton restaurant March 1, 2023, between then-interim Administrator Lee Washington, Jon Mast, Baugh and Rahn. Washington had reported a whistleblower complaint about the meeting. In the complaint, and an interview with Manatee County Sheriff's Office detectives, Washington gave a statement saying the topic of hiring Mast as a deputy county administrator took place.
Detectives were unsuccessful trying to obtain video surveillance of the meeting from the restaurant. State Attorney's investigators interviewed five people, including two patrons who were in the restaurant at the time, and Mast.
Investigators questioned Washington about why he waited three months (filed on June 15) to issue a whistleblower complaint. Washington answered that he didn't want to put the county through more chaos.
Upon being interviewed, the State Attorney's report said Mast didn't recall anything specific about the conversation during the lunch. He said the conversation was not about his possible employment with the county. Neither patron interviewed could hear any of the conversation that was relevant to the case. The State Attorney's report said the statements by Mast and Washington were inconsistent "with one party claiming the conversation occurred while the other party claiming it did not."
Without any corroborating evidence, the State Attorney's Office reported it had insufficient evidence to prove that a Sunshine Law violation had occurred beyond a reasonable doubt. Any prosecution was declined.