Ramsey County board commissioners sought to draw a line Tuesday between the county sheriff and his push to start a charter school, lobbing questions over consultant work and even the use of letterhead for the school effort.
The commissioners’ concerns bubbled up while they considered a request to reimburse the sheriff’s office for its response to this year’s civil unrest. Comments moved toward the department’s announcement last week that Sheriff Bob Fletcher is among a group of community leaders planning to open a new charter school next year that aims to steer students toward careers in public service.
Commissioner Jim McDonough insinuated that county funds were used to pay consultants for the project, a charge that Fletcher refuted in an interview Tuesday following the meeting. McDonough did not elaborate further on the accusation during the meeting, and a call afterward seeking additional comment was not returned.
“I’m not sure what he’s referring to in terms of public dollars,” Fletcher said. “We have on occasion, employees and consultants that help us with our juvenile outreach. We’ve been doing juvenile outreach after-school programs and tutoring after-school programs all 19 years that I’ve been sheriff.”
McDonough threw out the accusation while the board discussed whether to transfer $868,530 from the county’s general contingency account and into the department’s 2021 budget. McDonough suggested the board should wait until the end of the year.
“We have two more months for the sheriff’s office to try to manage the budget in a way that would minimize impacts to the taxpayers,” McDonough said.
Although Fletcher and his department’s public information officer, Roy Magnuson, are two of the school’s co-founders, and it is not affiliated with sheriff’s office, McDonough said it concerns him that “it’s been indicated that a number of high level, highly paid sheriff staff have been working for two years on the potential for a charter school here in Ramsey County, which certainly is not a part of the statutory authority of the sheriff’s office. But, then also indications that utilizing county funds to pay for outside consultants to help move this forward.”
Fletcher reiterated that any consulting work related to the planned charter school was not on the county’s dime. He added, “I’m not saying some of the conversations and recommendations didn’t come from those, but nothing in the last year.”
He said the planning effort to establish the school has been on top of regular work, done at occasional evening meetings with other board members, which includes former St. Paul Police Chief William Finney and former St. Paul Public Schools teacher Aaron Benner, who now serves as the dean of students at Hill-Murray Middle School and High School.
Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo said she too is concerned about “how we’re using taxpayer resources.”
“You know, the news this week … a charter school sent out with Ramsey County resources on Ramsey County letterhead, makes us question everything that comes out of that office,” she said.
Fletcher called MatasCastillo’s comment “silly.”
“I’m not sure if we did or didn’t use the letterhead, but that’s about as silly as government can get,” he said. “It’s evolved to the point that anything the sheriff does, the three commissioners are against.”
In the end, the board on a 4-3 vote approved the transfer of $868,530 from the general contingency account to the department’s 2021 budget for costs associated with its response to civil unrest or perceived threats between Jan. 1 and July 9, 2021. McDonough, Mary Jo McGuire, MatasCastillo voted against the transfer.
Costs covered the response to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, which included local protests and marches; planning and staging of deputies before and after the Derek Chauvin trial; guarding state buildings; and staffing deputies who helped guard retail areas in Brooklyn Center following the April 11 shooting of Daunte Wright.
Last October, commissioners voted unanimously to authorize the county manager to transfer more than $727,000 from the general contingency account to reimburse departments for costs associated with civil unrest incurred between May 25 and June 30, 2020, following Chauvin’s killing of George Floyd when Chauvin was a Minneapolis police officer.
As an independently elected official, the sheriff is directly accountable to voters, not the board. That hasn’t stopped commissioners from expressing their displeasure with Fletcher over the past year, going so far as to research how to change his position from elected to appointed.
After the board reduced his 2021 budget by $2.54 million, he sued them; a district judge denied his appeal in August.
Also, several county commissioners and St. Paul City Council members have denounced Fletcher’s “Live on Patrol” streaming videos, which have attracted millions of views on social media.
Source : https://www.twincities.com/2021/10/26/ramsey-board/886