Ramsey County Sheriff Fletcher counters board chair statement over State Fair police talks

Calling it “ridiculous,” Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher on Tuesday responded to a claim by Ramsey County Board Chair Toni Carter that he was not willing to work with the board over concerns it had on the sheriff’s office continuing to provide security during the Minnesota State Fair.

The State Fair on Monday announced that it is reestablishing its own police department, a year after disbanding one and then turning to the sheriff’s office for law enforcement during the 12-day event and until the end of the year under two agreements approved by the county board in late July.

A Nov. 2 board workshop had been planned to review an after-action report on security during the Fair in 2021 and beyond. However, Carter canceled the workshop the same day after Fletcher told her he was unable to make the meeting.

Carter wrote to Gov. Tim Walz two days later, saying “the unwillingness of Sheriff Fletcher to personally engage with the County Board in the important discussions needed to resolve questions and concerns about continuing these agreements.” Carter suggested that the Minnesota Agricultural Society Board, which governs the Fair and maintains the state-owned, 322-acre Fairgrounds, “will need to pursue alternative security arrangements for 2022.”

On Tuesday, Fletcher said Carter’s statement is not true. He told Carter in a letter, which included other county board members, Gov. Tim Walz and County Manager Ryan O’Connor, that he had “attended several meetings, answered every question asked, participated in a board workshop, and assigned staff work with county management.”

“Your assertion that the agreement was not approved because I was not able to attend a meeting is ridiculous,” he wrote. “It would have been more honest and transparent to admit a majority of the County Board did not want to continue the arrangement with the State Fair.”

Fletcher said that he and Carter had exchanged text messages the day before the scheduled workshop and that he told her that five members of the sheriff’s office were going to attend and answer questions after O’Connor presented the report. Fletcher said she never told him that she would cancel the meeting if he was not in attendance.

Asked in an interview Tuesday why he couldn’t make the meeting, Fletcher said it was going to an “informational meeting” led by O’Connor and reiterated that members of his staff were going to attend. “Why? he said. “Because I had a number of other duties that exceed the importance of attending a meeting that I had five members already planning to attend.”

Carter said in an interview Tuesday that Fletcher had personally advocated for the sheriff’s office to provide security during the Fair this year and that “the board was not willing to make that decision to continue in 2022 with a contract without that same advocacy and leadership.”

Security at the Fairgrounds became an issue when the Fair this past spring decided to disband its decades-long police department and instead turn to an outside agency to provide security. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety recommended that the sheriff’s office take the lead role during the Fair, prompting Fletcher and Fair officials to work on a plan.

But the Ramsey County Board had reservations, with liability being chief among them. In late July, the county board signed off two contracts, one that covered the event and another for non-Fair dates through 2021. The board’s decision came after reassurances from Fair officials that it had intended to purchase $10 million in police professional liability insurance and that the policy would include the county.

Fletcher said in his letter to Carter that her letter to Walz prompted him to work with Fair General Manager Jerry Hammer in re-establishing a Fair police department. The new department “is unlikely to be as robust as a security plan” as the one provided by the sheriff’s office, Fletcher said.

Meanwhile, the Fair said Monday its police department will continue its partnerships with the sheriff’s office and Minnesota State Patrol, along with officers from other law enforcement agencies and medical services providers, plus additional security contractors. Ramsey County sheriff Cmdr. Ron Knafla will serve as the Fair’s police chief.

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