The ongoing dispute between the Ramsey County board and Sheriff Bob Fletcher over his budget intensified Tuesday as commissioners heard a request to reimburse the sheriff’s department for its response to this year’s civil unrest.
Fletcher at a Tuesday commissioner workshop meeting asked for more than $868,000 from the county for the department’s costs associated with its response to civil unrest or perceived threats. They included 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 guarded retail areas in Brooklyn Center following the April 11 shooting of Daunte Wright.
Fletcher gave commissioners a two-page request just before the workshop was to begin — a move that didn’t sit well with Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt, who said handing it out when he did is “game playing.”
Fletcher responded by saying that he understood workshops are for asking questions and “a chance to get up to speed,” not to take a vote on the request. He further explained that he was under the assumption that county staff would pass on details regarding the request, since they had been working with the sheriff’s department.
Commissioners asked Fletcher to provide them with an itemized list of how the department arrived at the costs. A vote on the request could come at next week’s meeting.
At times, the discussion grew touchy between Fletcher and Reinhardt, who said a common question she hears from people is, “What the heck is going on with your sheriff? And it’s not in a good way.”
Fletcher interrupted Reinhardt. “They’ll have a chance to express their opinion next year,” he said, referring to the election.
Commissioner Jim McDonough mentioned how Fletcher is an independently elected official and that “there needs to be accountability” and trust. He mentioned how Fletcher sued the county board over the $1.2 million in cuts to his budget.
“So you don’t have this solid foundation for that trust,” he said.
Fletcher countered by saying that he had requested that $550,000 be added to the 2021 budget for civil unrest, but it was part of the cut.
“That was the amount of money we estimated that we would need,” he said. “January 6, 2021, changed everything in this country. And I know some of you actually reached out to us on Jan. 7. People said let’s make sure nothing like that happens in Minnesota. And we accomplished that task. And this is the cost of the overtime necessary to do it.”
County Manager Ryan O’Connor told commissioners that it is a “normal process” for the county to work with departments on “unforeseen costs” in an attempt to “try to manage their costs during the year, so it’s not to put additional undue stress on taxpayers by the end of the year. And then we have that conversation later in the year to say this is what the department did to manage those costs.”
Fletcher previously has asked commissioners for reimbursement after civil unrest. In 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 the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.