Ramsey County commissioners agreed Tuesday to consider using Ramsey County sheriff's deputies to provide security for the Minnesota State Fair, which finds itself without a police force two months before opening day.
The agreement came only after board members aired their disappointment with Sheriff Bob Fletcher, who forced the issue by negotiating last month to take over fair security without first telling the board.
Among the board's many questions: Who will be liable if something goes wrong? How will the Sheriff's Office meet its other obligations? And why should Ramsey County alone be responsible for an event with statewide appeal?
"We all love the fair," said Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt, who like others said she wants to see the fair happen but felt it was unfair that the board was blindsided by the security arrangement.
Jerry Hammer, the fair's general manager, told the board at its Tuesday workshop that as recently as eight weeks ago he didn't know if they could pull off the fair this year due to the uncertainties of the pandemic. And then the chief of the State Fair Police Department retired last month, which led fair officials to disband the department that for decades has coordinated fair security with its own staff and paid volunteers from law enforcement agencies from around the state.
Negotiations with Fletcher were modeled on similar arrangements at other fairs around the country, he said.
Hammer said the fair could cover liability issues, but Reinhardt and other board members said it may not be possible since Ramsey County deputies aren't fair employees. That question and others will be referred to the County Attorney's Office as an agreement is drafted, the commissioners decided.
Board Member Jim McDonough said the state would be a more appropriate place for Hammer to seek a new security arrangement since the fairgrounds are on state property.
"It's a state responsibility to figure this out," he said.
Hammer said he's already asked Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington for help. Harrington has agreed to provide up to 30 State Patrol officers to help at the fair's front gates, Fletcher said.
The plan that Fletcher and Hammer worked out calls for 50 Ramsey County deputies and non-sworn staff working on overtime each day at the fair, with another 20 Hennepin County deputies, the State Patrol officers and 100 other officers from around the state filling out the daily force of 200 personnel. The arrangement could net $200,000 to $300,000 for the county, Fletcher said.
The meeting concluded with plans to ask the state to help out and to begin drafting two agreements: one that would cover deputies already working at the fairgrounds for events leading up to the fair, and a second covering the 12 days of the fair.