After the State Fair disbanded its own police department that used to patrol its grounds, a hastily arranged plan to place Ramsey County sheriff's deputies there this summer has been nixed — at least temporarily — by county officials who said they would need to approve it first.
The move by County Manager Ryan T. O'Connor included a note on Tuesday to State Fair officials that they should begin searching for another security arrangement for the weeks leading up to the fair, despite negotiating with Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher for the past month and even hiring deputies to patrol the fairgrounds since June 1.
"I regret being the party having to share this news with you both," O'Connor wrote to Fletcher and fair General Manager Jerry Hammer.
The fair usually provides its own security through the State Fair Police Department, but the force disbanded last month when State Fair Police Chief Paul Paulos retired. State Fair officials said in a statement last week that the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office was providing security for the fairgrounds in the meantime and that they were in discussions to hire Ramsey County deputies for the fair.
The problem: County officials say Fletcher needs approval from the Ramsey County Board, much the same way the board signs off on the sheriff's agreements to provide law enforcement services to a handful of Ramsey County communities. The agreement must address liability, cost, body camera policy, hiring needs and impacts to the sheriff's budget, O'Connor wrote.
O'Connor said the board only recently learned that Fletcher and State Fair officials had been in talks since early May. He urged both Fletcher and Hammer to attend a Ramsey County Board workshop June 22 to craft the needed agreement. Until then, there's no way for the State Fair to pay sheriff's deputies, he said.
Fletcher notified the board June 9 that he was talking to fair officials about a security plan, telling them that he first learned May 6 that Paulos was retiring. He said he ultimately approved sending deputies to the fairgrounds from June 1 to Aug. 25, but he told fair officials he would likely need a formal agreement before approving security during the fair from Aug. 25 to Sept. 6.
Fletcher said in the letter that he estimates the fair would need 200 officers each day, a force comprising Ramsey County deputies and individuals recruited from other departments including the state patrol. That's an increase from 160 officers a day in 2019, but Fletcher said recent crime trends require more security. He said it would cost the fair $1.89 million for the arrangement.
In an interview, Fletcher disputed O'Connor's contention that the State Fair can't pay the deputies without a board-approved agreement. "Ryan O'Connor doesn't know the law," he said, adding that the deputies will continue to patrol the fairgrounds. O'Connor said in his letter that he had been advised by the county attorney's office.
Fletcher said he was surprised to get O'Connor's letter. "I thought the Grinch only stole Christmas. Now it seems the Grinch is trying to steal the State Fair."
Two weeks ago Fletcher and the Ramsey County Board squared off in Ramsey County District Court after Fletcher sued over cuts the board made to his budget in 2020. The two sides presented their arguments to Judge Ronald L. Abrams, who took the matter under advisement.
Matt McKinney • 612-673-7329