Former Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher is running for the county Board of Commissioners against incumbent Tony Bennett, a four-term commissioner who campaigned for the man who unseated Fletcher as sheriff.

Fletcher and Bennett, running for the District One seat, faced off once before when both ran for Ramsey County Sheriff in 1994. Fletcher won, and began a controversial 16-year career that included the dissolution of the Metro Gang Strike Force, pre-emptive raids during the 2008 Republican National Convention and a strong outreach to refugee communities.

He sued the Board of Commissioners in the late 1990s for $900,000 to pay for deputies to guard prisoners at Regions Hospital after the state stopped providing the service. The two sides compromised out of court.

"I've spent most of my life trying to represent the average person," Fletcher said Tuesday of his decision to run for commissioner.

Fletcher said his main goals are to rescind a 25 percent salary increase that commissioners received in 2008, expand the county's counter-terrorism efforts and fight drug addiction as a step toward reducing crime. The county could also cut costs by increasing collaboration and eliminating management and administrative posts through attrition, he said.

Fletcher criticized the board's salary increase as "out-of-step" with residents struggling in a bad economy. (Fletcher turned his Vadnais Heights home over to a bank earlier this year for financial reasons.) Commissioners voted to increase their 2007 salaries, $63,948 for commissioners and $66,097 for the chair. They earned $80,000 and $82,500, respectively, in 2008.

From January 2007 to July 2008, Fletcher's salary as sheriff went from $122,328 to $131,680, about a 7.6 percent increase.

Commissioners earn $84,048, and the board chair earns $86,675, salaries for 2011-2013. Fletcher now earns $106,100 a year at the St. Paul Police Department, where he started in 1977 and returned to after losing his 2010 re-election bid to Matt Bostrom. Now, he is head of the property crimes unit.

Bennett said his campaign will rely on his track record of finding state, federal and grant funding for east metro projects. He was a key proponent of building a Vikings stadium on vacant land in Arden Hills, a plan that was ultimately rejected by the Vikings and Gov. Mark Dayton.

"I represent the people," Bennett said.

Bennett is a life-long Ramsey County resident who was a St. Paul police officer, state legislator and U.S. marshal. He was first elected commissioner in 1996, and was re-elected in 2000, 2004 and 2008.

Bennett, former St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington, former state Sen. Mee Moua, county Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt, who is running for re-election in District Seven, and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum served as Bostrom's election committee in his race against Fletcher.

Fletcher said his run for commissioner has nothing to do with his run-ins with Bennett in their sheriff/commissioner relationship or with the sheriff's race. He said that when he was sheriff, he had considered the position of commissioner as a natural move.

Shoreview Council Member Blake Huffman and attorney Frank Mabley are also running for the District One seat.

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib