Ramsey County Sheriff Jack Serier announced Wednesday that he will run for the position next year in the wake of concerns from some of his employees that understaffing at the county jail has endangered inmates and correctional officers.
Serier, who was appointed sheriff in January by the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners, could face several challengers with long records of public service. Attorney and lobbyist Nancy Haas, former Minneapolis police officer Mike Martin and former Ramsey County sheriff Bob Fletcher all confirmed their interest in running for the post.
Serier defended his handling of the jail issue Wednesday, saying that it took time to hire new corrections officers, and that the facility will be fully staffed by early December.
But a union representative, Haas and Fletcher were critical of how long it took Serier to address the issue. The union is currently in negotiations with the sheriff's administration regarding staffing, and neither would divulge the staffing numbers this past summer, or, what full staffing would look like.
Ramsey County Undersheriff Steve Frazer said exact numbers are "security data" and cannot be shared.
"I don't know if the sheriff dropped the ball, or, whether there are challenges with putting qualified correctional officers on the floor," said Brian Aldes, secretary-treasurer and principal officer of Teamsters Local 320, a union representing law enforcement employees. "In a nutshell, it's the sheriff's job to staff this jail."
Aldes said correctional officers were made to work overtime shifts to compensate for staffing shortages.
E-mails sent to jail administration and Ramsey County commissioners in August show anxiety and fear among some correctional officers. They wrote about jail pods being locked down, upset inmates flooding cells, inmates assaulting staff and officers working 14-hour shifts.
"On a staff level, I see the frustration on a daily basis," one correctional officer wrote to the sheriff's administration. "…Something bad is going to happen to one or more of our staff if something is not fixed …"
Haas, who has worked on public safety issues for years as a lobbyist for the Minnesota County Attorney's Association and in other arenas, said Serier took too long to address the staffing issue.
"We've had, what, seven to eight months under our belt?" she said. "And if you're the sheriff in a leadership role and you haven't resolved it, that's concerning."
Serier said the sheriff's office received 464 applications and conducted 363 interviews in July and August in order to hire more corrections officers.
Frazer said that to address the issue more immediately, the department stopped an academy that was in progress and moved 13 deputies in training and four corrections officers into the jail in early September. The expectation is to have 35 new full-time jail staff by December, he said.
Haas said she is giving "serious consideration" to running for sheriff. She was named Minnesota Lawyer's Attorney of the Year in 2013 for her work as lead lobbyist for marriage equality in Minnesota, and has worked the last five years as a police officer at the State Fair.
Martin, currently the assistant director of the department of emergency management at the University of Minnesota, said he is also considering a run for sheriff..
Martin's law enforcement career includes 23 years with Minneapolis police and nine years as a trainer with the National Gang Center. He joined the UM in 2014.
Fletcher, who served as sheriff for 16 years until losing to former Sheriff Matt Bostrom in the 2010 election, said the current jail situation "weighs heavily on me."
"There's certainly a significant likelihood that I will run for sheriff," Fletcher said, "but I won't make a decision until after the first of the year."
Laura Goodman, former director of public safety at St. Catherine University, had expressed interest in the job earlier this year when Serier was appointed to replace Bostrom, but said she did not intend to join the race next year.