The former Ramsey County sheriff on Friday disputed accusations that he hired too many people and left a looming budget crisis for incoming Sheriff Bob Fletcher.
Jack Serier, who left the sheriff’s job on Jan. 7, said he was under budget in his final year in office, disputing Fletcher’s accusations that his formal political rival handed off a bloated payroll.
“All I can tell you is that we left the organization in excellent financial condition,” said Serier, who now serves as a commander in the St. Paul Police Department. “We hired within our budget and I had excellent administrators who did a great job managing the organization and managing our expenses.”
Fletcher, who is on track to overspend his budget by $2.5 million by the end of the year, said he’s been working to remedy problems set in motion in January when Serier made too many hires in his final days in office. On the day he took office, Fletcher said, the Sheriff’s Office was 33 positions over the budgeted allotment, and 28 of those were from the previous administration.
Serier said he’s disappointed that the Sheriff’s Office budget has become a problem this year. He pointed to a Ramsey County budget document that shows he had an approved budget of $58.6 million for 2018 but only spent $56 million of it. The numbers were confirmed by County Manager Ryan O’Connor, who said Serier came in under budget last year.
Serier acknowledged that he hired some people in the last days of his tenure — he thinks it was seven or eight — but said those hires were approved by the incoming Fletcher administration.
“When we sat down with the transition team for the incoming sheriff, we said ‘We will make job offers to these folks but we will hold off if you ask us to do that.’ It was done with their approval,” he said.
Fletcher, who was Ramsey County sheriff from 1994 to 2010, said his incoming staff didn’t know that the new hires were over and above the approved allotment at the time. “Our numbers are correct,” he said of his analysis.
County officials continued Friday to dispute Fletcher’s characterizations of his budget.
County records show Fletcher’s office has hired 79 people so far this year, while 44 people retired or left the department for jobs elsewhere. The difference — 35 jobs — is what’s driving the budget problems, according to county manager O’Connor. Salary costs have climbed from $1.1 million on the Jan. 25 payroll to $1.26 million on Sept. 6.
Fletcher defended the hires, saying most were for short-term or temporary posts, but O’Connor said it doesn’t matter: The salary costs all come from the same pool of money.
O’Connor put financial restrictions on Fletcher’s office this week after the county’s earlier attempts to rein in spending were not successful. Fletcher called the county’s call for fiscal curbs a “political football” and said they’ll have little effect on the Sheriff’s Office since they’re already restricting their spending.