The Ramsey County Board signed off Tuesday morning on sending the county Sheriff's Office to the Minnesota State Fair next month to provide security, but the commissioners made it clear that it's a temporary fix to a crisis that developed a few months ago when the fair's security plan collapsed.
"This was a one-time deal," said Commissioner Rafael E. Ortega. "The risk involved here is huge, financially, if anything goes wrong."
The agreement removes a potential showstopper for the 2021 fair that arose when the fair's general manager, Jerry Hammer, disbanded the State Fair Police Department about two months ago.
Hammer told the board last month that as recently as April he wasn't sure a fair would even happen due to the uncertainties of the pandemic.
Then Paul Paulos, the fair's chief of police, retired in May, and Hammer decided it would be best to hire an outside law enforcement agency rather than make the equipment upgrades and training improvements that Paulos recommended.
The State Fair Police Department for decades coordinated fair security with its own staff and paid volunteers from law enforcement agencies around the state.
Ramsey County commissioners on Tuesday made it clear that they were concerned by the county's liability, even as they signaled support for a one-time security deal.
Although no one specifically mentioned the city of Minneapolis' multimillion-dollar payouts to the families of George Floyd and Justine Damond, County Manager Ryan O'Connor said events "of the last two years" serve as a reminder of what could go wrong.
The two joint-powers agreements that commissioners approved Tuesday with the public corporation that runs the fair, the Minnesota State Agricultural Society, require the MSAS to obtain $10 million of coverage from a private insurer to augment its existing coverage.
Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher, who attended the board meeting, added later that the MSAS has $60 million in capital assets.
The county will still be required to cover any workers' compensation claims, O'Connor said.
The agreements cover the duration of the 12-day fair as well as general security for the fairgrounds for the remainder of the year.
The Sheriff's Office will send some of its own deputies along with 100 or more law enforcement officers from departments around the state to cover the fair's security needs.
Fletcher said officers typically enjoy working the fair because of the friendly reception they get from fairgoers and the potential to earn overtime pay.
The board was initially disappointed with Fletcher when the security plan was first aired last month — he had been negotiating with Hammer to take over security before asking the commissioners for approval.
When Fletcher first presented the plan to the board, he implied that the commissioners held the fate of the State Fair in their hands.
Although they've agreed to send the Sheriff's Office to the fair this year, several commissioners repeated on Tuesday that the county shouldn't bear the responsibility alone.
"This is a state fair. It's not a county fair," said Commissioner Mary Jo McGuire.
Matt McKinney • 612-673-7329