A divided Ramsey County Board on Tuesday narrowly approved sending $868,530 to Sheriff Bob Fletcher to cover civil unrest costs accrued this year, with several commissioners questioning the request's timing and Fletcher's budgeting practices.
Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo, who voted to oppose the request, said she's become wary of Fletcher's budgets even as she supports the Sheriff's Office deputies.
"I was prepared to vote yes," she told other commissioners minutes before the vote, but said she switched her vote to a "no" when she felt she wasn't getting a straight answer from the Sheriff's Office about the possibility of future cost overruns. The funding approval passed 4-3.
"The questions and concerns here are about leadership and the way that our budgets are being handled," she said.
Fletcher and the board have tangled repeatedly over funding issues since shortly after he took office in 2019. The sheriff sued the board late last year, saying his department wasn't given the money he needed to do his job. He ultimately lost.
His civil unrest funding request came in early August, when he told the board he needed the money to pay for unexpected costs related to the Jan. 6 insurrection, the Derek Chauvin trial, the protests in Brooklyn Center after the police shooting of Daunte Wright, along with a variety of threats or perceived threats against government buildings, the governor, public officials and local businesses.
One year ago, the county reimbursed Fletcher for nearly $500,000 in contingency costs related to civil unrest in May and June of 2020.
Commissioners Jim McDonough and Mary Jo McGuire also voted no Tuesday. McDonough raised concerns that Fletcher may be spending county resources on things outside the statutory requirements of the office, citing the sheriff's announcement last week that he plans to open a charter school. The announcement was sent out Wednesday afternoon from Sheriff's Office employee Kyle Mestad on his Ramsey County e-mail, and Sheriff's Office spokesman Roy Magnuson was listed as the school's media contact.
The board hopes to clear the air over some of their budget concerns at a series of workshops they've requested with Fletcher, said board Chair Toni Carter. The workshops haven't yet been scheduled, but the board will meet with Fletcher's office next week to hear details about his handling of security at this year's Minnesota State Fair, another area of contention.
The months of budget battles with the Sheriff's Office have grown tiresome, said MatasCastillo, who said her questions about taxpayer funds often get misinterpreted as a "defund the police" stance. She said she's proud of the Sheriff's Office deputies and the work they're doing, but social media trolls attack her anyway.
"As soon as I question the sheriff it will be on social media that I am anti-law enforcement and anti-public safety, and that's just not true," she said.