Ramsey County Board plays king-maker in Sheriff interim pick, leaving taxpayers in the dark

August 25, 2017

Dear Ramsey County Board of Commissioners:

St. Paul STRONG (SPS) is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving representative government in St. Paul. All of the City of St. Paul is geographically within the confines of Ramsey County. Since our goal is to improve accessible and representative government by encouraging and supporting open and transparent processes, SPS monitors and provides guidance to governmental entities that affect the citizens of its city.

While this issue occurred many months ago, SPS believes it is its responsibility to express its concerns over actions taken by the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners (RCBC) when it appointed an interim County Sheriff following the resignation of Sheriff Matt Bostrom this past January.

As you know, the RCBC chose to appoint from within, not to seek a wider field of applicants, and not to follow a tradition used in filling vacancies on the Saint Paul City Council and Saint Paul School Board. That wise practice insisted that interim appointees not seek election in the next election cycle because the interim appointment gives an unfair advantage to that individual.

Some commissioners have claimed that a subsequent election will allow the citizenry to evaluate the appointed individual’s performance and decide whether they are worthy of their support. Any student of politics would challenge this argument as being disingenuous because the incumbent almost always has the advantage unless s/he has acted egregiously.

The last time the RCBC was in a position to appoint an interim sheriff was in 1992, when then Sheriff Zacharias ended his term to assume his presidential appointment as the US Marshall. Then, the RCBC hired Pat Moen as interim sheriff under the condition that she not seek election in the next cycle. While the decision to appoint an interim sheriff from within was the prerogative of the RCBC, it does raise questions about how the RCBC invites and encourages public comment and safeguards the public trust in the actions taken by the RCBC.

RCBC is viewed as putting its collective thumb on the scale and weighing in a year early on the next election cycle for County Sheriff.

The RCBC lets citizens know that the way they have input is through individual meetings or phone calls to the commissioners. In order for a citizen to appeal to the RCBC, they have to call or meet with each commissioner. This process eliminates the opportunity for robust discussions that can lead to an improved understanding of any given issue, as well as informing the RCBC about potential unintended consequences. A democratic process that allows citizens’ comments provides more accurate information and more informed, responsible decision making. When individual members of the SPS Steering Committee have tried to contact members of the RCBC, they have been met with silence by several commissioners.

While the RCBC provided numerous explanations for their decision, the public should realize that when the newly appointed sheriff has appeared at several of the Saint Paul partisan precinct caucuses after his appointment, the action of the RCBC is viewed as putting its collective thumb on the scale and weighing in a year early on the next election cycle for County Sheriff.

If this is an indication of how the publically elected RCBC conducts the people’s business, SPS has serious concerns about transparency on many issues that impact the citizens of St. Paul/Ramsey County, including investing significant taxpayer dollars on many economic development projects in Ramsey County. We believe that the RCBC should clearly state how the public can have input into the decision-making of the RCBC and also conduct internal evaluations to make its processes more accountable and transparent.

Saint Paul STRONG steering committee

cc: Pioneer Press