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Race for Ramsey County sheriff: Bob Fletcher's style focus of attention

Bob Fletcher
Bob Fletcher

After 16 years as Ramsey County Sheriff, Bob Fletcher says he's still hungry for the job and is looking ahead to new programs he can implement to stop crime in St. Paul and its suburbs.

But to get that fifth term, he's got to fend off an election challenge from Assistant St. Paul Police Chief Matt Bostrom.

Bostrom has some stellar crime-fighting credentials — 28 years with the St. Paul Police Department, including a long string of top cop management jobs. He's had some high-profile stints as deputy chief of patrol, chief of staff and head of St. Paul's efforts during the 2008 Republican National Convention.

It's been an odd race so far, with the most visible public disagreements coming over debates and lawn signs. Bostrom says Fletcher is ducking debate appearances and putting up illegal campaign signs. Fletcher says he's made his own proposals for debates and if Fletcher signs are up in the wrong places, he'll take them down.


"He should stop complaining and start campaigning," Fletcher said last week.

Such sniping is a far cry from the race four years ago, when Fletcher narrowly beat former St. Paul Police Chief Bill Finney in an acrimonious campaign that included implications that a close Finney friend might be involved in a 1981 murder.

That friend, Aaron Foster, was ultimately acquitted of charges in the decades-old murder, but Fletcher now faces questions about his good friend and wedding best-man, Mark Naylon, who is now in prison for taking money in an FBI sting while working for the sheriff's department. "He shouldn't have put the money in his pocket, and now he's paying the price," Fletcher says.

And Fletcher was in the news in 2009 during reports of mismanagement and misdeeds by the Metro Gang Task Force. The Ramsey County sheriff's office was the fiscal agent for the task force at the time but not responsible for operating procedures, Fletcher says. He said he was very involved with the gang task force from 1997 to 2004, when it was the state gang force, but others ran it during the problem years.

But the real issue in this race comes down to style.

Political and not subtle
Fletcher is very political — he served on the St. Paul City Council and ran for mayor in the 1980s. He's not subtle, prides himself on an independent streak and, as such, he's not well-liked by many in the St. Paul political establishment.

That's led to a slew of endorsements for Bostrom from county law enforcement officials who say he's a better choice for running the department. And because Bostrom doesn't seem comfortable in the rough and tumble of political mud-slinging, many of those supporters have taken on the job of attacking Fletcher.

Left to right: Tom Foley, Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett, former St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington and Matt Bostrom.
MinnPost photo by Joe Kimball
Left to right: Former county attorney Tom Foley, Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett, former St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington and Matt Bostrom.

County Attorney Susan Gaertner supports Bostrom, as does her predecessor, Tom Foley.

"The key issues of trust, professionalism and integrity are the reasons the law enforcement community in Ramsey County are supporting Matt Bostrom," Foley said at a City Hall rally for Bostrom. Former St. Paul Police Chiefs John Harrington and Finney were there, too, along with current Chief Tom Smith.

Bostrom has support from all seven members of the St. Paul City Council, not too surprising since his father, Dan Bostrom, is a long-time council member and former police officer.

And Ramsey County Board members support Bostrom, too.

"I know personally what it's like to work with Bob Fletcher, and it's not always pleasant," said Commissioner Tony Bennett. "I've seen bullying and lack of planning, and employment lawsuits brought by deputies who were demoted because they didn't work on Fletcher's campaigns."

Although the sheriff's race is nonpartisan on the ballot, Bostrom has the DFL endorsement. But Bennett is a Republican, as are Bostrom supporters Tom Heffelfinger, the former U.S. attorney, and Bev Aplikowski, chair of the district GOP and a former Arden Hills mayor.

Collaboration becomes an issue
Bostrom's plans as sheriff: better collaboration with other agencies, a budget freeze, more diversity, better technology. He wants more emphasis on domestic violence and elder abuse.

"We have an opportunity to change how the department is trusted and viewed," Bostrom said. "I want to restore the trust and build relationships with diverse communities. And I'll never overspend."

For his part, Fletcher says he doesn't look for partisan support. "There's always some implied debt, and it's only a source of problems," he said.

Fletcher points to success with reduction of meth use and outreach to the Hmong community. Next, he'd like to work more closely with leaders of the Somali community to reduce youth crime.

"I'm proud of the things we've done," he said. "My opponent hasn't raised any issues of substance pertaining to the public safety of the citizens of Ramsey County. They talk about more collaboration, but we already collaborate with more agencies than any other department. We have extreme collaboration on a daily basis."

Nearly 500 people work in the sheriff's office: there are about 225 sworn officers, 125 correctional officers and about 100 civilian employees. The office runs the jail, protects county courtrooms and operates many crime-prevention initiatives.

The two metro daily newspapers have agreed on their choice.

The St. Paul newspaper, which has endorsed Fletcher in the past, gives the nod to Bostrom this year:

He promised to be a professional, rather than a political, sheriff (we note, however, that he's running with the endorsement of the DFL, almost every local DFL office holder, and that of several prominent Republicans). He talks about his commitment to "community policing" and to building a force that reflects the communities it serves.

The gist of Bostrom's campaign is that the sheriff's office needs both tighter reins and better connections with other agencies and jurisdictions. He's right. Trust in law enforcement is hard to build and easy to lose. Budgets are tight and will remain so for years to come. The job of every public-sector leader must include pinching and scraping and finding smart ways to stretch resources — including sharing services and facilities and people, wherever possible. Bostrom is well positioned to lead well in this environment, and that's why he has our support.


The Minneapolis paper, too, endorsed Bostrom.

Fletcher has done a decent job with the basic duties of the post — managing the jail and water patrol and providing law enforcement for several suburban towns — and we have endorsed him when he has had less formidable opponents. That's not the case in this election. Bostrom would bring a fresh approach to leading the department.

Joe Kimball reports on St. Paul City Hall and Ramsey County politics.

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Comments (12)

Great article!

The challenges to Bob Fletchers style of management also come from retired, current and reserve deputies. The public testimonies describe an internal system of management NOT based on seniority or merit. Assignment of jobs, promotions, favors are all handed out based on Bob Fletcher's favor, frequently gained from campaign related activities. Four deputies have come forward to speak out publicly. Many other deputies privately confirm what is being said. Rather than true volunteers, Bob Fletcher has the deputies and employees "volunteer" to run his campaign to keep his favor. Just look at the financial reports for confirmation.

A more complete write up is here:

http://tinyurl.com/3xbdubl

Mr. Fletcher's faults have been more than adequately documented over the years. His most recent gaffes, to my mind, are his purchase of a $280,000 toy to patrol the few miles of the Mississippi River within his jurisdiction and his mishandling of the RNC. Goodbye, Bob.

If Grace Kelly likes this article then you know it is biased to favor her employer (she is a long time staffer for Mr. Bostrom). As usual a local reporter is too lazy to get out from his computer screen to see what is actually happening out in the community. Mr. Kimball, if he bothered, can see that the support for Sheriff Fletcher is wide spread. It might not be from the dfl hacks and politicals who support his opponent or from the handful of deputies that had to be reprimanded for misconduct. All one has to do is drive down any street in St. Paul, New Brighton, Roseville or White Bear Lake to see what most Ramsey County residents feel. The lawn signs for Fletcher are everywhere - and none of them have been ever put up illegally. We know that Bob Fletcher has served Ramsey County well and we will show that support for him on November 2nd.

PS: Try googling what Ms. Kelly and her pals had to say about how their candidate lied to the community when he told us that St. Paul would not become a "police state" during the 2008 RNC mess.

Correction re: The roles of each candidate in the Republican National Convention.

Bostrom was in charge of the St. Paul Police before the convention and reiterated the mayor's promise that St. Paul would uphold the civil rights of protesters. But FLETCHER was given charge by the Feds of all local police activity during the convention -- as in the preemptive raids and arrests, and the massive roundups and jailing of peaceful people marching for peace.

Bostrom and the mayor had no authority to influence the debacle directed by Homeland Security/FBI/Secret Service/et al. plus Fletcher.

Fletcher is also the guy who was instrumental in the creation of the Gang Task Force disbanded for corruption a year or so ago. I don't think we want him to be our sheriff anymore if we can have Bostrom, a man of intelligence and integrity, in that position.

Actually Michael, for several blocks on 3rd street, right off of Arcade, there were several posted, abandoned homes that had Fletcher signs stuck there. Fletcher was alerted to this, but they stayed up for weeks. He finally took them down, because they were illegal. You have to get the owner's permission first, and in this case it was usually the banks. They were obviously illegal, and he eventually took them down. I have pictures and addresses if you would like.

Yes, Alec, I found it very interesting that all the vacant/abandoned houses in my neighborhood on the east side seemed to be "supporting" Bob Fletcher as well.

I am no great fan of Matt Bostrom. Either he lied to us about what would happen during the Republican National Convention, or he still has some serious explaining to do. I am still waiting.

But Bob Fletcher is a completely different case. He operated and operates completely above the law, conducting raids outside his jurisdiction, mass arrests, extra-judicial punishment in the form of pepper-spray of bystanders, illegal confiscation of personal possessions, authorizing massive expenditures without authorization, making false statements concerning arrests (remember the "weaponized urine" nonsense?). He still operates outside the law and outside his jurisdiction. Within the past month, I have twice seen his Ramsey County deputies in Hennepin County conducting surveillance on peace activists. The man is totally out of control and his department is sloppy, unprofessional and (in my opinion) a very real danger to public safety in the way that he runs it.

Consider this: If Fletcher gets re-elected and if Minneapolis wins its bid to host the Democratic National Convention in Minneapolis in 2012 and if Mpls police chief Dolan continues his loose control over rogue Minneapolis police officers, what do you think the Twin Cities will look like in two years? I see a bad storm brewing and can only hope that Ramsey County voters take at least the small step in removing a very bad county sheriff.

Michael Samuelson:

Bull. I'd be stunned if Grace is employed by the Bostrom campaign, although she certainly is a staffer. If so, though, good for her; it's an honorable job to work for even a candidate less terrific than Matt Bostrom.

I drove over to St. Paul, a couple of weeks ago, to meet Matt Bostrom, in person, for the first time; we'd chatted, twice, briefly on the phone, but I wanted to shake his hand.

On the way, I saw about as many Bostrom signs as Fletcher signs, but about half of the Fletcher signs were on abandoned or unoccupied property -- three, in fact, were in the front yards of boarded-up houses.

If Fletcher's campaign put those signs up lawfully -- hah! -- from whom did they get permission? The bank who owns the houses? Please show all work.

Michael Samuelson's zeal to expose Grace, for full disclosure, leaves out his own disclosure. His wife is a deputy. Not just a deputy but, one of Bob Fletcher's undersheriffs. His livelihood is tied to Bob's re-election. His wife is one of the lawn sign deputies. Ol' Sammy from the Midway left out that little fact while he was blasting Kimball for not doing his homework.
Grace Kelly is a volunteer and not an employee by the way.

It's over Sammy, you may actually have to get out and get a real job. Your wife will be re-assigned to removing the camera's along the river and placing an ad to sell that ridiculous boat the Sheriff bought for river patrols.

Mr. Ziegler: My wife is a crime analyst for the Ramsey County Sheriffs Department - not an undersheriff as you claim. In addition, I do not need to go out and get a "real job" as I am currently on disability due to a terminal cancer diagnosis. Thanks for being a hater. Should be expected from a weasel-like dfler like yourself.

That being said my original comments stand true. There are thousands of Fletcher for Sheriff lawnsigns up all over the county. To suggest that a few of them may by "illegal" is a smoke screen to cloud the fact that the dfl endorsed candidate has no real support out in the community. This charge is just an example of the empty campaign style of the dfl.

I too have noticed all of the lawn signs for Fletcher, but I have also seen quite a few Bostrom signs. I have noticed that some of Fletcher's signs show their age (from past campaigns) and also are lined up in rows on public easements. As a person who feels it is important to become an informed voter, I appreciate Mr Kimball's article. I can now take the information he has given us and research further. Thank you, Joe.

I spent most of the week of the RNC, and the weekend before it started, running around trying to put out the bonfires Mr. Fletcher made of our civil rights.

Later, while defending clients against totally specious criminal charges and looking through the arresting officers' notes, I was amazed how often Mr. Fletcher was personally present at allegedly criminal events. More than once, he was clearly the causative agent.

Shepard Road was the worst - he announced in advance that the main bridge to Harriet Island would be open to pedestrian traffic for the concert. Then he personally blocked that bridge and diverted everyone down onto Shepard Road, where he blocked hundreds of innocent people from the far end - and then from the bridge end - and then announced that he could see smoke coming from a dumpster, and it must have been started by "anarchists." Then he ordered the cops on bikes at the far end to close in, more cops on horseback to tighten up from the side, and then even more cops on foot to draw this sack full of people up between the river and a chain link fence.

Then his favorite deputies went through the crowd, releasing those who looked like Young Republicans and jailing anyone who looked different for three days. Charged them with things like "felony riot."

Just about everyone who could stick it out through the aggravatingly slow courtroom processes got their charges dismissed.

Ramsey County got an insurance policy to cover their liability for any damages during the RNC, but did not get any money from the feds or the RNC for processing all those hundreds of charges against individuals. So the County was under a great deal of pressure to collect some kind of money from the defendants in order to keep the court's budget from going under.

The whole thing was a disgrace. Hundreds of people arrested for nothing. Maybe 47 people plead out - most of them just so they wouldn't have to keep coming back to court.

And what did Bob Fletcher get from the feds in exchange for turning our Twin Cities into occupied territory, anyway? Was there a quid pro quo regarding what must have been some anticipated federal charges following those felony convictions of his closest associates?

Once again, Karl Rove left no fingerprints.