ST. PAUL — Although the Minnesota State Fair is now officially on for this summer, the issue of who will provide security during the 12-day get-together remains unresolved.

State Fair administration and Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher say they have come up with a plan for the sheriff’s office to be the lead agency in providing the majority of law enforcement officers and coordinating the security effort. However, a formal agreement has yet to be drafted and would need approval by both the fair and county boards, officials say.

The fair is governed by the Minnesota State Agricultural Society, a public corporation, and it is ultimately the society’s responsibility to determine how to provide security to ensure the safety of its guests and vendors.

Fletcher said Friday, June 11, that his staff and fair personnel have spent the past two weeks researching options and determining the feasibility of the sheriff’s office to provide law enforcement services at the Fairgrounds both before and during this year’s event.

Fletcher is recommending that Ramsey County move forward with developing a formal agreement for the sheriff’s office to provide security services during the fair at an estimated cost of $1.89 million. He said he has told fair administration that an agreement may include additional costs for liability coverage, or in the alternative liability coverage provided by the Fair.

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On Wednesday, Fletcher met with county administration staff to present the plan.

“We’ve prepared a plan, but ultimately it is up to the county board,” Fletcher said.

County Manager Ryan O’Connor said Friday the county board will hold a workshop with Fletcher on June 22 and that “the sheriff will be able to walk through all of the elements that will require the board’s weighing in and decision-making.” He added, “I think we would agree that overall risk and liability is probably the biggest issue.”

Fair didn't review security contracts

Security at the fairgrounds became an issue when the fair this spring decided to do away with its decades-long police department and instead turn to an outside agency to provide security.

In January 2020, the fair chose not to rehire the department’s roughly 35 officers who were working on annual contracts either full or part time and since has relied on a mix of licensed officers from outside law enforcement agencies to provide security at the fairgrounds, general manager Jerry Hammer said Friday. The decision not to renew the contracts was made because “we were reorganizing and adding more training, which was stopped because of the pandemic,” he said.

Then last month, the fair’s chief of police, Paul Paulos, announced his retirement, which was effective May 31.

“With the retirement of Chief Paulos, we knew we needed to do something,” Hammer said Friday.

County creates proposals

Fletcher said that on May 27 four proposals were developed that are based on the county’s fee schedule of $80 per hour and in alignment with the longstanding practice of providing security services.

The requests were for general security from June 1 to Aug. 8 at an estimated cost of about $226,000; security for events from June 1 to Aug. 8 at an undetermined cost; security during the pre-fair from Aug. 9-25 for about $234,000; and security and traffic control during the State Fair, which runs Aug. 26 to Sept. 6, for nearly $1.9 million.

A target of 200 law enforcement officers each day during the fair was established in consultation with Paulos and fair administration, according to Fletcher. Under the proposed plan, he said, the sheriff’s office would provide 40 deputies each day. He said State Commissioner of Public Safety John Harrington has committed 30 state troopers, while the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office said it could add 20 deputies.

“Another 110 officers would come from departments from throughout the state,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher said he has approved and authorized the fair’s first three requests and that since June 1 the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office has had a deputy patrolling the fairgrounds each day.

“The State Fair made a request for security services, just like we have received for many years from a variety of different entities,” he said. “And when we receive a request for services we are bound by the county’s fee structure, which was adopted by the board in a budget resolution.”

O’Connor, the county manager, said his initial review of the fair’s requests is that the county board would have to approve them as contracts and that the proposed costs of the services could also an issue.

“Ramsey County has delegated authority to department heads, of which the sheriff is one — he’s an elected department head,” O’Connor said. “His delegated authority is $10,000, meaning he can sign a contract up to $10,000.”

But Fletcher said that the sheriff’s office is not a department of Ramsey County.

“Nowhere in the statute or in the charter will you find the sheriff’s office be referred to as a department of Ramsey County,” he said. “There certainly are some commissioners and some county managers who like to think so, but that’s not the case.”