By John Mannillo
January 4, 2017
We at Saint Paul STRONG have been following the Ramsey County Board’s process for replacing Ramsey County Sheriff Matt Bostrom, who is leaving his position mid-term to work at the University of Oxford in England. We have several concerns that we would like the County Board to consider and address:
1. The Board’s decision to interview only the sheriff’s chief deputy for interim sheriff brings into question the principles of transparency, fairness and inclusiveness. The decision to not open up the process to other applicants is problematic for several reasons. The board’s decision seems to eliminate other capable law enforcement professionals--- including women and people of color---from applying and competing for the position. We have no issues with the chief deputy, and in an open and competitive process he might very well be the right person for the position. But a fair process should be open to an entire universe of possible candidates—not just one insider.
2. This is not a short-term vacancy where a replacement serves three to six months. The Board will be making a two-year appointment. Under the circumstances, there is no reason that an open, public hiring process cannot occur. Hiring an interim position is not a new undertaking for local units of government. The St. Paul City Council and School Board recently filled two vacant positions. However, in both of these cases, the interims were hired with the condition they not run for the position in the next election.
We have not heard the Board discuss a similar condition for filling the sheriff vacancy. By not doing so, the Board, rather than the voters, will effectively be deciding the 2018 election for sheriff. One commissioner stated that “candidates will be able to go to voters [in 2018] and convince them they’re the right person to lead the sheriff’s office.” Conversely, another commissioner noted, “the appointee would have the upper hand if he or she runs for election in 2018.”
3. The plan to interview one insider candidate and then appoint him unless the board finds they “are not satisfied in the vision he spells out” is a deception to the citizens of Ramsey County. The Board appears to have already chosen the deputy sheriff based on Chair Victoria Reinhardt's statements in several stories in December in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Under the guise of presenting an open and transparent process, the county board is not only excluding other candidates, they are assuring that the deputy sheriff will be selected unless an issue were to surface during the interview process. This gives the public the impression that the deputy sheriff was the superior candidate, even though he had no competition. The argument made to the Board by county staff that there isn’t sufficient time to have an open competitive process is specious at best. The board could have an expedited process.
4. The Board seems to have ignored other issues that have surfaced at the Sheriff’s Department during the sheriff’s absence while they now are rushing to fill the vacancy. At the board’s workshop, apparently no commissioner questioned Sheriff Bostrom’s statement that he ran the department from London (4000 miles away) for 30 days while he was being paid his salary.
We respectfully request that the Ramsey County Board cease its current plan to interview one person and instead offer an open, competitive and public hiring process. If the board continues down its current path of appointing an insider, Saint Paul STRONG hopes that person would be appointed with the condition that he not run for election in 2018, so that the voters of Ramsey County can in actuality make their choice.
John Mannillo, a resident of Highland Park, serves as the spokesperson for Saint Paul STRONG, a nonpartisan organization that is dedicated to improving open and representative government in St. Paul.