Saint Paul STRONG's Letter to Ramsey County Board of Commissioners re: Legality of Interim Sheriff Appointment

January 2, 2018
Ramsey County Board of Commissioners
15 West Kellogg Blvd, Suite 220
Saint Paul, Minnesota, 55102

RE: Serier Residency

Dear Ramsey County Board of Commissioners:

Saint 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 SPS’s goal is to improve accessible and representative government by encouraging and supporting open and transparent processes, it monitors and provides guidance to governmental
entities that affect the residents of our city.


As you are aware, SPS has followed the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners (RCBC) process for replacing Ramsey County Sheriff Matt Bostrom since it began in December 2016.

SPS first made its concerns known in December 2016, when it respectfully requested that the RCBC cease their plan to interview only one candidate, rather than having an open, competitive, and public process. At that time, Board Chair, Victoria Reinhardt said, she “appreciated” Saint Paul STRONG’s comments and noted that their candidate would be interviewed during a public forum at the
Ramsey County Courthouse. Unfortunately, the public forum did not allow members of the public to speak, ask questions of the commissioners, or have any dialogue with the candidate. The forum ended with the RCBC making the decision to appoint former Sheriff Matt Bostrom’s chosen successor, then Chief
Deputy, Jack Serier.

The RCBC’s decision to only interview and subsequently hire Serier, ignored the
principles of transparency, fairness, and inclusiveness. Furthermore, the decision
eliminated the possibility of attracting and hiring an interim sheriff from a pool of capable law enforcement professionals (including women and people of color) who could’ve applied and competed for the position; and it gave the newly appointed sheriff an upper hand by making him the incumbent for the 2018 election. The comments from some
commissioners that voters would have an opportunity to assess this appointed individual, while factually true, was politically disingenuous.

In August 2017, SPS sent a follow-up letter calling into question the RCBC process for citizen engagement.

The RCBC tells citizens that the way they have input is through individual meetings or phone calls to the commissioners. 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.

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…

Since before Serier’s appointment as interim sheriff, there have been several ongoing, unresolved issues within the sheriff’s department that the RCBC apparently ignored during the appointment process. Those issues included staffing issues in the jail that the union described as a “state of emergency” and former Sheriff Bostrom residing in London for over a month while on the county’s payroll. It is intellectually dishonest for former Sheriff Bostrom to claim that he was meeting the
requirements of his position as sheriff, while attending school at Oxford.

Now, there are serious issues and questions about Jack Serier’s residency. Former Sheriff Bob Fletcher has presented some evidence that seems to infer that Serier did not live in Ramsey County at the time of his appointment. Instead of acting with due diligence after these questions surfaced, Chair Reinhardt and the RCBC dismissed these allegations as politically motivated and have refused to consider that the evidence presented may be true. By refusing to conduct an investigation, Chair Reinhardt either is accepting former Sheriff Bostrom’s statement that he may have made a “typo” and “didn’t proof” his email to the homeowner’s association about his home
being vacant, or “as far as the county board is concerned, we did our due diligence,” Reinhardt said. “… Jack Serier took an oath; he stated what was the truth. … There is no reason that I would have said, ‘Gee, I wonder.’ ”

The Office of the Secretary of State requires candidates for sheriff to fill out an Affidavit of
Candidacy form. This form allows county sheriff candidates to keep their addresses private.
Candidates are still required to fill out a separate Address of Residence form. The sheriff of Ramsey County is required to be a resident of Ramsey County. The very least the RCBC could have done before appointing Serier was to verify that he met the residency requirement. That they did not validate his residency exemplifies a pattern of behavior by the RCBC that lacks transparency and public participation, which essentially allows the RCBC to do what they want to do with impunity. Chair Reinhardt, along with former Sheriff Bostrom, was the catalyst for pushing Serier’s appointment through, without the benefit of a public process, when a strong pool of local residents and law enforcement leaders may have applied for the position if it had been open. Chair Reinhardt dismissed the idea that appointing Serier gave him a leg up on the 2018 election, where he will be the incumbent. And now we see that Chair Reinhardt is Serier’s campaign cochair in the upcoming election. These facts imply that there may have been some “political motivation” involved in the appointment process of Serier.

SPS does not support any candidate in this race and is not accepting former Sheriff Fletcher’s allegations about Serier’s residency as factual without further evidence. However, it is concerned about the series of events that have transpired.

Once again SPS is requesting 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 andtransparent. This process could begin by investigating whether or not Serier was a Ramsey County resident when he was appointed interim sheriff and if he was not, to respond appropriately to that information. In either case, the public has a right to know.


Sincerely,
Saint Paul STRONG