Oct. 28—The heat was turned up on Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher Wednesday over how it was announced last week that he is part of a group planning to open a new charter school in the county that aims to steer students toward careers in public service.
In a Wednesday letter emailed to Fletcher, County Manager Ryan O'Connor took issue with how the press releases were sent out last week — first to media from a sheriff's office email account and then to the public through the county's public email subscription tool. O'Connor also asked Fletcher to clarify the relationship between the sheriff's office and the proposed charter school and asked for more information about two contracts.
The inquiry comes after Ramsey County board commissioners at their Tuesday meeting raised questions about the proposed charter school, including whether county resources have been used in planning it and if sheriff's office employees worked on it during their regular work days. In a Tuesday interview, Fletcher said neither was the case.
When reached on the phone Wednesday, Fletcher declined to comment on the letter and said he would respond with one of his own to O'Connor "in due time."
LETTER LAYS OUT EVENTS
O'Connor wrote to Fletcher that "how the information was provided to the media and public raises policy, budgetary, legal, ethical and reputational questions for Ramsey County and, as one part of a larger governmental organization, the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office."
The letter states there are provisions in the county's administrative code and administrative policies governing permissible behaviors for county employees "and their use of public property in service to the community."
"Ramsey County employees within the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office are not exempt from these employment requirements," O'Connor wrote. "The actions and behaviors outlined in this letter raise issues requiring additional follow-up from you as the leader of the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office."
In his letter, O'Connor also noted how a sheriff's office employee, whom he did not name, sent out a press release to local media on Oct. 20 using a sheriff's office email account. Kyle Mestad, who is the director of administration for the sheriff's office, sent the email.
The media release was followed up with a sheriff's office press release using the county's public email subscription tool to 4,964 subscribers for public announcements and notices from the sheriff's office, O'Connor noted.
Roy Magnuson, the sheriff's department's public information officer, is listed either at the top or bottom of both emails as a founding board member of the school, along with his cell phone number.
ABOUT THE SCHOOL
According to the press releases, the School of Leadership for Public Service will be located in Ramsey County and open for the 2022-23 school year with students in grades six through 10. In addition to instructing students in traditional academic disciplines like math, reading and science, the nonprofit school will offer them opportunities to see firsthand how public-sector employees use these skills in their careers, the releases state.
In a brief interview with the Pioneer Press the day the media release was sent out, Magnuson said that although he and Fletcher are two of the school's co-founders, it is not affiliated with the sheriff's office.
However, in his letter to Fletcher, O'Connor said the announcement "under the banner of an official Ramsey County Sheriff's Office public communication and press release seemingly contradicts" Magnuson's comment to the newspaper.
O'Connor also asked Fletcher to provide information to questions that "at the outset will help define what additional issues may require attention."
He asked the sheriff if there have been, are any, or will be any formal relationships between the sheriff's office and the proposed charter school.
He asked if any public funds been expended as a part of the development of the proposed charter school.
CONTRACT DETAILS SOUGHT
O'Connor also asked for additional information relating to two contracts that were executed by the sheriff's office in 2019 and 2020. According to summaries of the one-year contracts provided to the Pioneer Press, both were with Tony Doom Supply Co. — the first in August 2019 that totaled $25,000 for staffing and operational assessment services, the second for $10,000 in May 2020 for outreach services.
According to its website, Tony Doom Supply is "famous across the nation for its high-quality, affordable political campaign supplies, business promotion items, wedding favors and green products."
O'Connor wrote that this past December he asked the sheriff and his staff in an email for more information on the contracts and that he "did not receive any response regarding that inquiry."
READ THE LETTER