Pine County Sheriff Robin Cole announced his decision to retire and not run for a second term last week on Red Rock On Air with Jesse Logan. The retirement announcement came with bitter accusations of the Pine County board failing his department and the county over the three and one-half years of his term.
Logan called the relationship between Cole and the county board contentious, stating, “It has been a very contentious relationship between yourself and the county board over the last three and one-half years ... There are those who would place the blame on you for that relationship and say you are an example that statesmanship in our country is dying and are making life difficult for people.”
Cole responded stating, “I didn’t run to be Steve Hallan’s buddy or Curt Rossow’s pal. I ran to be sheriff and not bow down and lick anyone’s boots. Steve Chaffee once told me that you are not a team player. Why would I want to be on a losing team?”
He added that he sent “memo after memo” and “study after study” detailing everything that was happening in the sheriff’s office, adding, “Maybe I could make some sock puppets and get some white athletic socks and draw some faces on them, then they maybe would understand.”
Logan later stated in the interview, “Maybe some people are feeling disappointed (at hearing of Cole’s retirement) and believe the changes have been positive and are not wanting to lose progress that has been made.”
Cole then responded by making a dual endorsement for sheriff, naming one internal candidate and another candidate from an outside agency. “Other folks have thrown their hat in the ring,” stated Cole adding that anyone else is simply not qualified. “The county sheriff can have a great effect on how you live your life ... the position of sheriff is not ‘king ticket writer.’ Don’t waste your vote on someone who is wholeheartedly not qualified.”
He later stated he did not want to affect the election by appointing an internal candidate to the position of chief deputy from which Steven Blackwell recently resigned. Cole asserted, in the radio interview, that he presented the board a six-page document explaining the issue of replacing a chief deputy.
“I don’t know if these guys can’t read,” Cole stated of the board, adding, he was told he would lose a “position on the road” if he planned on appointing a chief deputy in Blackwell’s place. Cole said the county board reviewed his proposal and disregarded it as nonsense. “They feel the position of chief deputy is no longer worthwhile.”
In a March 28 memo to the personnel committee regarding the chief deputy position, Cole made the following recommendation: “In the Sheriff’s opinion the best course is to not make an appointment until the 2014 general election. Assuming that the Chief Deputy’s critical duties: payroll, scheduling, operations consume 50 percent of his time, and the remaining time is spent in policy update, research, planning and purchasing.
“The simplest and least costly solution is to reassign the critical duties (50 percent) of the Chief Deputy to the County Sheriff (with associated compensation) pending the outcome of the election. After the general election, an informed decision can be made concerning the appointment of a suitable Chief Deputy, including the desires of the Sheriff Elect."
Earlier in the memo, Sheriff Cole estimated the maximum cost to perform the essential duties of chief deputy at $26,000.
An April 3 memo was sent to the personnel committee from Pine County Administrator Dave Minke stating the county board sets the sheriff’s salary, but Minnesota Statute §387.20, Subd. 5 does not allow additional payment for specific duties performed. The part of the statute specific to this situation, states, “The sheriff shall not retain any additional compensation or other emolument for services in any activity of county government.”
County Commissioner Steve Chaffee of Hinckley stated, “We gave him (Sheriff Cole) the option of appointing someone within or without. If he appointed someone from within, that person would go back into that position after the election and the department would end up with an extra deputy after election. Cole has more staff and deputies than I can remember the department having and we have given him a fair number of staff. We have left it up to him, and his recommendation was not to do anything.”
Later in the Red Rock interview, Cole alluded to the bankruptcy of the Riverwood Mental Health Center, stating it was “run by the county board.”
The Riverwood Mental Health Center’s, formerly Five County Mental Health, most recent bylaws established their board of directors as a county commissioner and a lay person from each county (in which there were three counties).