They’re homegrown guys who work in public safety. And they’re both running unopposed in the Nov. 6 election.
Troy Dunn is seeking his third, and he says final, term as Rice County sheriff. County Attorney John Fossum is looking for his second.
Here’s a look at their backgrounds, what they’ve accomplished in office and what they want to get done in the next four years.
Dunn, 50, started his law enforcement career in Crow Wing County, but after a six-month temp position ended, he landed close to home: the Kenyon Police Department. He spent a year there before returning to his hometown of Faribault and the Rice County Sheriff’s Office.
Back then, deputies began started out in the county jail. It’s a job Dunn says has influenced his work.
As a jailer, he said, you see people at their worst, and then after they’ve sobered up, calmed down or had mental health issues tended to. That’s allowed him to separate a person’s actions from the person they are inside, helpful when crises arise. It’s also helped teach him to always treat people with respect, and that’s paid dividends. From time to time he still runs into former inmates and they remember that the now sheriff saw them as a person, not a number.
Dunn’s held a number of positions through the years, from patrol deputy to SWAT team member. In addition to making him a better officer, Dunn said it’s made him ensure his deputies get opportunities as well.
“That makes a deputy a better officer and our office a better agency overall,” he said.
Major accomplishments as sheriff include adding staff for the first time in over 30 years. That’s allowed the department to try come closer to keeping pace with growth in the county and in the number of calls — 39,000 a year in 1988 to slightly less than 65,000 today. Those figures don’t include additional security for the county courthouse and investigations, particularly the ever-increasing number of child protection cases.
Dunn’s also overseen growth in the local drug task force, which now includes Le Sueur County.
He’s got plenty on his to do list. In the next four years he wants to set his staff up for the future, “so whoever takes over the Sheriff’s Office when I leave has a stable agency to take the ball and keep rolling,” he said.
He’d also like to reduce the number of mental health issues local law enforcement deal with. For Dunn, that means working with local and state agencies to ensure there are beds and treatment programs available for those who need them. The collaboration extends to a newly formed Community Justice Council and a group working to bolster communication between local agencies dealing with domestic and sexual assaults.
And he wants to keep talking about the effects of impaired and distracted driving so Rice doesn’t again find itself on the list of deadliest Minnesota counties.
“I feel blessed to be able to serve in the community I grew up in and with the men and women I do,” he said. “I’m living a dream.”
Fossum’s spent a good portion of the last four years reorganizing the County Attorney’s Office to make it more efficient. And while it’s hard to quantify, the Northfield native said internal changes have made the department more focused and more effective.
“I don’t think you’ll find a lot of jurors who believe we wasted their time,” he said, pointing out that that was a common occurrence just a few years ago.
His biggest point of contention during the 2014 race was a disorganized County Attorney’s Office that too often took unwinnable cases to trial. While the office has lost cases, Fossum said, the office is more apt to find an appropriate resolution that benefits public safety and the defendant than in years past.
“I think we do a better job of prosecuting every level of case,” he said.
His office had has a number of “victories,” in which violent and/or repeat offenders were handed lengthy prison sentences. That includes a murder conviction and 42-year sentence for Jason Nisbit for the August 2015 slaying of an Ohio woman, Chelsea Martinez, in a park outside of Faribault.
That, he says is due in large part to his background as a public defender at both the state and federal levels and in private practice. A year in Afghanistan training police and prosecutors is an added bonus, he said.
That experience allows him, and in turn his office, to examine cases from every side, looking for holes. And if they can’t be plugged, find those aforementioned resolutions.
A new case management system has been implemented since he took office, which helps staff manage the roughly 2,000 cases — felony, child protection and civil — it handles each year.
Fossum’s particularly proud of his an expansion of the admission criteria for Rice County’s drug treatment court. When he took office in early 2015, the program, which is overseen by a judge, has two participants. In less than four years, 16 have graduated. Another 16 are currently enrolled in the program, which works to help those dealing with chemical addictions to stay sober and regain their lives without drugs/alcohol.
He’s also involved in an effort to bring a multi-county Veterans Court to the Third District. Like the drug treatment court, it serves a specific demographic — offenders charged with a criminal offense and who may be struggling due to their military service. If approved, the court would likely held in Rochester and Owatonna.