Sherburne County Board race pits law men Farber, Anderson

by Paul Rignell
Contributing writer

Sherburne County Commissioner Larry Farber is facing retired Sherburne County Sheriff Bruce Anderson in a race for a seat on the county board.

Retired police detective Larry Farber of Elk River recalls getting to know retired sheriff Bruce Anderson, also of Elk River, in 1980 when Farber began patrol work for the city Police Department and Anderson was a Sherburne County sheriff’s deputy.

Larry Farber

Farber told the Star News this week that though some of today’s drivers continue to operate their vehicles under the influence of alcohol, the problem was greater across Elk River and this corner of the county 30 years ago. There was no shortage of suspicious drivers for either city or county patrol squads to stop and assess. Farber said the average DUI suspect then was found to be driving with a blood alcohol content of .20.

Farber lasted four years with the Elk River Police Department before reaching the point, he says, where living in the same community where he was fighting crime became too uncomfortable. Elk River was small enough, he says, for people to know where the cops lived, and he felt at risk for retribution. Farber transferred to the Fridley Police Department, taking patrol shifts before later serving as a detective, school resource officer, field training officer and firearms instructor among his duties, retiring from Fridley in January 2009.

He remained active in the public eye of Elk River, serving on the City Council from 1993–2000 and again from 2005–2008.

Farber supported Anderson’s first run for Sherburne County sheriff in 1994, and sought county office himself in 2008 when learning that Arne Engstrom, who had served Elk River on the county board for 16 years, was stepping down. Farber was one of five candidates to file for the right to succeed Engstrom as county commissioner, and then Farber survived a primary and won the general election.

Four years later, Farber’s county board position is one of four to be up for election this fall (though only three are being contested).

Familiar opponent
Farber is being challenged. His lone opponent is Anderson, and both names will be on the general ballot Nov. 6.

Bruce Anderson

Anderson could have been a sixth candidate in the 2008 primary. He said Engstrom encouraged him then to run for county board (which the Star News confirmed with Engstrom this week). Anderson says he felt at the time of the filing period that he was not ready to retire as sheriff, a position he had held for 14 years. He did end up retiring in February 2009, succeeded by appointee Joel Brott who won election in 2010 to keep the post. In the interim, Anderson became a contract employee for the county, handling work such as land sales and purchasing. He told the Star News that he finished some projects which he had started as sheriff, including opening some fuel stations in Becker and Zimmerman so that deputies and other county field workers could refuel their vehicles without having to drive to one station in Elk River. Anderson discontinued his contract work last summer.

He grew up in Elk River, graduating high school with the class of 1973. He was intent on studying criminal justice on a four-year football scholarship at the University of Minnesota, he said, but he followed the scent of an entry-level position with Sherburne County in his freshman year, and accepted a position as dispatcher and jailer before joining the patrol ranks and later becoming a narcotics investigator. Anderson said he was part of the county’s first canine patrol unit. He held the title of lieutenant, in charge of patrol and investigations, when he first ran for sheriff.

“I couldn’t have had a better career,” he said. “I’ve got a good track record.”

Anderson says he was diligent about keeping a balanced department budget. Under his leadership, the county started receiving extra revenues in his tenure by housing inmates from other counties. It also began housing federal detainees whose cases are pending trial in Minnesota district courtrooms.

He says that he pushed for the county to ensure all of its law enforcement agencies could join the 800 MHz radio system at once, though not all could afford the equipment up front individually. Money for the upgrade came from an enterprise fund.

Anderson says he is also proud to have been involved when the county established satellite deputy offices in Clear Lake, Palmer and Santiago townships, to improve call response times.

“Everything I did, was done as a team,” he said. “People are looking for strong leadership. I’m tried and I’m tested.”

Anderson said he respects Farber as a fellow peace officer. “This is nothing personal,” said the retired sheriff of his challenge for the seat. He said he has held onto Engstrom’s encouragement, and that he could serve the public well as commissioner. “People will have to look at our experience (Farber and Anderson) and make a decision,” the challenger added. “I think it’s healthy when these things have competition.”

The right experience
Farber contends he is the one candidate in this race with the experience needed for this seat.

The Sherburne County commissioners are regularly scheduled to participate in three board meetings and a separate work session in their chambers each month. But, as a county representative, Farber notes he has served on more than 20 other committees, many of them involving officials from at least two or three other counties. “I spend a lot of time in St. Cloud, some in Anoka and some in St. Paul,” he said of his travels.

Farber says it took him well past midway through this four-year term to learn everyone’s first name on those committees so he could ask them questions during discussions. “It takes time to build those relationships and understand these committees and what you can do,” he said. “I don’t care who you are, it takes a while to get used to those relationships, and for them to be comfortable with you as well.”

Now presiding over the county board’s meetings as chair for 2012, Farber said he has been proud to vote with the colleagues to approve no raises in the levy for two straight years. “We’ve held the line, because the taxpayers can’t endure any more increases,” he said.

Farber noted that the board has voted to reduce the county’s overall budget by more than $6 million through his tenure, to $76 million in 2012. They combined Public Health and Social Services departments into one Health and Human Services department. “We did lose a department head over that, but we saved a lot of money by doing so,” Farber said. “We’ve weathered the toughest times.

“I feel fortunate to work with this county,” he added. “It’s an honor and a privilege. Most (counties) in the state would love to have what we have here.”

He is focused on continuing with county business while his bid for re-election plays out — “It’s going to be interesting.”