What’s making news in Minneapolis, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to suzanne.ziegler@startribune.com.

Posts about Urban living

Park employee Yonis charged with felony theft

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: January 17, 2014 - 3:36 PM

Hennepin County charged former Minneapolis parks employee Hashim Yonis with felony theft on Friday for allegedly collecting money for rental of a soccer field and then pocketing the money.

The county attorney's office charged Yonis with theft by swindle for allegedly pocketing more than $5,300 after renting to adults an artificial turf field at Currie Park that was built for youth soccer.

The charges follow Yonis's resignation of his job as a youth specialist with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board in late October, shortly before a Park Board election in which he was a candidate.

Park officials moved to fire Yonis in August after an investigation, but later agreed to let him resign. Yonis, 26, who was also employed by Minneapolis schools, was put on administrative leave by the school district. He worked at South High School.

Yonis could not immediately be reached for comment Friday. In October, when asked about the criminal investigation by park police, he commented: “I believe the county has higher expectations than this petty stuff.”

According to the complaint, Yonis got more than $3,500 in cash from the organizer of an informal weekend soccer league for Latino adults and children.  But the largely East African community round the park began to complain to Commissioner Scott Vreeland and other park employees that fields weren't available for neighborhood children.

Afterward, Yonis tried to cover his tracks, according to the complaint filed by park police Sgt. Richard Doll, by telling the soccer organizer not to tell park officials that he had rented the field, or he'd not rent to the organizer.  The complaint also alleges that Yonis tried to postdate permits.  In addition to the previous rentals, Yonis said he had collected another $1,320 in cash rentals that the complaint said an investigator and supervisor found in a bag on the shelf of the office used by Yonis, hidden in a pile of notebooks.

The organizer asked Yonis for a receipt for the rentals to show to neighbors, but told investigators that Yonis repeatedly refused to do so.  The complaint said that that he paid Yonis inside an equipment shed at the field, where Yonis would count it and put it in his pocket.

Yonis finished midway down the list of 10 candidates for three at-large Park Board after the news broke.

   

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Mpls school choice fair Saturday

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: January 14, 2014 - 4:37 PM

The annual Minneapolis public school showcase of district and charter school choices happens on Jan. 25 at the Minneapolis Convention Center from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Families can meet with representatives of public schools located in Minneapolis, learn about school choices for their area, and gain information about pre-kindergarten to high school programs.

Free parking paid for with vouchers from the fair will be available at city ramps at 1111 Marquette Av. and 1001 2nd Av. S. Shuttle service will be available from 10 locations in the city, with details posted on the district’s web site.

The deadline for submitting a school choice card for the 2014-2015 school year is Feb. 28.    

Apartment drainage again diverted to Calhoun

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: January 8, 2014 - 5:02 PM

A diversion pipe is being installed this week to route water being pumped into of the Calhoun-Isles lagoon, marking the second straight year that step has been taken to protect the lagoon's ice..

Minneapolis public works officials will contract for a 12-inch PVC pipe to be laid to divert water being pumped into the lagoon from an upscale apartment building t 1800 W. Lake St. The city recently sued the building's owner over the discharge of groundwater from the apartment site into a storm sewer entering the lagoon. The city argued that pumping was only temporarily permitted during the building's construction in 2011.

The diversion is an attempt to keep lagoon ice intact, according to Justin Long, an assistant parks superintendent. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board announced the diversion project on Wednesday but said the city is handling the contracting. It said the work will be completed by Jan. 16, and remain for about eight weeks.

The diversion project will cost about $45,000, according to the city, and extend for almost one-quarter mile.

Long said the diversion of water will follow a different route to Lake Calhoun this year. Last year, the pipe generally followed the east retaining wall of the lagoon before crossing near Lake Street to the north retaining wall of Calhoun, where it was discharged along the north shoreline. The plan this year is to route the pipe across the lagoon to its west retaining wall and follow that to the lake's north retaining wall. That will keep the pipe in a shadier spot during daily peak temperatures.

Last year, the pipe laid on the ice and the 55-degree temperature of the water it carried melted the pipe into the ice.  This year, the pipe will be raised a few inches atop spacers to prevent that, Long said. 

The main issue with warm water entering the lagoon is that softer ice endangers skaters and skiers, according to the city's lawsuit. It sued to end the discharge and to recover costs of dealing with the issue, including installing the winter piping.

Long said that park officials conferred with representatives of the City of Lake Loppet ski festival about how to include a ramp over the pipe for skiers for event races that use the lagoon and adjoining lakes.    

(Photo above: Chace Russell won a heat during ice-biking races held on the lagoon during the City of Lakes Loppet weekend.)

Rybak leaves hospital after heart attack

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: January 7, 2014 - 4:36 PM

 

 

Three days after sustaining what was described as a major heart attack, ex-mayor R.T. Rybak left Abbott Northwestern Hospital on Tuesday to recuperate.

Former aide Andy Holmaas released a statement Tuesday afternoon that said that Rybak will recuperate for "the next couple of weeks" after his release. He will then begin working at his new job as executive director of Generation Next, an fledging organization focused on closing the achievement gap in Minneapolis and St. Paul schools.

Holmaas said that doctors have performed two angioplasties and inserted six stents since Rybak entered the hospital after experiencing shortness of breath and chest pains while cross-country skiing at Theodore Wirth Park in Golden Valley.

Megan O'Hara, Rybak's wife, said in a voice message Monday that Rybak will bypass his typical skate-ski long race in the City of Lakes Loppet ski race this year. But she added that he hopes to participate in the weekend's more sedate luminary loppet ski tour on Feb. 1, the night before the marquee 42-kilometer race. Rybak helped to found the ski festival as part of a silent sports series and serves on the loppet foundation board.  

"The family is hoping others will learn from this experience making sure that everyone in their family is aware of their medical health history," Holmaas said in an e-mailed statement.

An angioplasty involves inserting a thin tube with a balloon through the blood stream and then inflating the balloon to reopen an artery closed or blocked by a buildup of plaque, and restore blood flow to the heart. A stent is a small tube that is inserted to buttress the inner wall of an artery.

(Photo above: Rybak skis in 2005 at City of Lakes Loppet events.  Staff photo by Duane Braley0

Cold weather timeout could prolong Minneapolis school year

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: January 7, 2014 - 5:06 PM

The closure of Minneapolis schools for two days this week raises the issue of whether students will go longer into June to offset the loss of instructional time.

This year's calendar budgets two additional days in June to offset the possibility of snow days.  The district had no immediate answer Monday on whether it will add back in June the loss of Monday and Tuesday due to extreme cold.

The extra days reserved on the district calendar to offset snow days fall on June 9 and 10. The last scheduled day of school for non-graduating students is June 6. Adding the days in June would shorten the break for students before the start of summer school to three school days rather than a full week. Making up the days in June would also further unbalance the two semesters of the school year, making the first semester 84 days and the second semester 92 days.

The district has some wiggle room because this year's calendar provides 176 student days in class.  According to the district web site, it is required by state law only to offer a 170-day calendar. But Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius disputed that, citing a state law that requires 165 days.

However, the district administration has been emphasizing a longer school year in its contract negotiations with teachers, especially for students who are performing poorly.  The flip side of that is that the additional days in June would not happen until after the state achievement tests on which the district wants student performance to improve.

Although snow days occur more frequently and usually are decided by local districts, Monday's closure was mandated by Gov. Mark Dayton, using his emergency powers under state law.  But he left Tuesday's decision up to local school officials, and Minneapolis decided to remain closed.

The Minneapolis district has been somewhat snakebit by weather during this school year. It opened the school year a week before Labor Day, and was forced to close 27 schools without air-conditioning for two days after students and staff wilted in record heat. The district said on Tuesday that it will not require students who missed clases in August to make up the lost time in June.

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