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

Receiver appointed in state's case against Community Action of Mpls.

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: November 19, 2014 - 2:40 PM

A judge appointed a receiver this week to oversee Community Action of Minneapolis' finances.

Michael Knight, of Alliance Management, was ordered to provide an accounting of the organization's assets and determine how much it owes the state.

Attorneys for Community Action wanted the judge to appoint a different receiver and allow him to order him to oversee day-to-day operations of the organization, which does not have a CEO or full board. 

The state argued this went beyond the receiver's job.

"The receiver should not be spending time (at over $300 per hour) trying to manage the remnants of CAM and thereby depleting the assets available to creditors, especially when the ongoing operation of CAM is not generating significant revenue," said Jacob Campion, the state's assistant attorney general. 

Knight, the appointed receiver, will submit monthly accounting to the court.

In late September, the Department of Commerce and the Department of Human Services canceled their contracts with Community Action after a DHS audit alleged the organization may owe over $800,000 in unallowable costs, including trips, spa visits and even a personal car loan to its chief executive, Bill Davis.   

Thissen warns of state aid cuts for Mpls., St. Paul

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: November 19, 2014 - 12:03 PM

The top DFLer in the Minnesota House said Minneapolis should brace for possible cuts to state aid following the Republican takeover of the House on Election Day.

Rep. Paul Thissen, who will soon transition from being Speaker to minority leader, told a neighborhood meeting Monday that he anticipates attempts to divert Minneapolis and St. Paul's local government aid to outstate Minnesota municipalities or other budget priorities.

The city's $76 million local government aid allocation comprises about 17 percent of the its discretionary general fund budget. It is the third largest source of the city's general fund revenue, after property taxes and local sales taxes.

"That's going to be a big fight," Thissen told the Calhoun Area Residents Action Group, an Uptown-area neighborhood. "The reality is the Democratic leadership in the Senate is all from greater Minnesota as well. So their instinct would be to support a move like that."

He added, however, that the governor's support will be important to maintain "equity" across the state.

The city won a major victory in 2013 by securing a 20 percent boost in local government aid after steep cuts over the preceding decade. The aid was $111 million in 2002, when it made up about 41 percent of the city's general fund.

"If there was a significant cut to local government aid for the city of Minneapolis, that would be a very significant issue for all of us," Thissen said. "Because we'd either have to make cuts in our city budget or raise property taxes even further."

Affordable housing advocates push council for more help

Posted by: Erin Golden under Politics and government, Urban living Updated: November 18, 2014 - 8:08 PM

Affordable housing advocates turned out in force for Tuesday evening's public hearing on the city budget, urging council members to more than double the mayor's proposed allotment to Minneapolis' affordable housing trust fund.

Eighteen of the 33 people who spoke to the council about the mayor's proposed $1.2 billion budget were supportive of the city putting $20 million into its affordable housing fund. That's a considerable jump from the $9.1 million in city and outside funding Mayor Betsy Hodges proposed, and more than the $10 million annual goal the city has held --but frequently missed -- for years. 

Supporters included members of nonprofit housing groups, church leaders and homeowners who said their lives had been changed by help from groups like Habitat for Humanity and City of Lakes Community Land Trust.

"Budgeting nothing is no help at all," said Lee Mauk, board chairman of the Beacon Interfaith Housing Collective. "Budgeting just a little helps just a little. If we really intend to address the shortage of affordable housing, we need a healthy and solid affordable housing trust fund."

Jeff Washburne, executive director of the City of Lakes Community Land Trust, said he worries other groups that provide financial support will be less willing to give if it appears that the city isn't pitching in.He said more help is needed as development picks up around the area.

"This city is beginning to prosper again, real estate values are increasing, and more and more of our residents are being left behind," he said. 

Other popular topics at Tuesday's hearing included funding for security services in public housing towers and support for protected bike lanes. Eight speakers pressed the council to support funding for bike improvements. Several said they feel unsafe biking in areas of the city, particularly with their children.

The council is still sorting through the budget, and taking comments from the public by email and the city's website. A second public hearing will be held at 6:05 p.m. on Dec.10, just before the council votes on the budget. 

Yonis a victim of politics, lawyer says

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Parks and recreation, People and neighborhoods, Politics and government, Public safety Updated: November 19, 2014 - 3:18 PM

The felony theft charge against Hashim Yonis arose from a politically motivated attempt to keep him from being elected to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, his attorney asserted Tuesday in opening arguments in his trial.

The accusation represents the first glimpse of the defense that Yonis plans to offer against the charge that he rented a Currie Park field and pocketed the money. Until the accusation surfaced, Yonis worked for both the park and school districts. The refugee from the Somali civil war was taken by former Mayor R.T. Rybak

to meet President Obama and tout the city's STEP-UP youth job and mentoring program. School Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson also cited his work.

His lawyer, Ira Whitlock, argued that "this is a case about false accusations of theft" designed to keep the man park Commissioner Scott Vreeland testified was "a rising star" from displacing incumbent commissioners in 2013. Vreeland was called by prosecutor Susan Crumb.

Whitlock did not identify who specifically was behind what he described as a political conspiracy. Vreeland was one of several recipients of community complaints about weekend field rentals to adult Latino teams instead of predominantly East African youth teams from the Cedar Riverside neighborhood.

But although Vreeland represents the area as district commissioner, Yonis was running for an at-large seat in a different race. John Erwin, an at-large park commissioner who was also running for re-election, also got the complaint about rentals, Vreeland said. Erwin is on the list of potential witnesses for Yonis in the trial but Whitlock said he'd been unable to interview Erwin. Erwin said late Tuesday that he wasn't aware of any attempts to reach him.

Crumb asserted that Yonis repeatedly accepted money to rent the Currie field from Moises Hernandez, representing the Latino teams. She said the field rent was paid in cash in an outbuilding at Currie, but Hernandez was given no receipt. She said that once Vreeland confronted Yonis about the rentals, Yonis tried to cover his tracks. He turned over some money and tried to get another employee to backdate a receipt, she said. Whitlock said that Yonis was never trained by his supervisors about procedures for turning over money and issuing receipts.

The trial may hinge on the credibility of Hernandez. Crumb said his wife and stepdaughter also witnessed the cash rentals by Yonis for weekend rentals that began in early May. But Whitlock said that Hernandez has given inconsistent statements, and that a park employee found that he owed the Park Board $13,000, a debt that Whitlock said in an interview was for field rentals and later was erased.  He argued that influenced the statement Hernandez gave an investigator.

Vreeland testified that he got an e-mail with a petition signed by 77 people complaining about the weekend rentals.  He said he'd known Yonis for about five years, worked with him on organizing projects and found his multi-lingualism and contacts an asset.

       

Mayor Hodges to meet with police union president

Posted by: Erin Golden under Politics and government, Public safety Updated: November 18, 2014 - 12:40 PM

Mayor Betsy Hodges said Tuesday that she and John Delmonico, the Minneapolis police union president, are planning to meet in the near future.

Delmonico has been critical of Hodges after the broadcast of a KSTP-TV news story focused on a photo of the mayor, who posed with a vote canvasser with a criminal record. He asked, on air, if the mayor supported gangs or the police. 

Hodges fired back a response in a blog post, asking if Delmonico's comments amounted to a position that the mayor shouldn't stand with young African-American men -- or if she should stop challenging the police department on the conduct of officers. The mayor has previously said the department has room for improvement.

"It could be that the head of the police union wants me to stop working to raise the standards of police culture and accountability," she wrote. "It could be that he objects to the community policing and relationship-building measures that I am acting on, and attempted to use this non-story to discredit this work."

The mayor said she's hopeful the meeting with improve relations between her office and the union. She noted that she aims to root out long-term problems with some officers in the department, who do not represent a majority of the police force.

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