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Posts about Public records

Late Pearl Lindstrom acknowledged a horrific history

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: November 20, 2014 - 4:10 PM

Pearl Lindstrom, who embraced commemorating the horrific racial history of the Minneapolis house in which she'd unknowingly lived for over 50 years, is dead at 92.

Lindstrom’s death was confirmed Thursday by the Hennepin County medical examiner’s office. No other details were available.

Lindstrom lived at her Columbus Avenue house for more than 50 years. Not until several years ago did she become aware that it was the site of huge racially motivated demonstrations in 1931 in which mobs of thousands of whites tried to force out a black couple, Arthur and Edith Lee, and their small daughter.

Once she learned that ugly truth however, she embraced the efforts by neighborhood leaders to commemorate the Lee family’s stand against intolerance.  A marker commemorating the incidents was installed in 2011 in a corner of her front yard, and the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places earlier this year, something she wanted before she died.

She often flew a U.S. flag from the porch of her white craftsman house, and she told a University of Minnesota researcher this about her inherited house history: “Oh, it means a lot to me; I’m a U.S. citizen, and I’ve been through a war. This house stands for freedom! You know, that freedom that they talk about? Well, some people believe in it and some don’t. Yet, there are a lot of people that are prejudiced. When I tell people I’ve got a historical house, they say, ‘Oh really?’ Some say, ‘well, our house is historical, too.’ And I say, ‘well, this one is special.’”

Added Greg Donofrio, a University of Minnesota professor who helped to prepare the national register nomination: "I doubt I'll ever hear another person spontaneously explain so clearly why the history of a property was personally meaningful because it represented a broader set of values and ideals."

“She wanted people to realize that we can all get along regardless of their skin color,” Stearline Rucker, a staffer and former president of the Field Regina Northrop Neighborhood Group, who also helped resurrect the Lee history.

Lindstrom outlived two husbands, both ministers, Rucker said. “She said her faith grounded her in looking at people for who they are and beyond their skin color,” she said. She was exposed to a wide variety of people because of the international ministry of one of her husbands.

After World War II, Lindstrom continued working at Munsingwear despite societal pressures of the time.  “She was one of those women, I would say, before her time,” Rucker said.

The Lees stuck out the hostility in their all-white neighborhood before moving about 10 blocks north to a traditionally black neighborhood. Their story remained only as lore among south Minneapolis black families until the 2001 publication of research by law professor Ann Juergens.

Lindstrom had one daughter, Carla Bielawski, who lived with her and found her dead at home Wednesday morning.

Video below from a 2014 Twin Cities Daily Planet interview:

Minneapolis school, park hours for Yonis conflict in alleged theft case

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: November 14, 2014 - 5:09 PM

Hashim Yonis, the former park and school employee tentatively scheduled to be tried next week on a felony theft charge, was scheduled to work conflicting hours by the two public agencies, according to their records.

Yonis normally worked a 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. day for the Minneapolis school district, according to a district response to a data practices act request filed by the Star Tribune.

The district released Yonis, a probationary employee, days after he was charged last January by the Hennepin County attorney’s office with pocketing money he collected for soccer field rentals at a park. He had been put on leave before that.

Meanwhile, a Park Board calendar for Yonis showed that he was consistently scheduled to work from 1-9 p.m.

Park Board spokeswoman Dawn Sommers said Friday that the park district is concerned about the conflicting hours, but that it acted to terminate him due to "misappropriation of public funds."   

Yonis was a youth specialist assigned to work at three parks for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. It initially fired him last year for numerous alleged civil service violations after the rental allegation arose, but then agreed to allow him to resign to settle his appeal of the firing. He was also a program assistant at South High School. The school district didn't respond to the issue of conflicting hours.

Authorities contend that Yonis kept more than $5,300 from renting to adults the Currie Park artificial turf field, which was designed for youth soccer.

Yonis has denied mishandling park funds, and said he wouldn’t do anything to harm his aspirations for public service. He was running for a seat on the Park Board when the accusations of wrongdoing emerged. He was not elected.

He hasn't responded to attempts to reach him by phone, e-mail and text message.

Hennepin County District Judge Tanya Bransford ruled against an attempt by attorney, Ira Whitlock, to suppress a search of a park office Yonis occupied that yielded $1,320 in cash, to exclude a statement Yonis gave to a park police investigator.

He is tentatively scheduled for a jury trail to begin on Monday.  He earlier rejected a proposed plea agreement The county offer would have required him to plead guilty, serve 90 days, and make restitution, while remaining on probation for five years.  

School reform group lags on registration

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: October 31, 2014 - 1:12 PM

The reformer-backed political fund that brought major new money into the Minneapolis school board elections didn't follow Hennepin County campaign law when it began handling money.

That's resulted in a complaint that the county's election office has forwarded to the county attorney's office for review. The election office hasn't yet disclosed who filed it.

Daniel Sellers, listed as chair of the Minneapolis Progressive Education Fund, admits that his group erred in not filing its campaign registration within the 14-day window required after raising or spending $100.

Sellers said Friday that the failure to file on time was an honest mistake, and that as soon as he discovered the omission he was at the county election office with the required filing the following Monday.

But the failure to file meant that campaign material was already appearing in mailboxes across Minneapolis from a group listed on the mailer but not on file with the county. It's not as if the fund's officers had no experience with campaigns and filing requirements; treasurer Seth Kirk chaired the campaign committee for the 2012 re-election campaign of board member Carla Bates.

According to the fund, it got an in-kind donation of staff work from the 50CAN Action Fund worth $438.04 on Aug. 31, meaning that a registration with the county was due by mid-September. The first cash contribution was from former Piper Jaffray CEO Addison Piper of Medina, who donated $1,000 on Sept. 2,

Sellers is also chair of the 50CAN fund, which also spent more than $6,000 in support of electing Josh Reimnitz to the board in 2012.  Piper contributed to 50CAN that year as well. Sellers also heads MinnCAN, the Minnesota affiliate of 50CAN, an education reform advocacy nonprofit.

There's also a difference between the finance forms submitted by Minneapolis Progressive Education Fund and Students For Education Reform Action Network Fund. The latter fund shows a contribution of $10,638 on Aug. 11 from the Progressive Education Fund, which would trigger an even earlier registration date . But the Progressive Education group lists the contribution as occurring on Sept. 29.

Sellers said the August date was the date of an invoice but that it wasn't paid until the latter date. Ginny Gelms, who runs the county election office, said it's up to attorneys to determine which action triggers a registration deadline.

Despite a name suggesting a student group, the SFER fund lists former Minneapolis school board member Chris Stewart as chair. It has been criticized by some union teachers as an "astroturf" entity, a perjorative term implying a false pose as a grassroots group. 

The Progressive Education group reported $228,300 in contributions, which has sparked controversy, since almost all of the cash cash originated outside Minneapolis. It has supported Don Samuels and Iris Altamirano as at-large candidates in Tuesday's board election.

(Photo above: Daniel Sellers.  

State raids Community Action of Minneapolis; employees laid off

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: September 26, 2014 - 11:59 AM

Community Action of Minneapolis laid off its employees and is no longer accepting energy assistance applications after state officials raided its offices Friday morning.

About a dozen Department of Commerce and Department of Human Services officials, including its lead auditor, showed up as the nonprofit organization was opening its doors, warrant in hand, to obtain all of the organization's financial records.

The Star Tribune first reported Sunday that a new state audit concluded that leaders of the organization misspent more than $800,000 on trips, golf, spa visits and even a personal car loan for its chief executive.

Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said these practices contributed to poor outcomes for the agency’s clients.

“Our first priority must be to ensure that low-income people in Minneapolis and other parts of Hennepin County are getting the help they need,” Jesson said. “The state’s action will make sure these Minnesotans have services that will help their families improve their lives and ensure basic needs are met, especially with the cold winter months around the corner.”

Gov. Mark Dayton supported the action by the two agencies.

“The governor believes the Departments of Commerce and Human Services are acting properly," said Dayton spokesman Matt Swenson.

The state immediately ended all contracts with the organization and vowed to collect any misspent tax money.

Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman is working to ensure those who need heating assistance will get it. 

“The Commerce Department has taken the urgent steps necessary to ensure Minneapolis residents get heating and weatherization assistance as winter approaches,” said Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. “We are immediately transitioning the Energy Assistance and Weatherization Programs from Community Action of Minneapolis to neighboring community action agencies. This will preserve our services to Minneapolis residents.”

Community Action chief executive Bill Davis could not immediately be reached for comment. The organization provides weatherization, heating assistance and career counseling.

Minnesota Community Action Partnership, the umbrella group for the state's community action organizations, said the raid is a crucial and needed turning point.

“Local Community Action agencies are good government institutions," said Arnie Anderson, head of Minnesota Community Action Partnership. "Now, we can get this fixed. It will be better than ever. “ 

By 11 a.m., Community Action of Minneapolis employees were told to go home.

"We've been laid off," said Leslie Powell, a staffer. "I walk to work every day and I care about my community."

Staff posted a sign on Community Action's window saying they would not be taking energy assistance applications until further notice.

Cedric Gibbs and Anita Nunn had their energy assistance application in hand when they saw the sign.

Gibbs is disabled and has received assistance in the past.

Anita Nunn also showed up to complete her application.

"I should have brought everything with me," Nunn said. "Yesterday they acted like everything was okay."

Debate over first black teacher in Minneapolis School District

Posted by: Randy Furst Updated: May 2, 2014 - 4:14 PM

A debate has emerged over who was the first black school teacher in the Minneapolis School District.

On Thursday, the Star Tribune wrote a front page story about Bertha M. Smith, who died April 18.

The story quoted Bernadeia Johnson, Minneapolis superintendent of schools, calling Smith “a pioneer in education in Minneapolis.” Johnson stated that “As the first African-American hired as a teacher in Minneapolis public schools, she (Smith)  broke down barriers and enabled our students, regardless of their race, to see themselves reflected in their teachers and school staff.”

The day the article ran, Joy Bartlett, who lives in Nevada, called to say that while Bertha Smith was an excellent teacher, Bartlett’s mother, Mary Jackson Ellis, was the first black teacher hired by the Minneapolis school district. Ellis died in 1975 at the age of 57.

We went to the newspaper’s morgue, where old newspaper clippings are filed, and found a two-inch article with the headline “Negro Teacher for Kindergarten Named” that had been published on Sept. 19, 1947 in the Minneapolis Star Journal, a forerunner to The Star, and then the Star Tribune.

The article says, “Appointment of Mrs. Mary Jackson Ellis, 4113 Fourth Ave. S., as kindergarten teacher in Hawthorne Elementary School, Twenty fourth avenue and Sixth street N., was announced today by the board of education. It said Ellis was “the first Negro teacher to be employed in the city school system on a fulltime basis in 35 years.

On Thursday, the Star Tribune contacted the school district which said it would look into the matter. A spokesman called back to say, “To the best of our knowledge, Bertha Smith is still the first black hired by the district.”

The Star Tribune, in its Thursday article, quoted civil rights activist Ron Edwards saying that Nellie Stone Johnson, a civil rights leader, and Cecil Newman, publisher of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, a black newspaper, put pressure on the district to hire Smith.

Bartlett had a similar account. She said that Newman had learned that the district had refused to hire Ellis and called Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey. The two men visited the superintendent of schools and Newman said that if the district did not hire Ellis, he was going to go to press at 2 p.m. with an article stating that she had not been hired because she was black. The district relented and hired Ellis, Bartlett said.

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