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

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Minneapolis cuts graffiti cleanup funds

Posted by: Updated: December 26, 2014 - 3:26 PM

By Erin Golden

Star Tribune Staff Writer

Minneapolis residents will have to be more vigilant about fighting graffiti in the new year.

Residents have always been responsible for removing graffiti from their property, but in recent years the city has provided help through a handful of prevention and cleanup efforts. Those programs, however, were cut from next year’s budget -- prompting the city to send notices to some residents, reminding them that they’ll need to take care of graffiti on their own.

The city won’t be funding its “Innovative Graffiti Prevention” micro grant program, which helped neighborhood groups with public art projects that were meant to deter graffiti. In recent years, the city budgeted amounts ranging from $75,000 to $150,000 for projects like utility box art wraps in the Longfellow neighborhood, a mural and graffiti patrol around Cedar-Riverside and anti-graffiti education programs in Powderhorn Park.

Since 2008 -- with the exception of 2010, when the program was not offered -- the city has funded an average of 11 projects per year, which each receiving up to $10,000.

Meanwhile, the city will also be cutting a program that helped property owners clean up gang-related or obscene graffiti that was located within five feet of the public right of way. The city didn’t set aside a specific amount of money, but provided cleanup at no charge to property owners.

Finally, it has also dropped a three-year-old “Graffiti Shadow Program,” which provided a second notice to property owners who had been notified about removing graffiti and failed to do so. The program also funded the cost of a second inspection.

Casper Hill, a spokesman for the city, said property owners are notified about graffiti by mail and have seven days to clean it up. If that doesn’t happen, the city can paint over the mess and bill the property owner.

“As always, it’s the responsibility of property owners to remove graffiti from their vandalized properties,” he said.

The $1.2 billion budget passed by the council earlier this month includes just over $1 million for documenting and removing graffiti around the city. That’s down slightly from the line item in this year’s budget, which provided $1.3 million.

Graffiti is the most common problem reported on the city’s 311 phone line, with the largest number of complaints coming from south Minneapolis.

Documents detail Community Action of MPLS misspending

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: December 8, 2014 - 4:03 PM

Board members and the chief executive of Community Action of Minneapolis paid at least $1,200 on spa treatments over three years while attending their annual retreat at Arrowwood Resort in Alexandria. 

New details have emerged about the organization's misspending after the Star Tribune obtained dozens of documents from the Department Of Human Services, which conducted an internal audit of the organization's spending for fiscal years 2012 and 2013. 

Patty Davis, chief executive officer Bill Davis's partner, spent $168 on a 80 minute stone massage and a scalp facial in 2012. Board members Evelyn LaRue and Terri Hayden also received a 50-minute signature massage for $80 dollars each. 

Neither Davis nor the fromer board members could be reached for comment.

The organization also spent over $6,000 on a holiday party in 2011.

A Ramsey County judge recently appointed a receiver over the non-profit's finances to determine how much money it owes the state. Community Action board is virtually non-existent and Davis was suspended indefinitely without pay. 

The documents also reveal the concerns that several DHS employees had with the organization, and one employee asked for a more robust audit.

Minutes of a DHS and Office of Economic Opportunity meeting state that a state employee "emphasized that she wants to maintain a positive working relationship with the grantee, but that they have a history of doing the minimum to remain in compliance with the Department, and they should be aware that they are going to monitored."

Board Allowances Redacted

City launches open data site

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: December 8, 2014 - 3:32 PM

The City of Minneapolis' new open data portal made its debut Monday afternoon, providing information on subjects ranging from fires and police incidents to air quality study results.

Most of the data was previously only available to people who submitted formal requests to the city. The city says it is now one of 38 states and 46 cities and counties that make open data portals available to the public.

Other information available includes: 311 incidents, crime statistics, open rental licenses, open liquor licenses, digital inclusion survey results, city boundaries and neighborhood revitalization program budgets.

Data can be downloaded in charts and maps, and will be updated with more current information.

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.  

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