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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.  

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.  

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