Former employee Hashim Yonis has become the bad dream that won’t go away for Minneapolis park commissioners.
He showed up again Wednesday with supporters of a group of a dozen or more people advocating for park employees they argue have been unfairly discriminated against or disciplined.
That prompted Commissioner Scott Vreeland, who has been seething over Yonis’ recent appearances before the board, to ask whether he had been convicted of theft by swindle for stealing Park Board funds.
That set off another ruckus that tore scabs off the board’s recently issued apology to Nekima Levy-Pounds, issued just last meeting after Park Board President Liz Wielinski shouted at her over an interruption at the board’s previous meeting.
Vreeland of course knew that Yonis had been convicted 18 months ago of keeping soccer field rental money paid to him by Latino-focused soccer teams to rent the pitch at Currie Park. He testified in the trial. But this was his chance to make that point as Yonis was excoriating the board during its cablecast meeting.
“We are not going nowhere and we will be challenging you,” said Yonis, part of the group seeking the resignations of Wielinski and Superintendent Jayne Miller for allegedly discriminatory Park Board personnel policies. He accused the Park Board staff of not offering Somali translation on its website – incorrectly it turns out.
In response to Vreeland’s question, Yonis denied that he was a felon. He was convicted on a felony charge but a judge sentenced him to a gross misdemeanor to keep his professed hope of becoming a school administrator viable.
Supporters in the audience immediately pounced on the question by Vreeland, noting that the trend in government circles has been to move away from focusing on the felony records of job applicants.
Of course, Yonis might have had more influence on the Park Board had he finished better than seventh out of 10 candidates for three at-large commissioner seats in 2013. He blames Vreeland for a conspiracy to prosecute him that he said was motivated to derail his political campaign. That’s although Vreeland was running in a separate race, and the investigation of Yonis began more than a month before he made his political intentions public.
The public commentary during the board’s time for three-minute snippets of individual comment turned bizarre at times.
Yonis refused to give his address or even his ZIP code, a requirement imposed on other speakers. He indicated that he wanted to address "the people" rather than the board, suggesting that he's deliver his remarks with him back turned to commissioners as he had in his previous appearance. But he mostly dropped that after Wielinski noted that he'd also be facing away from the camera..
“I don’t feel like addressing the board,” he said, prompting Wielinski to note that the purpose of the public speakout time on the agenda is to address the board. After more speakers, Yonis sought to speak for a second three-minute stint. He was denied.
Commissioner Brad Bourn, who said he’d been denied a chance to raise a point, took the unprecedented step of addressing the board as an ordinary citizen, from the speaker rostrum.
He then called Vreeland’s question about the Yonis conviction “wholly inappropriate” and called on him to withdraw it, which drew no response.
Vreeland then added the accusation that Yonis was violating a non-disparagement clause in a settlement he reached in 2014 with the Park Board. That settlement allowed Yonis to resign, ending his appeal of his earlier firing by the board after he was investigated. However, the non-disparagement clause only pertains to matters involving the investigation into employment misconduct and his termination.
The commentary session was loosely run, sometimes ignoring board rules, and bore no resemblance to the tight rein the City Council keeps on outbursts during its meetings, which typically draw an escort out of council chambers by a security guard. Wielinski apologized for the second straight meeting, this time for not holding her colleagues in better decorum.
Video of the full meeting is available, with the Vreeland-Yonis exchange starting at about 47 minutes.
(Photo above: Hashim Yonis takes video of the Wednesday Park Board meeting.)