The organization responsible for overseeing creation of a black-led credit union in north Minneapolis said it’s unsure when the bank will open but is committed to making it happen.

Nearly 80 people came to New Salem Missionary Baptist Church on Friday evening to learn how the Association for Black Economic Power (ABEP) will move forward with the project.

Three association board members talked about the timeline that led to two key leaders being ousted and delays related to filing Village Financial’s credit union application. But they told the audience that the work is simply too important to walk away from.

Malcolm Wells, board chairman for ABEP, said, “A lot of us have been doing this work in regards towards black liberation and pushing the movement for black lives further, so even with what’s taken place within our organization … it is something that has been experienced before.”

Board members said they rescinded the credit union application after finding the paperwork had signatures on things they hadn’t seen before, names erased from the application altogether, new names they hadn’t agreed to and unheralded changes.

While the timeline for the credit union’s opening is uncertain, the board said it is working on hiring a CEO, working on the credit union application, bringing in three new board members by the end of the year and looking for an independent CPA to do a financial audit.

Me’Lea Connelly and Joe Riemann, executive director and CFO for ABEP, were fired in August. ABEP staffers filed a report Sept. 4 with Minneapolis police alleging misuse of grant funds. The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is now investigating. 

Connelly says she was forced to fire Riemann, her partner, without cause after ABEP staff called his role in the organization “inappropriate” because he’s “not Black.” After she offered him a severance package — something often done with other employees — she was placed on administrative leave and later terminated.

Bill English, consulting project director for the University of Minnesota’s Northside Job Creation team, told board members, “You didn’t have to do this, you chose to do this” and commended them for being accountable. “This too will pass; you’re going to get a good application in,” he said.

Failure to open by the end of 2019 would mean forgoing the $500,000 Minneapolis pledged to help Village Financial open. That includes $410,000 of a forgivable loan, provided certain benchmarks — including opening a brick-and-mortar location — are met.

Earlier this month, Mayor Jacob Frey said he was still committed to helping ABEP fulfill its mission of black economic empowerment. While no money has left the city’s budget, Frey said his office will continue monitoring the prospective credit union’s progress.