MINNEAPOLIS — After spending one year on the job, the director of Racial Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging in Minneapolis departed her post this month, alleging the city cultivated a "toxic work environment."
In a 14-page memo sent to city leaders on March 6 and shared later with KARE 11, Tyeastia Green claimed the city "holds, matures, coddles, perpetuates and massages a racist anti-Black work culture."
Green's employment ended one week later on March 13, according to the city.
"I don't think that Minneapolis can be helped without a complete overhaul of leadership," Green said in an interview. "Period."
A spokesperson said the city of Minneapolis "disagrees with the characterization of the events outlined in the memo." Now, as the city seeks to fill Green's position overseeing racial equity, there are also new questions about a Feb. 25 Black History Month event that Green helped to organize. Considered the city's first-ever "Black Expo," and known officially as the "I Am My Ancestors' Wildest Dreams Expo," the event at the Minneapolis Convention Center was created to celebrate the Black community and provide an economic boost to Black-owned businesses.
But it's now at the very heart of the back-and-forth between Green, city leaders and the city council.
According to Green, planning for the Expo began in August 2022, about five months after Green started her new position as the director of racial equity in Minneapolis. Previously, she served in a similar role for the city of Burlington, Vermont, although she was born and raised in Minneapolis.
Given her experience organizing events in Burlington, Green said that she initially wanted to raise a full million dollars for the Expo.
"I wasn't worried about the ability to raise the money," Green said, "but then in October, those things started to fall apart."
Green said that city staff informed her of procurement rules preventing her from fundraising directly for the Expo, leaving the event without the proper funding with just days to go. During a Feb. 17 special meeting of the city council to find more money for the Expo, Green responded publicly to council questioning.
"When I was fundraising for this event, I guess I wasn't able to do that under city rules," Green told the council. "The money that we were receiving from corporate sponsorships, we had to return."
Green then told the council that the St. Paul-based Bush Foundation "had offered us $3 million" along with $200,000 from other organizations. (The Bush Foundation disputes this claim, saying in a statement that "we did not offer, commit or suggest that we would fund the event, and we did not offer, commit or suggest any amount for funding." A spokesperson said that the Bush Foundation never received a proposal for any funding. Green, meanwhile, maintains that a representative of the organization verbally discussed a potential $3 million investment over three years, as long as Mayor Jacob Frey and Council President Andrea Jenkins were not involved. The Bush Foundation also denies that claim.)
Ultimately, without donations in hand for the Expo, the city council approved about a half-million dollars in funding -- including a $145,000 transfer from the city's contingency fund -- to keep the "I Am My Ancestors' Wildest Dreams Expo" on the schedule for the convention center on Feb. 25.
But Green did not reach her attendance goal, which she blames on a lack of promotion by the city.
"I do feel bad about the low turnout. We had 3,700 people register for the event. I was expecting 20,000," Green said. "I believed that if we had gotten word out, we would have had 20,000 or more. I truly believe that."
Fewer than two weeks after the Expo, Green sent her 14-page memo, in which she alleged that city staff "purposely misguided me" on the procurement process for the event and that "there were two fake ethics complaints against me during the planning of the Expo."
THE MEMO AND A RESPONSE
In the memo, Green also took broader aim at Council President Jenkins and Council Member Latrisha Vetaw, saying that both "create an unsafe and unhealthy work environment for Black people." She went further with Vetaw and threatened to sue her for defamation. (Both Jenkins and Vetaw are Black).
Although Jenkins did not respond to KARE 11's request for comment, Vetaw told KARE 11 in an interview that she has received no legal notice of any sort related to a lawsuit. She said she was "shocked" by Green's claims in the memo.
"I mean that's just really heartbreaking to hear, especially because the things I did speak up about, it was about small Black businesses. I was really upset by what small businesses were reaching out to me saying what their experience was with the Expo," Vetaw said. "To be labeled as anti-Black and knowing you're fighting for Black people, it was heartbreaking."
Vetaw said that while some business owners came away with profits, others have described losing significant revenue because of the lack of attendance.
"I also had people who said, 'You know, I spent everything I had... and I got nothing,'" Vetaw said. "That's a huge loss for a business, especially a small business that is probably struggling."
The city and Mayor Jacob Frey's office also pushed back against Green's claims in a statement.
"There were many City staff working tirelessly to make this expo a success, and it's disappointing to see them publicly criticized for the hard work they do on behalf of Minneapolis and its residents," the city and mayor said in statements provided to KARE 11, adding: "The City Auditor is undertaking a review of procurement processes underpinning the production of major events. As stewards of public funds, it's important the City follow processes that ensure public funds have public benefit, even if those processes can be complex."
Vetaw said she welcomes that audit, as does Council Vice President Linea Palmisano.
According to Palmisano, the auditor told her he is "obligated to conduct a review of city processes related to the Expo at this time. This is more like a breakdown of public purpose and a look at where the money went in this event. I met with him and agreed with his recommendation on how to best proceed. I cannot impress on this point strongly enough -- we need to make sure that Black people in Minneapolis benefit from a Black Expo."
According to Mayor Jacob Frey's office, Green's memo "is under review and professional staff will determine whether further investigation is required."
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Mayor Miro Weinberger of Burlington, Vermont, said that they'll conduct their own review of Green's former department in their city. That spokesperson said "there is currently no indication of serious issues regarding the management and spending," including in relation to a Juneteenth event that Green organized in Burlington.
"However, some of the details announced last week by the City of Minneapolis caused our Chief Administrative Officer to consult with our Auditor, and to recommend to the Mayor that the City initiate an internal audit to confirm the absence of any waste or misuse of City resources," the Burlington spokesperson said.
"Specifically, those details are that: Minneapolis has launched a three-stage examination into that city's 'I am My Ancestor's Wildest Dreams' expo event; the primary vendor used for the production of the Minneapolis event was a business owned by a former employee who previously served as the Event Manager in Burlington's REIB Department; and the Minneapolis event required a Council-approved budget amendment, as did the 2022 Burlington Juneteenth event led by the former REIB Event Manager Casey Ellerby as well as by Director Green until her departure."
Neither Burlington nor Minneapolis has given a timeline for how long their respective audits may take.
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