What do Minneapolis, Minn., and Burlington, Vt., have in common? Tyeastia Green.
The former director of Minneapolis’s Racial Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Department left the city in mid-March amid scrutiny over her office’s handling of a Feb. 25 “I Am My Ancestors’ Wildest Dreams Expo,” which was supposed to attract up to 20,000 attendees while showcasing small black-owned businesses.
In the end, just 3,700 people registered for the expo and fewer than that attended, according to an independent review the city had commissioned after sinking $680,000 into the underwhelming event.
The city ordered the review, released in late June, after it was revealed that Green falsely told the Minneapolis City Council she was offered $3 million from the Bush Foundation for the event.
Green defended herself in various statements to the media, claiming the event was unsuccessful because of a lack of support from city leaders, some of whom she accused of actively trying to undermine her, according to MPR News.
“I am not happy with the way I have been characterized,” she told the Daily Mail in March.
Minneapolis City Council President Andrea Jenkins wasn’t buying it. “I am not anti-black; I am anti-incompetent,” Jenkins said.
The news out of Minneapolis piqued the interest of Miro Weinberger, the mayor of a city halfway across the country.
Burlington officials noticed “apparent factual similarities between the event there (Minneapolis) and the Juneteenth 2022 celebration in Burlington,” according to an independent review the city released in late July of this year.
That review concluded that “there does appear to have been mismanagement or carelessness prior to Juneteenth 2022.”
Before departing Minneapolis, Green sent a 14-page memo to city leaders in which she accused them of being “toxic,” “anti-Black,” and racist, according to MPR News. After Burlington released its report, she accused Mayor Weinberger of being a “white supremacist.”
Minneapolis engaged the services of Baker Tilly to conduct its independent review, which was released to the public June 26.
The review found that of the 63 vendors selected for the expo, just 35 were from Minnesota and received a combined $229,000. The remaining 28 vendors were from out of state and received $269,000, more than the in-state businesses.
This is despite the fact that “one of the hallmarks of the Expo was to feature small Black-owned businesses from the Minneapolis and St. Paul area,” according to the report.
The review also found abnormalities in invoices and discovered that the city partially paid a performing artist who ended up backing out the night before the expo. Up to 14 invoices were potential duplicates and utilized “slight variants in company names.”
“Based on the information provided, Baker Tilly did not observe any detailed event plan outlining the agenda, vendors, services, supplies, timeline, funding, or budget needs for the Expo,” the report says.
A company called Touched Apparel, an Atlanta-based clothing company, was awarded a contract by Green’s department to help lead event planning. The registered agent of that company is Casey Ellerby, who, it turns out, was employed in Green’s department as an event planner in Burlington through October 2022.
Burlington contracted with attorney Heather Ross to review its Juneteenth event, which fell under the purview of Green’s office.
The city requested a review “in light of the concerns raised in Minneapolis, and some of the apparent factual similarities between the event there and the Juneteenth 2022 celebration in Burlington, including the involvement of Ms. Green and Ms. Ellerby,” Ross writes in her report.
Like the Minneapolis expo, Ross’s report found that “many out-of-state vendors were used for Juneteenth 2022, as well as for Black History month in 2022.” Additionally, there were multiple vendors or contractors who were not registered to do business in any state at all.
The approved budget for the Juneteenth event was $100,000, which later grew to $180,000. Ultimately, the total cost was $414,000, which the city paid for apart from $103,000 from private donors. In other words, the event was over budget by about $130,000.
Green told Ross in an interview that she did not exceed the approved budget because the budget was “intended to be $500,000.”
“In the information reviewed as described herein, we could not find documentation or information supporting this statement about a budget of $500,000. Ms. Green herself presented the budget for Juneteenth 2022 to the Board of Finance in May 2021 and asked for a $100,000 budget for Juneteenth,” Ross writes.
Similar to the Minneapolis event, Green claimed that she had “between $200,000 and $300,000 in commitments from private sponsors” by the time she left.
“Based on the documentation we reviewed, we saw no evidence of actual or expected commitments in that amount at the time of Ms. Green’s departure,” Ross says in her report.
“Based on the information provided, we did not observe any detailed event plan outlining the agenda, vendors, services, supplies, timeline, funding, or budget needs for Juneteenth 2022. Indeed, despite having Ms. Ellerby as an Event Planner since December 2021, there was no budget for the event or other planning documents that we found … ,” she continues.
Ross also states in her report that she identified some “red flags” in invoicing practices.
Green told local media that she believes the report exonerates her because it did not find evidence of fraud, just “mismanagement and carelessness.”
She told the Vermont Digger that both reviews were conducted because the events were geared toward the black community.
“If I was spending city funds on a white event, I don’t believe that I would have been audited at all by either city,” she said.