BY CAM GORDON
The struggle for racial equity within our city government has suffered another setback.
As of March 13, Tyeastia Green, the director of the recently elevated Department of Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, no longer works for the city of Minneapolis.
In a memo-style report that she sent on March 6 to Mayor Jacob Frey, City Operations Officer Heather Johnston, Deputy City Operations Officer Fatima Moore and Chief Human Resources Officer Nikki Odom, Green describes problems she has had with the city “enterprise” in general and some staff and elected officials in particular.
“Coming into the enterprise, I had high hopes,” wrote Green. “However, being in the belly of the beast for nearly a year, I know that not only is Minneapolis far behind the curve of other cities and towns in fighting against racism, Minneapolis, as an enterprise, doesn’t even make it on the list to be considered doing the work of antiracism. Minneapolis holds, matures, coddles, perpetuates, and massages a racist anti-black work culture. This culture inevitably affects our employees – mainly those of color and our residents.” (Green’s memo can be read in its entirety here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/13onT9VnfKTTlQLqmJ628wzY4pDZWmzxi/view.)
The struggle to address racism in our city government is not new. The establishment of a division dedicated to repairing the institutional racism in City Hall was years in the making and had a rough time just getting started.
In 2014, when former Mayor Betsy Hodges proposed creating the new division with two staff people, the idea was met with opposition from then-Council Member Jacob Frey and some of his allies on the council, including Linea Palmisano and Lisa Goodman.
An amendment at the time, made by Palmisano, to cut the funding in half for the creation of the Hodges’ proposed Office of Equitable Outcomes, was defeated on a 7-6 vote. The six council members who voted against fully funding the office were Jacob Frey, Barb Johnson, Blong Yang, Abdi Warsame, Lisa Goodman and Linea Palmisano.
Over the years, the office grew and more staff were hired, but since 2020 the first director, Joy Marsh, and all of the original nine staffers have left. Other Black women in leadership positions have also left the city, including Sasha Cotton, the former manager of the Office of Violence Prevention, and Velma Korbel, the director of the Civil Rights Department.
It took eight months after Marsh’s departure for the city to hire Green into the role even though the office was down to only one staff member at the time.
Earlier this term, there were objections raised to the appointment of Johnston as city coordinator. A group calling themselves “CCO Staff” (made up of former and current city staff) released a statement and testified about a toxic and racist work environment that was operating under Johnston’s leadership. The statement they wrote was endorsed by more than 80 current or former city staff people from at least 13 departments.
Despite the opposition, Johnston’s appointment was eventually approved, and she has since taken over as City Operations Officer under the new government structure.
For Green, problems were evident from the start. “On my first day, March 28, 2022,” she wrote in the March 6 report, “I was placed in a windowless, mouse-infested space that shared a wall with inmates. I could hear crying, talking, praying, etc., at various times throughout the day. The mere placement of the then Race & Equity office was very telling as an incoming director, where race relations ranked in the enterprise and its importance.”
Green’s report goes on to detail a “toxic work environment” with dates and descriptions of many “instances of racism and antiblackness.” She cites “experts and scholars to show how what I have experienced here is, in fact, antiblack racism and that some of that racism was done at the hands of other Black people in the enterprise.” She also informed the mayor and others that she intended to file a lawsuit against Council Member Latrisha Vetaw for defamation of character.
The report elaborates on that defamation as well as concerns about communication, procurement, resources, “fake ethics complaints,” “extra scrutiny and moving goal posts.” It also highlights work accomplished and underway including antiracism training, work on a Minneapolis (in)Equity Report and 12 other projects and priorities.
Green’s memo appears to have led to her departure and was written after an event held on Feb. 25 at the Minneapolis Convention Center called “I Am My Ancestors Wildest Dreams Expo,” and a special City Council meeting called by the mayor for the purpose of approving funding for the event on Feb. 17.
At that Feb. 17 meeting, Green shared problems she encountered with funding and how a city attorney, Susan Trammell, told her it was unethical to solicit funds.
After continued resistance and lack of support for the event following that council meeting, “on February 21, 2023, I resigned,” she wrote. “My decision to resign was from pure exhaustion, and my body, mind, and spirit could no longer take the racist, toxic nature of the enterprise.” She was also prepared to cancel the event.
After talking with Deputy City Operations Officer Moore, however, Green decided to stay and the expo event was not canceled. “After speaking with Fatima Moore, I rescinded my resignation,” Green explained in the March 6 report, with obvious energy to address problems and work to improve things at City Hall. “Profound changes need to be made to the culture of the enterprise. As a Minneapolis citizen, I demand it. As a leader in the enterprise, I won’t stop demanding it and holding folks accountable until we all see it come to pass.”
Then, three days after that memo, the Star Tribune ran a story alleging that Green had misled the council at the Feb. 17 meeting by saying that the Bush Foundation had made a commitment, and claiming that “her statements to the City Council at an emergency meeting last month have proved to be untrue.”
After that article, in an email to the city’s director of communications, Green identified the person she spoke with at the foundation and wrote, “I never said that I received a commitment from Bush for $3 million. I said Bush offered $3 million but their stipulations I couldn’t agree to. What was on the table was $1 million per year for three years, with some dollars attached to do program evaluation each year. However, in order to move forward I had to agree that the mayor and city council could not be involved in the event.” She was told that if the mayor and City Council were involved Bush would not fund it because “there are people on the board that don’t like the mayor and specifically the council president.”
The video from the meeting confirms that Green did not use the word “commitment” but did tell the council that the “Bush Foundation had offered us $3 million, but they had some stipulations that we could not satisfy.”
Then, on March 13, Green was told by Johnston that if she did not resign, she would be “unappointed.” The reasons for not being appointed included her defensiveness, failure to act on Johnston’s recommendations, as well as things she said at the Feb. 17 meeting, and the newspaper article. She decided “to keep my original February 21, 2023, resignation.”
Since Green’s departure, among those who have spoken up in support of her is Angela Rose Myers Moroles, former president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP, who wrote on Twitter, “Director Green was set up. Unfortunately, we have seen this all too often.”
Erica Mauter, former candidate for City Council, wrote, “We should be thanking her, Joy Marsh before her, and all the current & former staff in that office who brought themselves, their expertise, and their lived experience to try to make this city a better place for all of us to live. Only to be met with hostility & abuse.”
“The enterprise isn’t structured in a way that automatically supports racial equity,” Green concludes at the end of her report. “The city needs a supportive leadership team and public officials who want an antiracist work environment. I don’t believe the city as an enterprise is concerned about having an antiracist organization. The city, as an enterprise, is concerned about optics.”