Burlington diversity chief and her picked aide fell short of fundraising goals in Minneapolis, too – no fraud alleged
By Guy Page
As first reported this March by Vermont Daily Chronicle, Tyeastia Green, the first director of Burlington’s Racism, Inclusion, Equity and Belonging (REIB) Department, this March left a similar position in Minneapolis, MN “under a financial cloud.”
Green’s job in Burlington included organizing the city’s first Juneteenth celebration in 2021 and (until her March 2022 departure) the 2022 Juneteenth. After leaving the Burlington job, she was quickly hired by Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered and the largest city of the state where she graduated from college.
In March, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported financial concerns surrounding Green’s oversight of a February, 2023 “Black Expo.” A week later, she was no longer working for the city.
Most of the Vermont media ignored Green’s departure from Minnesota. Not so the City of Burlington: wondering if lightning had struck Burlington before Minneapolis, it commissioned an investigation.
“The City of Burlington engaged the legal firm of Sheehey Furlong & Behm [SFB] PC to conduct a review of the contracting processes and expenditures associated with spending by REIB in fiscal years 2021 and 2022, particularly with respect to Juneteenth 2022, to determine whether there was fraud, waste or abuse.”
Those are the opening words of an 18-page July 31 memo from the law firm to Katherine Schad, the city’s Chief Administrative Officer. The memo outlines the timeline of events and the firm’s conclusions and recommendations.
It is important to say that in both Burlington and Minneapolis, authorities explicitly deny finding Green responsible for theft, fraud, or embezzlement. However, in both cities there were hiring, spending, and fundraising decisions that appear contrary to both the spirit and letter of city guidelines.
Underperformance by Casey Ellerby, an Atlanta, GA fundraiser and resident hired by Green as a full-time city employee, appears to have been a major problem:
“Green and Ellerby both stated that the budget for Juneteenth 2022 was always intended to be $500,000.
“Based on our review and the documents provided, we found no evidence that a budget of $500,000 was shared with the Board of Finance or the City Council. Ms. Green and Ms. Ellerby both stated that the bulk of the budget for Juneteenth 2022 was intended to be provided by private sponsors. Ms. Green stated that she had between $200,000 and $300,000 in commitments from private sponsors by the time she left REIB in March 2022. Ms. Ellerby stated that she thought there were $300,000 in commitments from private sponsors at the time Ms. Green 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. Rather, the documentation of requests for private sponsorships or commitments for Juneteenth 2022 is sparse when compared to Juneteenth 2021, for which the total 17 commitments for private sponsors were $149,000.
“We do not know on what basis a conclusion would reasonably have been reached to determine that $300,000 or more in private sponsors would have been available for Juneteenth 2022. In fact, there was approximately $103,000 in private sponsorships.”
Out-of-state vendors also received extremely generous lodging on the city’s dime.
“Ms. Ellerby stated that lodging was provided for any out-of-state vendors, as well as any out-of-town vendors or performers at Juneteenth 2022. At some of the higher end hotels used, the stay was $299 per night, and individuals were provided lodging for multiple nights. Many out-of-state vendors were used for Juneteenth 2022, as well as for Black History month in 2022.
“In addition, there were multiple vendors or contractors used by REIB who were not registered to do business in any State. There was a general lack of documentation within REIB related to Juneteenth 2022, including the lack of a budget and lack of detailed planning information. There was also a lack of documentation showing that attempts were made to secure goods at the lowest cost for the quality needed, as the Purchasing Policy requires, or that some exception should be made to this general requirement in a particular instance.
As noted above, Ms. Ellerby, a full-time City employee, was given permission by Ms. Green to have her lodging paid for in late April or early May 2022 when she came to Burlington to do her job.”
Next week, VDC reporter Michael Bielawski will present a thorough, concise review of the significant findings of the SFB report, and any response by Burlington City Government.