By Michael Bielawski
The City of Burlington’s financial audit of its Racial Equity Inclusion and Belonging (REIB) Department under the leadership of its first director Tyeastia Green found hugely missed cost estimates for a large event, questionable deals with former associates, large overpayments, and other questionable activity.
Now that audit is getting pushback from local supporters of Green and the Diversity-Equity-Inclusion movement, and local and national figures already unimpressed with taxpayer-funded ensconcement of DEI in government.
Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA. Kirk tried to speak in Burlington two years ago, only to have his reservation at a downtown conference center cancelled when progressive activists threatened to organize a boycott of Burlington businesses. Instead he spoke to a packed house at the DoubleTree in South Burlington.
Yesterday, Kirk told his 2.4 million followers on Twitter (officially “X” now) what he thinks of Green and the DEI movement in general.
“One of her [Green’s] only jobs was organizing a Juneteenth event, which ran more than 100% over budget thanks to her mismanagement,” Kirk tweeted yesterday. “Then, she lateraled to the same job in Minneapolis, where she did the exact same thing. Once the city began investigating her, she quit, claiming it was a ‘toxic work environment’ for not giving her unlimited money.
“Now, Burlington is investigating her as well, so she’s accused the mayor (of one of the most liberal cities in the country) of being a ‘white supremacist,’” Kirk said.
“DEI is a scam for hiring unqualified, deadweight losers who ruin everything around them,” Kirk concluded. “Abolish it!”
In a letter to the editor to VTDigger, William Wolfe of Essex Junction says of Green calling Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger a ‘white supremacist’: “Wow! I’ve seen smoke screens before, but this much smoke could hide a tank regiment!…it’s clear that Ms. Green hides behind the color of her skin and not the content of her character.”
In response to the audit and followup criticism like Kirk’s and other, more local voices, supporters of Green rallied outside City Hall yesterday and then attended en masse at the Monday night City Council meeting.
Zora Hightower, a City Council supporter of Green, reportedly wanted to publicly reprimand Mayor Miro Weinberger for “continued defamation of character” of Green. However, she later amended the proposal to sending the audit to the council’s human resources committee for further review. The resolution passed unanimously.
Audit to “determine whether there was fraud, waste or abuse”
The city conducted a review in July regarding the contracting processes and expenditures associated with the organization’s spending during the fiscal years 2021 and 2022 with a special focus on the city’s Juneteenth celebration of 2022.
The purpose was to “determine whether there was fraud, waste or abuse,” according to an 18-page July 31 memo sent from the law firm Sheehey Furlong & Behm to the city’s Chief Administrative Officer Katherine Schad.
The audit does not find specific cases of fraud, waste or abuse. The memo’s conclusion is that in the future, the city should do more to ensure that those in charge of large amounts of public money are better scrutinized and employees are better trained so that situations like this don’t repeat: “The City might want to hold annual reminder trainings for any employee authorized to make purchases regarding its requirements.”
Green has been in the news for other controversies including her allegation the Minneapolis city government has a “toxic work environment” that promotes anti-Black racism” based on her time as the city’s equity director.
Trouble in Minneapolis
Last week VDC reported that Green left a position recently in Minneapolis, MN, “under a financial cloud.”
A report by the Minneapolis Star Tribune revealed some details of the financial mismanagements that happened out west. Just as in Vermont, there was suspicion regarding financial mismanagement for a large event.
“The developments raised a number of questions surrounding the planning of the I Am My Ancestors’ Wildest Dream Expo, which drew far fewer attendees than initially hoped and required a late influx of taxpayer money,” the report states.
Cost estimates were way off the mark
In the July 31 memo, an interview with Green by city officials is summarized. It reveals that the Juneteenth event for 2022 was initially estimated to cost $500,000 in total.
This estimate was not corroborated with other data. The memo states, “Based on our review of the information identified in this report, we could not find any evidence of a discussion with the Board of Finance or City Council of an alleged $500,000 budget for Juneteenth.”
The interview reveals that she grossly overestimated the amount of donations that would run the Juneteenth event. She told the city “between $200,000 and $300,000 in sponsorships/private donations” could be expected for the event. After investigation, it was found that only $103,000 was ever received.
Questions about contracts
There were also questions about who was awarded contracts. A former college roommate of Green, Noble Julz, was awarded a contract related to the Juneteenth event. Green’s defense was that there had only been two responses to their public request for proposal, one being Julz and another out of Washington. She claims that Julz and Green had kept in contact on social media but had “not been in close contact” at the time.
The event planner reveals more problems
Casey Ellerby, the event planner working with Green during the event, was also interviewed. Her interview reveals that when Green left the organization, many left with her.
“According to Ms. Ellerby, after Ms. Green left REIB, other REIB employees who would have helped with the planning for Juneteenth quit or did not assist with Juneteenth, with the exception of Thea Heck,” the memo states.
Ellerby revealed that some payouts were much higher than initially estimated, for example, the food vendors.
The memo states, “With respect to food vendors, Ms. Ellerby stated that she thought that they were paying the food vendors for events held on Sunday during Juneteenth 2022 no more than $500 or $1,000 per food vendor. In fact, payments to the food vendors offering free food to the public on Sunday, June 19, 2022, ranged from $6,000 to $14,000 per food vendor.”
Ellerby, who lived in Atlanta while a Burlington City employee, revealed that she had a comfortable hotel stay totaling $2,101.98 during a visit to Burlington for the Juneteenth celebration.
The author is a reporter for Vermont Daily Chronicle.