Minneapolis' recently departed race and inclusion director isn't leaving without a fight.
In a memo sent before she departed last week as director of the Department of Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, Tyeastia Green is alleging a "toxic work environment" at City Hall and accusing several senior Black officials of "antiblack racism," including City Council President Andrea Jenkins and Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw.
City officials responded Monday in a statement that said they are reviewing Green's memo and that "professional staff" will decide whether to investigate further. "The city disagrees with the characterization of the events outlined in the memo," according to the statement.
Vetaw defended her actions, and Jenkins fired back.
"I am not anti-Black, but I am anti-incompetent," Jenkins said.
In her memo dated March 6, Green states that "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 continues that having been "in the belly of the beast for nearly a year ... Minneapolis holds, matures, coddles, perpetuates, and massages a racist anti-black work culture."
The effects of the potentially incendiary 14-page memo are hard to predict in a city that has grappled with racial reckoning since the 2020 murder of George Floyd and seen racial tensions permeate its progressive politics. As of Monday, reactions from inside City Hall ranged from silence to caution and skepticism. At least one voice sounded a note of solidarity with Green.
Hanging over some of the responses is the fact that city attorneys regard much of the matter as confidential under personnel rules. At least one council member on Monday said that they believed they weren't legally allowed to speak about the memo at all.
Green's memo, addressed to her superiors, adds to the drama surrounding her departure.
Her last day, on March 13, followed weeks of scrutiny surrounding her planning of the city's inaugural Black Expo and the allegedly false statements she made about it. The Feb. 24 event fell far short of Green's hoped-for attendance of 20,000 and left some vendors feeling let down.
A week before the event, the City Council met in emergency session to plug a funding shortfall for the expo. At that meeting and since, Green claimed that the Bush Foundation was prepared to offer $3 million to sponsor the event over three years but had certain conditions — a claim repeatedly denied by the St. Paul-based foundation and city officials, who back the foundation's assertion that the city never actually applied for funding from Bush.
Nearly a month later, the event's precise budget — apparently approaching $500,000 — remains unclear. In a statement Monday, the city notes that the City Council allocated $435,000 on Feb. 17, but add that the total amount budgeted "outside the action taken on Feb. 17, is still being assessed by the city."
The city auditor is planning a three-stage probe into the matter, which would seem to satisfy Green's demands that the city investigate the expo.
Some sentiments in Green's memo echo thoughts expressed by some former city workers of color as well as her predecessor, Joy Marsh, who previously held the title of race and equity director. In May, Marsh penned a public letter alleging that during her yearslong tenure, she and other non-white workers were subjected to "gaslighting, marginalization and tokenism" in an "organization that is built upon policy and practice that centers whiteness."
But Green's memo also includes claims disputed by the city, as well as some contradictions of previous statements she's made.
While Green initially sent the memo to a small number of people, she later forwarded it to the entire City Council. A public relations specialist working with her last week indicated she wanted to speak publicly about her experience and the memo, but later said that Green had decided to decline a Star Tribune request for an interview. Green has granted an interview to at least one other media outlet.
What the memo says
Green's memo, which she describes as a "report," contains a range of specific accusations interspersed with generic descriptions of racially charged workplace problems. It quotes from prominent Black writers such as Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison.
Green alleges that in planning the expo she was undercut by a lack of marketing, a foot-dragging procurement process and "fake ethics complaints," suggesting that city attorneys were holding her to an ethics policy she was never shown.
In its statement, the city responded that many city staffers worked "tirelessly" to make the expo a success, and that it was "disappointing to see them publicly criticized for the hard work they do on behalf of the city and its residents."
A number of Green's complaints relate to personal interactions. For example, regarding Vetaw's "antiblack sentiment against me," she says, "whenever I step into council chambers, she sneers at me."
Green alleges that Vetaw has "made it her mission to spread lies and defame my character with the community" regarding the expo, and says she's preparing a lawsuit against the council member for "defamation of character."
Green offers one false statement that she attributes to Vetaw: that Green owned the city-contracted company that staged the expo. It's unclear when Vetaw might have said that. The Atlanta-based company is owned by someone Green had worked with at her previous job.
In a response, Vetaw said in a statement: "Even though I had numerous concerns about the Expo, I did my part to make the event a success. … At the end of the day, I don't think this event was satisfactory for a variety of reasons. Primarily, we let our small black-owned businesses down. I look forward to seeing the results of the audit. … I will work to ensure that the lessons learned from the audit are put into practice and that we put in the work to regain trust."
Among the allegations, Green accuses the city of "moving goalposts" for her specifically. One example she gives was when interim City Operations Officer Heather Johnston, her immediate supervisor, denied her request to have the city pay for her to attend an event because it didn't qualify as a "leadership conference."
"I asked her who decides what is and is not a leadership conference," Green writes in the memo. She doesn't name the event, but city records show it was See Change Sessions. The three days of the See Change agenda included recreational and spiritual offerings, from snow kiting to yoga, with only a few events easily seen as relevant to racial equity and inclusion.
Green was seeking $2,433.21 for event registration, airfare and a travel agent fee, according to the city, which denied the request. The March 7-9 event was held in Burlington, Vt., where Green lived and worked as that city's director of racial equity, inclusiveness and belonging before taking the job in Minneapolis last year. Her tenure in Burlington included internal friction, according to Vermont media reports.
Officially, Minneapolis city officials won't say whether Green was fired, forced out or left voluntarily, citing secrecy over personnel matters, leaving a confusing timeline.
On Feb. 17, Green made her false claim to the City Council. According to several statements she made to the Star Tribune, she resigned Feb. 21.
However, in her memo she says she rescinded that resignation. In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, she said she was asked to rescind it. The "I Am My Ancestors' Wildest Dreams Expo" was held Feb. 25 in the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Green's memo, which was addressed to four people — including Mayor Jacob Frey and Johnston — appears to have been actually sent to various people over several days following March 6. Council members received it March 12. Her final day was March 13. She told MPR she was asked to resign.
One public show of support for Green came from a Twitter account known as "CCO Staff," which has previously represented a group of current and former city employees.
"We stand in solidarity with Director Green and all current and former City employees who have and continue to experience anti-Black racism, gaslighting, and disrespect from Interim COO Johnston, Mayor Frey, and other City leaders," one of their tweets over the weekend said.
It's unclear how many people the sentiment represented, and there was no response to a request for comment from "CCO Staff."
Read the memo:
[Can't see the document? Click here.]