Former equities director blames Minneapolis executives for ‘failed’ Black Business Expo and claims work culture is ‘toxic’
In a recent letter written days before she left, the former city manager who planned the Minneapolis Black Business Expo blamed other city leaders for the low turnout at February’s event and threatened to sue City Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw “for… defamation of character.”
Tyeastia Green, in her 14-page memo addressed to the city’s superintendent and mayor, claimed that her fellow students stood the odds against her success. Green claimed City Hall is a “toxic work environment” that encourages anti-black racism, a claim the city denied in response to questions Tuesday.
Meanwhile, some Minneapolis small business owners — whom the I Am My Ancestors’ Wildest Dreams exhibit should give a boost — want an apology and their money back.
In the first paragraph of the March 6 memo, Green stated plans to sue Vetaw “and all of her accomplices inside and outside the Council,” and Seiten later claimed that Vetaw “made a point of defamation.” [Green’s] character” by allegedly “spreading rumors” about the “lack of work [the] Race & Justice [Department]’, of which Green was director until March 13.
“I was shocked,” Vetaw said in an interview Tuesday of her reaction to the threat of a lawsuit against her. “I had done everything in my power over the last week to make the event a success, even going there myself.”
FILE – Tyeastia Green, former Minneapolis executive director for racial justice, speaks at a city council meeting on Feb. 17, 2023. (City of Minneapolis via YouTube/File)
When asked if there was any truth to the claims, the council member said: “None of that, absolutely none of that.”
On Tuesday, two weeks after the date stamped on Green’s memo, Vetaw said no lawsuit was served on her.
Vetaw was part of a unanimous vote by the council to double funding for the inaugural exhibition to nearly $1 million after Green made a request a week before the scheduled date.
“Did I think the Expo should be postponed? Absolutely when I found out some of the things that were going on behind the scenes,” Vetaw added.
In the end, it retained its place on the calendar, and local black businesses formed, expecting more than 20,000 people to pour through the Minneapolis Convention Center. In reality, the estimated presence of vendors and sources at City Hall is closer to a few hundred.
“I saw more vendors there than I saw, you know, attendees coming in,” Vetaw recalled.
“I showed up to this event because it was a complete failure,” added salesperson and small business owner in north Minneapolis, Markella Smith.
In her letter, Green blamed city communications for the lack of marketing and city operations for “deliberately misleading” them in the supplier contracting process.
In a statement, a city communications representative said the department had done its part, including promoting the expo in a press release, two live TV interviews – including in 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS – city newsletters and social media.
A spokesman for Mayor Jacob Frey’s office said the city “does not agree [Green’s] Characterizing the Events” throughout the memo.
“Counsellor Vetaw, she literally apologized over and over again,” Smith said Tuesday.
City officials, including Vetaw, met with vendors at Smith’s The Dream Shop Monday night.
“But what I want is a public apology,” Smith said.
She has also called for financial redress for herself and on behalf of all local vendors who have lost money.
When asked if she’s asking for the $2,000 she allegedly lost attending the fair, Smith said, “The bare minimum.”
“I say that because yeah, that was money I put in and that’s time and that covers the staff and all the things,” she said. “But also what about the money we could have made if we didn’t, right? So it’s bigger than $2,000.”
“We deserved it after all. So that was a complete disaster,” concluded Smith.
Green did not respond to multiple requests for comment Tuesday and over the past week.
Mayor Frey’s office answered her allegations of racism in the city and other questions from 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS REPORTERS in the following statement:
REPORTER: How does the mayor’s office respond to Green’s claim that Minneapolis “doesn’t even get on the list to be considered anti-racism work”?
The city disagrees with the characterization of the events described in the memo. Many City employees worked tirelessly to make this Expo event a success and it is disappointing to see them being publicly criticized for their hard work on behalf of the City and its residents.
The City recognizes the toll that structural racism takes on our residents, businesses and workers. The Mayor and City Council took a step in the 2022 budget cycle to advance racial justice by elevating the former department to the Department of Racial Justice, Inclusion and Belonging (REIB). In doing so, the city increased the influence and standing of this work in the city’s enterprise. The city supported the department’s establishment by investing nearly $800,000 more for the 2023 budget than the previous year and increasing staffing capacity.
In recent years, city leadership has also worked to create a more inclusive workplace and embed equity in policy and practice. Just this year, the mayor has allocated significant funds to develop curricula for anti-racist training, and the city has already partnered with outside experts to conduct anti-racist training for city leaders. Over the past year, the city has also reformed its procurement processes to prioritize local vendors within the target market program. We have taken – and will continue to take – concrete steps to support the Black community, particularly in planning large-scale community events.
We are committed to the success of the REIB department. We will soon publicly advertise a new director and support the REIB staff in this transition phase.
REPORTER: Where did the additional $435,000 approved by the council a week before the event go?
On February 17, after learning that additional funds were needed to ensure the Expo could be held, the City Council took action to allocate $435,000 to support the event. The total amount budgeted for the expo outside of the measures taken on February 17 is still being called from the city. The city continues to calculate and pay bills.
REPORTER: The mayor’s chief of staff is pictured meeting with trade show vendors yesterday. Did the office apologize? And for what specifically?
City leaders met with local black business owners on the Northside yesterday who expressed frustration with the city’s approach to contracts and vendors for the recent expo. City officials apologized that the city did not work better with black community members and business leaders prior to this event.
The city’s target market program prioritizes historically underutilized small businesses in procurement and contracting policies with the city. We are working together to strengthen partnerships with local minority-owned small businesses for all future events.
REPORTER: Does the Mayor’s Office/City have any intention of paying back the vendors who lost money attending the event in any way?
The city is examining legal options.
REPORTER: Is the city planning to try the event again next year?
Each February, the city sponsors and organizes a series of events to celebrate Black History Month and the black community in Minneapolis. City leadership has already begun discussing plans for 2024 and met with representatives from the Minneapolis Black Employee Network (MBEN) to gather feedback on February’s event.
The city looks forward to reviewing the results of the audit and has not yet made a decision on hosting such an event next year.
Read Green’s full memo below:
For related stories: Black Business Minneapolis Councilman of Minneapolis Renee Cooper