Park Worker / Board Candidate Fired Over Lost Funds

The following article by Bill McAuliffe was published in the September 20, 2013 issue of the Star Tribune:



A Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board youth specialist backed by Mayor R.T. Rybak in his run for a seat on the board was fired from his job last month after being unable to account for $3,800 in soccer field rentals, according to board documents.

Hashim Yonis, who accompanied Rybak last year to meet President Obama for recognition of a Minneapolis youth jobs and mentoring program, was dismissed Aug. 23, two weeks after filing to run for one of three at-large seats on the Park Board.

The case has been forwarded to the Minneapolis police and to the Hennepin County attorney’s office for possible criminal charges, according to Dawn Sommers, spokeswoman for the Park Board.

In its dismissal papers, the board indicated Yonis had received field rental money from adult soccer teams but it was not given it to the board. Yonis told investigators he did not take the money. According to the Park Board documents, a number of people interviewed said he had asked for cash payments for field rental — once behind the closed door of a small equipment shed — and seldom gave receipts.

According to his campaign finance report, Yonis lent his own campaign $3,000 on Aug. 10. His campaign treasurer, Mohamud Noor, said he knew only that the money came from Yonis’ personal funds. He added Thursday that Yonis’ dismissal was “news to me” and believed he is still a candidate.

The Star Tribune could not reach Yonis for comment Thursday. Yonis is one of 10 candidates for three at-large seats on the nine-member Park Board. Two other at-large candidates are incumbents: Chairman John Erwin, and Annie Young. A third is former board Chairman Tom Nordyke.

Young said Yonis would likely find support from the city’s sizable Somali community and from voters who want more diversity on the Park Board.

Yonis spent several of his early years in refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia, came to the United States in 2000 and graduated from St. Olaf College.

Parks Commissioner Scott Vreeland, who is running for re-election to the seat representing the east-central Minneapolis district that included the parks where Yonis worked, said it was better for Yonis’ dismissal to become public now rather than for it to jolt voters in November.

“I enjoyed working with him,” Vreeland said. Vreeland is being challenged by Said Maye, who is also Somali and a park recreation worker.

Rybak communications director John Stiles said Rybak would not have a comment because he didn’t know about Yonis’ firing.

Staff writer Eric Roper contributed to this report.