Asian Pacific Council welcomes new leadership, budget and challenges


The mission of the Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans is to be an advisor to policymakers, advocate for the community, and a builder of bridges

The State Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans held its bimonthly Council board meeting August 14. The Council has not held an official board meeting since March 15, 2007. The Heritage Month Banquet and Awards Ceremony was held in May, followed by the Dragon Festival in July. Both events involved the council board members in various committees and the board meeting was cancelled for the number of scheduling conflicts during both months.

The meeting was a chance to elect new leadership for the coming fiscal year.

Jodi Tanaka was unanimously reelected for a second consecutive term as Board chair. She said that three years have gone by quickly, and that she enjoys bringing a private sector perspective to the council, among the many public sector officials.

Tanaka believes that her public relations and marketing background will help harness the various differences of background, cultures and perspectives of the board and their respective communities. She reflected on the growing comradeship and that it was born of tension among people of various background, cultures, perspectives and political affiliations. She called the council a great learning experience for people of various cultures and a way to get people to remain connected.

“Looking at this board, there are obvious differences that people have and now they seem minimized,” she said.

Eleasalo (Salo) V. Ale, was unanimously elected Vice chair, the first Pacific Islander board member to be elected as a board officer. A member of the Samoan and South Pacific Islander community. He is involved in a number of pro bono and community activities including the Pacific Islanders Center for Education Development board of directors.

“I am truly honored to be on this board and I look forward to working with all of you,” said Ale.

In his first term, Ale describes is first four years on the CAPM board as a unique challenge. He has headed the Heritage Month Banquet and Leadership Awards committees.

“It is a wonderful experience to be part of this group and to work with the bigger, broader pan Asian vision for the community,” said Ale.

Ali is now a partner with the law firm of Faegre & Benson LLP in Minneapolis, where he has worked for the past 12 years. He is also a member of the firm’s Diversity Committee.

“Faegre & Benson does a tremendous job of encouraging and promoting diversity including supporting my involvement in the CAPM and the Asian Pacific community in general,” said Ale.

Ale replaced John Doan, who did not wish to run again, after three consecutive terms as chair, and one term as vice chair.

“John may not be the Vice chair, but he will still be a great help,” said Ale.

Earlier this year, Governor Tim Pawlenty appointed Bee Lee, Terry Cheng, Albert Poliarco, and reappointed Eleaslo Ale, Sokunthea Bentley, Vinodh Kutty, and Ami Nafzger to the CAPM Board.

The Board welcomed Tai-Enn (Terry) Cheng, an operating system engineer at Wells Fargo Bank in Minnesota, who is recognized as a mentor and leader in business and community diversity efforts. Cheng received the CAPM Leadership Award this past May, just prior to his appointment.

Cheng served as the Chair of the Asian Connection Minnesota in 2005 and co-chair in 2006. He is credited with bridging Asian community business owners and Wells Fargo through Asian Business Forums for help our community succeed financially.

Cheng says he would like to bring this type of innovation to the level of the council, to all communities. He described these financial education programs not as sales opportunities, but of necessary knowledge that is lacking both individually and in small business. He reflected on the number of procurement seminars given by the cities, the state and federal government. These small business owners need to also realize they need to become certified and there are steps and a long term process involved.

Cheng earned his BS in Electrical Engineering from Chung-Cheng Institute of Technology in Taoyuan, Taiwan in 1979, a Masters in Electrical Engineering from the University of Washington in Seattle in 1985, and began working toward a Masters in Technology Management from the University of St. Thomas in 2002.

“We are grateful to have (Terry Cheng) here,” said Jodi Tanaka, chair.

The first Hmong appointee since Aly Xiong, Mr. Bee Lee was not able to attend. He was recently promoted to Special Projects Officer for the Saint Paul Public School System, and had served as program manager for the English language learners department.

Albert Poliarco was also not able to attend. He is an HIV case manager with the Minnesota AIDS Project, and works as an advocate for diverse groups of people both professionally and through community projects. Poliarco is the former president of the Philippine-American Association of Madison and Neighboring Areas and the founder of KAPIHAN-Madison, a forum for Filipino concerns.

The CAPM Board and Staff welcomed two new Legislative appointees. Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-30A), and Rep. John Berns (R-33B) were both present and both spoke of their direct interests in serving on CAPM. They serve as nonvoting members and will assist and advise the council in regard to legislative matters.

Rep. Berns is an attorney and serving his first term as the State Representative for 11 cities in western Hennepin County, including West Minnetonka, Shorewood and Wayzata. He is familiar with most of the CAPM staff and board from serving on the Governor’s staff prior to the election.

Berns’ made it known to the House Speaker, who handles the appointments, that he preferred CAPM to the other boards. He remarked that his spouse, Janet, is the daughter of a Filipino immigrant and she is very proud of her heritage. She went on to pursue a Master’s Degree in Oriental Medicine.

Rep. Leibling, who is also serving as the Assistant Majority Leader, is in her second term, serving a district that includes the City of Rochester. She also requested the CAPM Board position.

“Rochester has a good size Asian community and I thought it would be a good board to sit on,” she said. “…I thought it would be interesting to connect and learn more about the Asian community.”

The Senate appointees, Sen. David H. Senjem (R-29) and reappointed Sen. Ellen R. Anderson (DFL-66), were not able to attend the meeting.

The CAPM Board Members present included: Terry Cheng, Evelyn Lee, Yi Li You, Vinudh Kutty, Jodi Tanaka, John Doan, Eleasalo (Salo) V. Ale, Amy Nafzger, Ikram-Ul Huq and Mukhtar Thakur. CAPM staff present included: Eileen Her, executive director, Jovita Bjoraker, office manager, David Zander, policy analyst, and Marc Mersky.

Special Guests included Bauz L. Nengchu, Ombudsperson for Asian-Pacific Families – Office of Ombudsperson for Families, State of Minnesota; Linda Davis, who serves on the Ombudsperson Advisory Committee; and Dr. Lo.

Ilean Her provided an overview of the CAPM Budget for the Fiscal Year 2008 (July 2007 to June 2008). For the past two years CAPM has endured an under-funded budge that did not cover staff salaries and operational costs. The staff voluntarily cut back on hours and board member waived their mileage and meeting stipends. Her said that this year’s budget is more promising.

“Right now we are in good financial shape and we have a great opportunity to go out into the community and do greater outreach, programming and support the community,” she said. “This budget will allow us to be more active and it behooves the board to look at the strategic plan to determine the priorities and where to spend the dollars.”

The board agreed to use email distribution of committee assignments.

The board begins planning for next year’s Asian Heritage Month Banquet and they plan it to be held the weekend of May 16-17, 2008, to coincide with the conclusion of the State Sesquicentennial activities. CAPM is considering an intern to work on the project.

The board is planning to explore Asian Minnesota history projects to be the focus of the event, and to share in the state’s 150th celebration that begins on May 11, Statehood Day. They want to emphasize a common future.

“We will use as a big part of theme,” said Ilean Her. “Our vision of how to move forward with the state.”

Evelyn Lee, chair of the Dragon Festival, said this was the biggest festival yet, not only in numbers, but in its scope and impact. The permanent sculpture at Lake Phalen, a commissioned painting and musical composition, all served to give permanence and meaning to the festival and for the community.

Dr. Lo, whose son is in foster care, has a grievance with the Eden Prairie School System, and the Gardian Conservator who is now housing his 22-year-old son.

For the current Ombudsperson to help in this matter, she must work outside of her mandate on her own personal time. Councilmembers were concerned that this precedence may lead to more cases without a mandate on the position.

The staff will look into CAPM authority for the board to expand the authority for the Ombudsman’s office and into this case itself to see if such action is appropriate and ethical. They made it clear that CAPM does not intervene with personal cases, but only with policy questions.

With the budget issue resolved, the board agreed to allow the individual members to receive their per diem if they so choose, and that it could be left in the CAPM general fund, or could be voluntarily donated to a specified purpose of their own choosing.

The next Dragon Festival meeting will be held on Sept. 13 at the Bigelow Building, in the Bruce Vento Conference Room on the Second Floor, on Syndicate and University Avenue in St. Paul. They are looking for volunteers and ideas and people to take leadership positions.

The Council is located at the Centennial Office Building at 658 Cedar Street, St. Paul. Call 651-296-0538 or visit online at