The City of Brooklyn Park has reacted sharply to accusations by Boyd Morson, a candidate for Central District City Council election, that “City Hall has failed to come clean with regards to a $50,000 Civic Engagement” grant provided by the McKnight Foundation.
Boyd Morson prepares for city council election….takes aim at the city of Brooklyn Park by staff, The Liberian Journal
Morson, in an exclusive interview with The Liberian Journal (TLJ), said:” The City of Brooklyn Park failed to communicate information about the grant to the immigrant community. If they receive money, they need to communicate that information to the community…it was intended for. The immigrant and minority communities do not know that they [City of Brooklyn Park] have this money”.
He also accused City Hall of removing his campaign signs, as part of a conspiracy to undermine his chances of wining the elections against Mike Trepanier, the incumbent councilman.
“They removed my signs…and other people signs are still there…the City of Brooklyn Park is doing this”, he told The Liberian Journal. (Read Boyd’s Statement in Original Story).
Officials of the City of Brooklyn Park, however, dismissed Mr. Morson’s accusations, saying they have gone “above and beyond” the requirements of the grant and that it has helped to establish the foundation needed to increase minority involvement.
In a follow up interview, The Liberian Journal held conversations with Kaydee Kirk, Project Facilitator, Denise Wollenburg, Special Events Coordinator, and Robert Schreier, Director of the Community Development Department.
TLJ also sought and received a position statement from the McKnight Foundation, the sponsor of the project. (See Some Video Clips at the end of Story).
Denise, generally seen as a crucial link between City Hall and the Liberian community in Brooklyn Park, was the first to fire back at Boyd, describing his accusations as “misinformed statements”.
She said he does not seem to understand the purpose of the grant and has never thought it was important to sit with those involved to get a clear idea on the details, except to misinterpret the intents and implementation of the project to score political points.
“Boyd has made these allegations since we received this grant…and his assumption is that it is a community grant…there is a difference between a block grant and this grant…this is not a block grant”, she added.
“ We held community dialogue involving Liberians and other communities…we trained our staff on diversity topics…we conducted Red Cross CPR training for Liberians, all through the help of this grant”.
Brooklyn Park’s chief event coordinator said she is really ecstatic about the project, saying the “numbers and facts speak for themselves”.
In her concluding statements, Denise referred to events coordinated with the Liberian Women Initiative of Minnesota (LIWIM), Minnesota African Women Association (MAWA), and the Organization of Liberians in Minnesota (OLM), as proven records that the grant did impact the minority community in some important ways.
Kaydee, the project facilitator, said she believes that the grant has helped the city to develop a model for future engagement and that a wonderful working relationship with the McKnight foundation has been strengthened to an appreciable extent.
Robert, the head of the department that applied for the grant, said:” We saw the need to acclimate the diverse population into the decision-making process of the city in different ways…so we talked to the McKnight Foundation to fund a project that would help achieve this”.
When asked how effective he thought the project was, he said, “We had tremendous outreach activities as a result of this funding”.
He emphasized that the project has helped the city developed “our understanding on the needs of our minority and diverse community”.
He also underscored that “we need more minority members on commissions, and we also need to improve our hiring practices to open doors for more diverse groups in the city”.
Back in March of 2006, the City of Brooklyn Park, through the Office of the City Manager, wrote the McKnight Foundation requesting $49, 500 to “facilitate outreach to all residents and employees in Brooklyn Park, with specific emphasis on outreach to minority and new immigrant populations”.
City Hall envisioned:” Outreach will focus on recruitment of new citizen participants in order to build a new cohort of diverse citizen leaders that more accurately reflect the population of the city. Funds are needed to hire cross cultural trainers to educate city staff in all aspects of our work with diverse communities”.
At the very outset of the project, the city anticipated:”…that engagement and training of citizens will ultimately result in a more reflective representation of residents on city boards, commissions and council. In addition, it would help build better working relationships with community organizations and in turn build their capacity to address community issues”.
The McKnight Foundation weighed in on what was seen as an emerging controversy on the grant in question.
“Communities across the Twin Cities are looking for ways to engage important minority and new immigrant populations. We are pleased to have supported Brooklyn Park’s efforts — in many ways a first step in what is sure to become a continuing community dialogue”, Tim Hanrahan, The McKnight Communications Director said in a short statement issued to The Liberian Journal.
The lack of effective communication between City Hall and the growing minority communities, our investigation has revealed, is the heart of the testy jabs being traded between candidate Boyd Morson and the City of Brooklyn Park.
An avid observer noted:” Look, the City of Brooklyn Park needs to engage the community more effectively, develop relationships with major players, and address some of the troubling issues at the heart of the communication gap”.