Archive | OPINION

View from the Messenger: Make your neighborhood your brand

Posted on 17 September 2019 by Tesha Christensen

By DENIS WOULFE, Denis@LongfellowNokomisMessenger.com

We were vacationing up along the North Shore last month and it was a great time of the year to see those iconic spots that make Minnesota the great state it is: the views at Gooseberry Falls, the crafts of Grand Marais, ships pulling into the Duluth harbor, the sea gulls serenading the tourists along Lake Superior, and the list goes on. The North Shore is like a picture postcard at every turn.
As we stopped in at various merchants in and around the North Shore I was struck at how often the North Shore, a vacation destination that draws visitors from around the state and the country, still proudly promotes its own “Buy Local” campaign. Businesses religiously remind local residents that they need their support to be successful.
But that Buy Local state of mind is not unique to the North Shore. I think it goes without saying that many residents and business owners believe that their own neighborhood is the best place to live and work. I know that’s true of the Longfellow and Nokomis neighborhoods. I think it’s also true that when given the opportunity, many residents want to do whatever they can to support their local merchants. They know the stability of their neighborhood and their city depends on the vitality of their business community.
That’s why when advertisers ask me what they should promote in their advertising, I usually tell them that in addition to their products and services, they also should promote the fact that they are longtime Longfellow Nokomis businesses that are devoted to the community and devoted to making their community the best place to live and the best place to do business. And I believe those businesses that partner with local schools and charities to “give back” through special promotions where a portion of the proceeds goes to the charity make a strong statement that they are committed to the community in which their business is located.
Now when Longfellow Nokomis business owners ask me about what the best options are for them to advertise in the Messenger, the answer can get a bit complicated. In addition to a run of press ad in the paper, we also offer clients inserts and online advertising. Sometimes a marketing plan might call for a mix of options that might include print, radio, TV, social media, and so forth.
And while there’s no doubt that a full page ad with color is bound to attract the attention of our readers, the story of advertising is much the story of the tortoise and the hare. While there is always that temptation of wanting to get to the finish line faster than anyone else, the magic of advertising is really about the long game. It’s about having a presence in your local media on a regular basis for the long haul. And when Messenger readers finally have the need to buy their next home or that pepperoni pizza for tonight’s dinner, and maybe can’t remember your name or your contact information, they will pick up a copy of the Messenger and see your ad.
But in addition to those fine products and services that businesses are offering, I hope businesses also know to convey their local ties and community investment when they advertise their wares. Certainly mammoth companies like McDonald’s, Apple, WalMart, or Heinz Ketchup will always be companies that capture market share in their respective industries, but there are times when being the local guy, the merchant down the street, can be an important selling point in the equation.
Make your neighborhood your business. And be sure to share that message in your advertising in the Messenger and in other media. It’s a message that your customers will appreciate and respond to. And to our loyal Messenger readers, don’t forget to support local businesses, and particularly, those businesses that make a statement by advertising in the Longfellow Nokomis Messenger. They are asking for your business, reinforcing the fact that they are a community minded business, and need your support to thrive in our community. And we need those same advertisers to hear that from you.
As always, thanks to our loyal advertisers to making advertising in the Messenger a priority in their marketing plans. And thanks to our loyal readers who take the time to keep up on important community news in the Messenger and also take the time to support our advertisers with their pocketbook.

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Meet Our Staff: Writing about environmental issues

Posted on 17 September 2019 by Tesha Christensen

by Margie O’Loughlin

I’ve worked as a reporter for the Longfellow Nokomis Messenger and Midway Como Monitor since 2015. I came into the job with a fledgling interest in community activism, a 20+ year career as a photographer, and a life-long love affair with newspapers.
As the years have passed, one topic has grown in importance for me as a reporter. I’m grateful that our new owner/publisher, Tesha Christensen, has let me take ownership of a few pages in each issue of both papers – and dedicate them to environmental stories happening close to home. We’ve dubbed these pages RRR, which stands for Rebuild, Repair, and Recycle, and we hope they’ll keep you informed about ways your neighbors are taking action.
Minnesota is one of the more aggressive states nation-wide in its efforts to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, and many other initiatives. In this time of growing concern over the climate crisis, we want our newspapers to be an intelligent, clear-thinking, and practical resource. Are you trying out a new idea or product in your home that you think our readers might want to hear about? Let us know!
I’ve gone on two public tours recently that have strengthened my commitment to writing about environmental issues: at Eureka Recycling in Northeast Minneapolis, and the Hennepin County Energy Recovery Center in Downtown Minneapolis. Seeing mountains of recyclable materials and waste in these facilities was convicting, to say the least. I stopped thinking in a theoretical way about the amount of waste my own small household produces, and vowed to make better choices for the environment. Both tours are open to the public, with a little advance planning, and are offered free of charge. Check out these websites to learn more or to sign up:
• www.eurekarecycling.org/tours
• www.hennepin.us/your-government/facilities/herc-tour-request-form
I just completed the Climate Reality Leadership Training held at the Minneapolis Convention Center Aug. 2-4, hosted by founder and former vice president Al Gore. There were 1,400 people in attendance from 32 countries around the world. Participants ranged in age from 13-86, and we’ve now joined the ranks of more than 20,000 trained Climate Reality leaders worldwide.
Within one year of completing the training, graduates are required to perform 10 acts of climate leadership. These acts can be anything from giving a formal presentation, to writing a blog post, to submitting a letter to the editor, to organizing a climate action campaign, to meeting with local community leaders.
My main act of leadership in 2019 will be working as an artist –in-residence at Eureka Recycling this fall. I’m offering a quilting workshop there on Nov. 2, and will create three wall hangings for Eureka’s education space – with the help of 15 community participants. The cost of admission to the workshop is one cotton garment that would otherwise be destined for the trash. We’ll talk about the growing problem of textiles in the waste stream, due to fast fashion (on the production side) and overconsumption (on the consumer side.)
This summer, my husband and I are trying to live plastic free, which has been eye-opening and, in some ways, kind of fun. I’ve discovered the best milk I’ve ever tasted, produced by Autumn Wood Farms of Forest Lake. It’s available in half gallon glass bottles at Oxendale’s Market in East Nokomis, and the Mississippi Market Co-op in St. Paul. My husband came home from PetCo in Highland Park last week, proudly carrying a re-fillable 30-pound plastic pail of cat litter. We’re learning about all kinds of new products, including tooth powder from the bulk bin at Tare Market (to avoid tooth paste packaged in non-recyclable tubes.) Who knew?
If there’s one thing I came away from the Climate Reality training with, it’s this. Dr. Jonathan Doyle, founder and CEO of the non-profit Project Drawdown, said, “We have to solve the climate crisis with our heads and with our hearts. But, especially, we have to solve it with our hands.” I believe there’s a way for every one of us to make a positive contribution to this movement, according to our circumstances.
I look forward to sharing what I learn along the way.

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Messenger launches Voluntary Pay program

Posted on 11 August 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Tesha M. Christensen, owner & editor

Why do we matter?
Why does a small neighborhood newspaper still exist in the days of Facebook and instant online news? What sets the Messenger apart from these other news sources?

We’re Relevant.
The simple answer is we’re your local news source. There’s not another publication that covers the Longfellow and Nokomis neighborhoods like we do.

We’re Informative.
We write about local businesses opening and closing, about what’s being torn down and what’s being developed, about who is agitating for change and who has paved the way for others to follow.
We tell you about the neighbor who has turned into an entrepreneur, the college student who is giving back to the world, and the Boomer who is following a more sustainable lifestyle.
These are the people in your community. And the Messenger is your community news source. We’re about connecting people through the pages in our newspaper. We print “News for You.”

We’re Reliable.
The Messenger has been delivering news to your doorsteps since 1982. And we’re here to tell you: Print Is Not Dead.

We’re Delivered Responsibly.
The folks who work for this newspaper are connected to the area. We’re not dropping in, writing an article that will tear the area apart, and then flying out. We’re committed to this neighborhood, and the people who live and work in it.
This does mean we approach things differently. We have to.
We don’t do #fakenews.

Will you help support your neighborhood newspaper?

Will you help cover the costs
of the monthly Messenger?
In the upcoming months, I plan to introduce you to the various people and companies that play a role in getting this newspaper to your front steps and local bulk drop business sites each month. What questions do you have? Send them my way.
We are inviting you and our other readers to help us by voluntarily paying the cost of printing and delivering your paper.
The Messenger doesn’t charge for subscriptions to our monthly newspapers. Like most others, we rely on advertising revenue to pay for the costs of putting the newspaper out – paying the printer, the delivery staff, one full-time and one part-time sales representatives, bookkeeper, and others. We pay for our web site, Adobe and Quickbooks software, phones, and post office box. Because we run a virtual office, we contract with a provider for cloud services and a remote desktop, along with email and other IT services.
We want to make sure that our content is fresh and engaging, and so we pay writers and photographers to cover meetings and conduct feature interviews.
As owner, I’m a jack-of-all-trades, doing the newspaper layout, writing articles, paying the bills, selling some ads – and making the coffee.
I’m committed to quality journalism at the Messenger and its sister newspaper, the Midway Como Monitor.
To do that, we’re asking for your help. Would you consider donating $12 – or $1 a paper? How about $24 – or $2 a paper? Maybe you love us so much that you want to send more and pay it forward – we’d love that! One lucky donor will get a four-pack of tickets to the Ren Fest; drawing on Aug. 19.
Click here for more.
I’d also like to start running photos of readers on our Social Media channels and within our printed pages. So, snap a photo of you with the latest, hot-off-the-press newspaper. Tag us online or email it my way. Let us know what you appreciate about the paper. Let us know what we’re missing. Share story ideas. Send in your letters to the editor and guest commentaries.
We’re relevant, informative, reliable and responsible – because of you.

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Too Much Coffee: Cassandra Holmes asks you to make a phone call

Posted on 01 July 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Tesha M. Christensen, owner & editor

At 14, Trinidad Flores was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which an enlarged heart struggles to pump blood. His mom, Little Earth’s Cassandra Holmes, watched him endure three surgeries and a failed heart transplant before he died in 2013 at age 16.
Now she’s leading a charge to decrease the pollution in South Minneapolis.
She doesn’t want to see any more neighborhood babies born in need of breathing tubes, or young people who’ve succumbed to asthma and diabetes.
During a community meeting about the Roof Depot site off Hiawatha and 28th St. on June 17, 2019, Holmes walked through the crowd holding up maps that show how many kids in the neighborhood have been treated for lead poisoning, how many have visited the emergency room because of asthma attacks, and how many have dealt with arsenic poisoning.
For every 10,000 people, over 200 are hospitalized because of asthma in this area. Of the 7,000 children who live in Phillips, about 40% live in poverty and 80% fall into various ethnic groups.
The Clark/Berglin Environmental Justice Law was enacted by the state legislature in 2008 in an effort to curb the amount of pollution in this South Minneapolis area, particularly in the Arsenic Triangle near Cedar and 28th where the Smith Foundry and Bituminous Roadways asphalt plant still operate, belching out fumes each day over Phillips, the Midtown Greenway, South High School, and the rest of us.
“This is what environmental injustice looks like,” former state legislator Karen Clark told those gathered on June 17 at the East Phillips Recreation and Cultural Center.
“People tell me, “I plug my nose when I drive past your neighborhood,” observed Steve Sandberg.
“We want to live a long life and we don’t want any more trucks in our community,” said Holmes. She pointed out that residents have asked the city to consider the load Phillips already carries and support the EPNI plan community members put together in response to the needs they know they have.
They see the trouble residents have finding apartments and homes they can afford. They see the problem of not having access to fresh, green vegetables. They want their kids to have better. They want to be part of fixing things for their neighborhood and the world, and they have some bright ideas about using aquaponics and solar power in their corner of South Minneapolis. They’re inspired by the Midtown Greenway and want to fashion a neighborhood that places a high priority on biking and walking – two methods of travel that are accessible to the poor and the rich, build better health, and don’t spew pollution into the air.
And so the idea for the East Phillips Indoor Urban Farm was born. To make it affordable, planners pinpointed a large building that they could reuse (another green initiative).
But the city has other plans for the former Roof Depot site, and it involves moving its water yard there. They intend to use the land to store manhole covers, sewer pipes, and sand-salt mix, and send out public work’s fleet of diesel trucks into other areas, concentrating the air pollution. Although EPNI once sought to buy the entire site, after the city threatened eminent domain and subsequently purchased it out from under the community, EPNI asked for three acres, then two acres, and then one acre.
“They said ‘No,” pointed out Holmes. And they haven’t once allowed the community group to present to the city council.
So she asked community members to take out their phones, and engage in grassroots organizing by calling their city council members one by one and asking them to support the East Phillips Indoor Urban Farm.
Twenty-nine-year-old Margarita Ortega took out her phone. “I know what it’s like to grow up in pollution and grow up with asthma and breathing problems,” Ortega said. “I have two children going through it, as well.” The Little Earth resident also knows what it is like to struggle to find green food, and is excited by the idea of an indoor urban farm within a few blocks of her house. She shook her head when talking about city staff and council members. “They’re just worried about money and power,” she said.
Adam Fairbanks doesn’t live in South Minneapolis anymore, but his family still does. He took out his phone, too, and started calling city council members. He works with Red Lake and helped meet the needs of residents at the Wall of Forgotten Natives last year where he saw the large number of nebulizers and inhalers prescribed to those who were there. He blames the smog and pollution in Phillips for the health problems residents have.
“I’m amazed that the city has not supported this project,” Fairbanks said.
“They don’t listen,” agreed Cindi Sutter, who has dreams of living at a revitalized Roof Depot and having access to garden plots and solar energy.
Abah Mohamad had her phone out, too. She’s also baffled about why the city isn’t supporting the urban farm plan. “It has everything the community needs,” Mohamed pointed out. “I’m a little bit emotional and very upset. It is the only hope and only vision that this neighborhood has. It’s exactly what will serve the neighborhood.”
Is this the same city and the same leaders that are telling the nation that they are encouraging community involvement, racial equity, and affordable housing?
Is this the same city that pledged to do something about homelessness following the largest homeless encampment last summer that this state has ever seen, and is going into another summer without having made much progress towards solving things?
Are they really ignoring a plan that’s already in process, is designed, has funds already designated, and could be up and running quickly in a building currently sitting empty that helps our community solve homelessness in a comprehensive manner?
Talking about issues and supporting grassroots activism is something newspapers are very, very good at. We’re here to shine the light into the dark corners of government, like this one. We’re here to give you the information you need to change your communities for the better.
While the Roof Depot site and the center of the controversy is in Phillips neighborhood, it isn’t confined to that one neighborhood. It affects all of South Minneapolis. If this water yard and its trucks start traveling along Cedar and Hiawatha and 26th and 28th, the pollution center will spread outward. Travel along the Midtown Greenway now in the Longfellow/Seward section and you’ll be accosted by the strong fumes from the existing foundry and asphalt plant, as well as vehicle traffic.
This is an issue that affects the health of our children, our ability to breath in this city that we love, and our ability to live the lives we want to.
And, so, Holmes is asking, “Will you take out your phone?”

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Too Much Coffee: Print is not dead – but we are changing

Posted on 04 June 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Tesha M. Christensen, owner & editor

By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN, Tesha@LongfellowNokomisMessenger.com

Print is dead, you say?
Nah. It’s just evolving.
A few months ago I attended the Minnesota Newspapers Association (MNA) annual convention, and listened to a speaker talk about just that. I was particularly interested in the topic as I was negotiating to purchase the Longfellow Nokomis Messenger and Midway Como Monitor from longtime owners Calvin deRuyter and Tim Nelson. Was I taking a leap into a dying industry?
After listening to Bill Ostendorf of Creative Circle Media Solutions, I was reassured. He’s spent his whole career in newspapers, and he doesn’t believe print is dead.
After 20 years in the industry, I don’t either.
Why am I convinced?
Well, they first started saying newspapers were going to die when radio got popular. But newspapers stuck around.
Then they said newspapers and radio couldn’t last when the television came out. Yet newspapers stayed and even thrived.
When the Internet got big, they were sure it was the final death knoll of newspapers, radio and television. Yet radios are still in every car, most people have one or more televisions in their house, and newspapers continue to print.
The thing is, people are reading now more than ever before. So the question isn’t whether people are reading, the question is are they going to read particular publications.
The questions those of us in the news industry need to be asking is why should people read our stuff instead of the myriad of information out there.
What makes us different?
What makes us worth reading?
What makes our editions important?
Those are the questions I’m committed to asking. I entered the field of journalism at the cusp of the Internet revolution. For those first few years, I called the local librarian to doublecheck my details. And then fact-checking things became much faster via Google. (Although with its own new set of accuracy questions.) I even did a few editions of cut and paste before we switched over to electronic layout with QuarkExpress.
As I ask others what they love about neighborhood newspapers, I have been thinking about what I value. I want to know what’s happening on my street, what development is going to change my neighborhood, and what fascinating things my neighbors are engaged in. I want to see photos of kids I know and congratulate them on their achievements, noting, “I saw you in the paper.” I want to hear the various sides of issues and wrestle over what the best solution will be in the long run. I want to learn what sparked the coffee shop and hardware store and secondhand boutique owners to open up shop, and hear what tips they have for other entrepreneurs.
The daily stuff of my neighborhood can’t be found anywhere but in the papers of my neighborhood newspaper.
That’s what I love about community journalism. I stay in this industry because I love local, I love to see people engaged, and I love to watch community being built. I appreciate the slice of life the pages of the Messenger offer each month.
I’m also excited to see how newspapers are being innovative and creative. It’s amazing to see the convergence of media – of print, TV, radio, audio, video, and more – coming together in to something new.
What will community newspapers look like in 10 years? I’m looking forward to finding out. I think that the answer lies in asking our readers what they want.
Bill Ostendorf encouraged all the reporters in the room at the MNA Convention (and his session was packed) to focus on being reader-centric. This starts with the basics of what we write in an article, how we shape it, and who we include in it. It also means focusing on writing really good headlines about people instead of things, and really interesting photo cutlines. Plus we need more break-out boxes and standout photos. Research has shown that people read headlines, cutlines and break-out boxes first – and they may or may not read the whole article.
Ostendorf advocated for content that is more engaging and more relevant. He encouraged designers to adopt modular layouts that are easier on the eyes. He encouraged sales staff to sell bigger ads that get attention and bring value to the readers.
Ostendorf reminded us that our print newspapers help people live better lives. The information within our pages informs and educates. It helps people make better decisions and be successful.
What do you want from the pages of the Messenger? I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a line at Tesha@LongfellowNokomisMessenger.com.

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View from the Messenger: Let’s hear it for/from our readers!

Posted on 04 June 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Denis Woulfe

By DENIS WOULFE, Denis@LongfellowNokomisMessenger.com

I’ve spent the last few weeks helping to introduce the Longfellow Nokomis Messenger’s new owner, Tesha M. Christensen, to Messenger advertisers, readers, and other stakeholders. And during that process it has reminded me of when I was making the rounds introducing myself to Messenger stakeholders when we purchased the paper from Bill and Maureen Milbrath in 1986.
One of the first community groups I met was the Longfellow Ministerial Association. The Milbraths believed that a neighborhood newspaper was an important vehicle to connect all the community stakeholders and provide a forum for residents to discuss important community issues, and they recognized that the area churches provided an important framework for residents to make a connection to the community.
Meeting with the dozen or so ministers who were active in the Ministerial Association was a bit intimidating, as it was obvious that these ministers were regular readers of the Messenger and truly embraced the mission of the Messenger and felt that they were a part of it.
Interestingly, after Bill Milbrath introduced me as the new Editor of the Messenger and the new Advertiser Manager, the ministers went around their large table and asked me a host of questions.
Finally, one pastor asked what ended up being the capstone question for the meeting. “Denis, do you know the name of that structure that connects the Longfellow neighborhood in Minneapolis to the Merriam Park neighborhood in St. Paul over the Mississippi River?”
I paused for a moment, and I’m sure my face looked a bit puzzled with what seemed like such an odd question, but then I spoke up. “Do you mean the Lake Street Bridge?”
All the pastors started to laugh. I looked inquisitively at Bill for some explanation, and he just smiled and said, “You just passed the test, Denis!”
The pastor asking the question had assumed that I would answer “Marshall Avenue Bridge,” given the fact that our original newspaper for over 20 years had been the Midway Como Monitor in St. Paul and he figured I would see things from a St. Paul vantage point. Because my sister had lived in South Minneapolis for many years, just on the edge of the coverage area for the Messenger, I had always thought of it as the Lake Street Bridge and rarely used Marshall Avenue Bridge in conversation.
Perspective can be a very important thing in publishing a neighborhood newspaper and our goal continues to be to represent all the stakeholders in Longfellow and Nokomis the very best we can by engaging our readers and trying to publish articles and content that is important to them.
But we need your help to make the Messenger even better.
You might know that the Messenger’s new owner is a South Minneapolis resident herself, and as a reporter for the Messenger for the past eight years, she is already well versed on many issues of vital concern to Longfellow Nokomis residents. But in addition to that obvious advantage, we are in the midst of reaching out to residents and business owners like you to find out just what you like about the Messenger and what you’d like to change.
If you have an idea for a story or want to introduce yourself to the new owner, Tesha M. Christensen, you can email her at Tesha@longfellownokomismessenger.com or call her directly at 612-345-9998.
Or maybe you’d like to find out more about advertising opportunities in the Messenger? I hear this question quite a bit, but just to say this, it is through the advertising of our local businesses that we are able to bring you the Messenger each month. And in turn, it is those same local businesses who want to reach out to local residents like you for their customer base. A community newspaper like the Messenger recognizes that bond between businesses and their local customer base and we help facilitate it.
But you might also know that the options for advertising have changed over the years. In addition to run of press ads in the newspaper, we also offer inserts that can be directed to specific routes in the Messenger delivery area. Inserts can also be a great option for a new restaurant or a church holding a special event. We also offer a special Partner Insert Program where we pair two local businesses to print and distribute a flyer. That makes distributing flyers more reasonable than ever before.
And don’t forget online advertising (you can find us online all the time at www.LongfellowNokomisMessenger.com). Online ads can be placed online almost immediately and it’s a nice complement to appearing in the printed newspaper.
I’d be happy to continue this conversation with you directly. Send me a note at Denis@LongfellowNokomisMessenger.com or call me at 651-917-4183.

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Five Myths about NENA’s Official Statements

Posted on 19 December 2014 by robwas66

IOC1_15DougWalters

Doug Walters

Editor’s note: This is a statement released to the Messenger by former NENA Associate Director Doug Walters

It’s time to pull the Board’s official statement on staff firings. It has been on the website for nearly two months. It has shaped the same faulty logic from their lawyer, and now from the head of the City’s NCR department. But no matter how many times they repeat their chorus, it is still wrong.

From the official statement: “The Nokomis East Neighborhood Association (NENA) is making a change in administrative leadership because, despite significant effort over several months, the Board has been unable to rebuild and maintain a positive working relationship with existing staff. The Board has regretfully concluded that a change in NENA’s day-to-day management was necessary.”

Myth #1: That NENA needed a change in “administrative leadership.” Arguably, administration was not the problem; NENA was in good financial condition, had strengthened community partnerships and was poised to grow when the firings occurred. More accurately, it was the firing of all executive staff of which admin was just a part of their duties. This wasn’t just a change in day-to-day management, no matter how they spin it. In one fell swoop, they eliminated all of the company’s operations, from human resources, to fundraising, communications, program management, accounting and much more. That is called a “poison pill” in corporate speak.

Myth #2: The Board made significant effort to repair the declining relationship with staff. Contrary to the implications in Director Jelatis’ original motion and the Board’s later Official Statement, absolutely no effort was made by any of the currently seated Directors to rebuild a positive relationship between the Board and staff. We challenge the Board to list a single real example of where that effort was made.

To the contrary, some members of the currently seated Board purposefully built a hostile work environment. Ramping up in September 2013, the initial focus was to redirect an individual Director’s negative performance at the Monarch Festival to a staff problem.

By February 2014, that effort had escalated into an effort to punish staff after the Executive Director, doing her due diligence (an internal audit), wrote to the Board listing several ways in which the Board was operating out of compliance with the bylaws and state statutes, risking both financial and legal problems. To this day, the board has never discussed that letter’s content or the issues it highlighted, with the Executive Director.

However, several members were hugely angered and discussed it among themselves in private sessions. In March, Rita received a hand-delivered memorandum of reprimand, chiding her for writing the January letter on company time, placing her on probation and adding an incredible amount of additional and petty admin work. For instance, the reprimand demanded that all communications going outside of NENA be pre-approved by the board three days in advance. Basically, this incredibly vindictive document was retaliation for speaking up. Note that her letter was written after months of unsuccessfully trying to discuss and resolve these matters with Chair Knopp Schwyn.

Myth #3: That memorandum of reprimand was an official board approved action. It was not, no matter how they spin it. Director Jelatis introduced a draft of the letter during an executive session of the board, following their regular March 27th board meeting. Because an executive session excludes staff and public, it is considered private, no minutes are kept, and most importantly, no official board business may be conducted while in session. The only legally acceptable purpose is to discuss legal matters and/or personnel issues of a sensitive nature. Presumably, all board members present discussed the reprimand, and presumably all signed it. (Later, a now-former Director stated that he felt coerced into signing). Director Preston’s minutes and a later revision of same, both showed that the Chair never resumed a full board session to motion and pass the memorandum and its actions.

Director Jelatis took the letter home and revised it. The following day, Chair Knopp-Schwyn and Director Jelatis handed an unsigned, rewritten version to the Executive Director without comment. The full board never saw or approved the final version. Staff position was that it was not a valid NENA action or document and that most of the added requirements were vindictive and unworkable.

Myth #4: Where there is smoke, there is fire. Contrary to the implied reasons, the firings were not about performance, or lack thereof. In fact, the board, had not done an employee review in over 10 years and had nothing official to rate performance against. Understand that by contract, the board has the legal right to terminate an employee at any time, and for any reason, with 14 days’ notice as part of an official board action. They didn’t need “cause” to fire us. Of course, that doesn’t explain why Directors Jauli, Jones and Jelatis spent so much time and energy arguing against, and finding fault with, virtually everything staff did or proposed, as if trying to build just cause.

The truth is, in spite of a hostile work environment, we were looking forward to wrapping up a good year. We had new programs in the works, new technology for mass emails was ready and a new mobile-friendly website was being developed. We had just produced our largest and highest rated Monarch Festival ever and had made tremendous progress with integrating the Latino community (a requirement for our funding). We had four new board members, two of which had extensive board experience. NENA’s future funding was stable and the books were in good shape. Of course, we made mistakes during the year, our biggest being the poorly attended annual meeting in April–where the Board took over planning and most of the execution for the first time in memory.

This was about a personality conflict with certain Board members that became entrenched in their views and wanted to maintain total control of the neighborhood organization. It was about staff resisting micromanagement of the company side of NENA, and an effort to redirect a board that had become completely disengaged from NENA’s mission and the residents who elected them.

Myth #5: Staff knew it was coming. While there was history to predict the eventual outcome, the poison pill that Director Jelatis introduced at the very end of the October 23 meeting was not expected. We knew something was up, because Director Jauli, the driving force behind the anti-staff movement, was in attendance for perhaps the second time in all of 2014.

It was readily apparent that the individual Directors, with the exception of Directors Jauli and Jelatis, were caught off guard. Rita and I were in shock. It took several minutes for anyone to second the motion. (By Robert’s Rules of Order, the Chair should have stopped the motion for lack of second, but he instead allowed it to go into discussion.) Eventually Director Koncak seconded, then thought better of it and withdrew his second. Director Pikus-Li then immediately re-seconded the motion. For the record, former Directors Duran and Antin tried hard to delay the firings, requesting that at the very least, the full board should be informed of, and involved in, such an important change to NENA’s operations. Director Jelatis would hear none of that. I asked for a two week transition period where Rita and I could put things in order, turn over passwords, the website and secure private data like membership information and payroll. We also wanted to make sure that NENA had enough funding in the bank account to last a few months. Again, Director Jelatis outright rejected the idea.

It’s time for the Board to either remove the official statement or at least revise it to show the truth. The same mistruth has been spun since the end of October, and with every retelling, their dug-in position becomes grander. Yet, the facts show otherwise. I think the residents and businesses of Nokomis East deserve better.

The question that the membership should be asking is not about staff, but about what NENA has become.

Doug Walter
Minnehaha
12/11/14

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