A city-commissioned investigation of Burlington’s 2021 and 2022 Juneteenth events “found no evidence of embezzlement or theft” but alleged “mismanagement or carelessness” in the planning, according to a final report released Thursday.
The investigation itself, however, has prompted an outcry from allies of its subject, Tyeastia Green, the former director of Burlington’s Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Office. They plan to protest what they perceive as the city’s mistreatment of Black women at Monday’s meeting of the Burlington City Council, during which the review is expected to be discussed.
In an interview Thursday with VTDigger, Green herself alleged that the review came about because Mayor Miro Weinberger “was a white supremacist” who did not want to spend money on the Black community.
Samantha Sheehan, a spokesperson for Weinberger, defended the mayor’s record on racial equity and the reasons for the review. She accused Green of “making personal accusations against others” and said it would have been “professional malfeasance” to fail to investigate the events.
Weinberger’s administration commissioned the investigation in March after Green made headlines when she left a similar role in Minneapolis.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Green left that position following weeks of scrutiny of a city-sponsored event in that city called “I am My Ancestors’ Wildest Dream Expo.” The event drew fewer attendees than expected and ran over budget. Minneapolis city leaders alleged that Green made false statements about financial commitments, and a city auditor in Minneapolis probed the event. Green left her post and accused the city of having a “toxic work environment.”
An independent report on the Minneapolis expo found that most of the $500,000 budget for that event went to out-of-state businesses, according to an Associated Press report.
Another person involved in the Minneapolis expo was Casey Ellerby, a former event planner for Burlington’s REIB office.
Green’s and Ellerby’s involvement prompted Weinberger’s administration to launch its own review of Juneteenth events they planned in Burlington in 2021 and 2022. The investigation was conducted by Heather Ross of the Burlington law firm Sheehey, Furlong and Behm.
Green, the city’s first REIB director, stepped down from her role in March 2022 following public disagreements with Weinberger during her tenure. Upon her departure, Ellerby handled the planning of the 2022 Juneteenth events in Burlington.
Ross interviewed Green and Ellerby as part of the investigation. Both said they understood the budget for the 2022 Juneteenth to be $500,000. But Ross reviewed documents and videos of Board of Finance meetings and could only find an original approved budget of $100,000, an amount later amended to $180,000. Final costs for the 2022 event ran to $414,677, according to the report. Around $100,000 was covered by private donations, but the city had to make up a difference of $131,657.
Green told attorneys in an interview that prior to leaving her role in March 2022, she had secured financial commitments of between $200,000 and $300,000 from private donors and sponsorships, but Ross found no record of such commitments in a review of emails.
Ross wrote, “There was a general lack of documentation within REIB related to Juneteenth 2022, including the lack of a budget and lack of detailed planning information.”
Additionally, the review included a list of vendors and invoices that “displayed one or more ‘red flags,’ meaning that the invoice lacked an address or telephone number or that the entity was not registered to do business and/or that the invoice looked similar in appearance to another invoice from a different vendor or otherwise looked generic.”
Among the invoices listed was one from Noble Julz in the amount of $49,732 for a cultural project. Ross pointed out that Julz was a former college roommate of Green. Julz was one of two vendors who responded to a request for proposals for the project. Julz was selected and Ross said in the review that Green did not disclose a prior relationship.
Green downplayed the relationship in an interview with VTDigger on Thursday. She said the two were roommates for one semester in 1994. “I did not see Noble Julz again until 2021,” Green said.
Julz could not immediately be reached for comment.
Summarizing the review’s findings, Ross wrote that the firm “found no evidence of embezzlement or theft, nor could we conclude that fraud had been committed with respect to Juneteenth 2022. However, there does appear to have been mismanagement or carelessness prior to Juneteenth 2022.”
Ross made several recommendations to the city, including that the Board of Finance review the budget for Juneteenth events, that city staff get annual training on purchasing and that the city’s conflict-of-interest policy be strengthened.
Sheehan, Weinberger’s spokesperson, said via email, “The report documents clear violations of multiple city policies and if the employees who made these errors were still City employees we would be considering serious sanctions for those employees.”
Reached by phone on Thursday morning, Green said she hadn’t seen the report but questioned its purpose.
“I believe that the audit came about because Miro was a white supremacist and he was very upset about the amount of money that was being spent on the Black community,” she said.
Green went on to say that she thought both reviews in Minneapolis and Burlington were initiated because she was trying to spend money on the Black community.
“If I was spending city funds on a white event, I don’t believe that I would have been audited at all by either city,” she said.
Sheehan pushed back on Green’s assertions Thursday.
“Once again Tyeastia is responding to public concern about her professional work by making personal accusations against others,” Sheehan said in an email. “Following the events in Minneapolis, it would have been professional malfeasance for Burlington not to commission this financial review.”
Ellerby could not be reached for comment.
The review of the Juneteenth events has already prompted protest. Ferene Paris Meyer said she and Kiah Morris, a former Vermont lawmaker who was subjected to harassment by a white supremacist in Bennington, plan to demonstrate in downtown Burlington on Monday before the City Council meeting and plan to speak during public comment.
“I want to create a space — a platform — with the help of Kiah Morris, for us to speak up and show that we are here and counter the dangerous single story that the City of Burlington and their lawyers and the mayor are going to try to do on this,” Paris Meyer said.