LAST YEAR, CRUSHED by shady finances and infighting, the People of Phillips (POP) neighborhood association nearly suffocated. The city of Minneapolis, reluctant to sound the death knell on community involvement in Phillips, gave the organization another chance to clean up its act. POP's restructuring plans were two-fold: straighten out its books, and create a new organizational infrastructure. But nearly nine months into the process, activists are once again complaining that they're being taken for a ride. Despite $60,000 in consulting fees, POP still has no director and, according to members, is no closer to stability than it was when it was audited by the city.
The most recent allegations of impropriety center on the consulting firm hired to clean up POP's infrastructure. According to former POP treasurer Bob Albee, when the Council agreed to bring on Cindy Jones and her consulting firm, it was misled about the arrangement by interim director Matthea Smith. According to Albee, Smith told the group that Honeywell and the Minneapolis Foundation were going to pay the hefty $7,500-a-month consulting fee. "There's no evidence of any written agreement about this, and the job was supposed to be done within 90 days, starting March 18," Albee fumes, adding that despite being POP's treasurer, he was never shown Jones's contract.
Mark Billman, chair of one of POP's four districts, echoes Albee's concern, and says he wants to know exactly what the association has gotten for its money. "A group of people went to the last executive council meeting to get some answers, but we still haven't been told anything," he says. Not so, counters Jones, who maintains that drafts of the restructuring plans were presented at community meetings in March and August. "It's been very much a community process," she says. And while she declined to confirm her salary, Jones defends the length of time it's taken by stating that restructuring is a "fluid" process and that her firm is only there to guide. "Because it's a community agency," she contends, "it's too presumptuous for us to come in and tell them they have to be done by a [certain] time." City Pages' calls to Smith weren't returned.