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Council Member Blong Yang Defends Involvement in Community Action of Mpls

Yang, a first-term council member, doesn't think he should take heat for a scandal that took place before he became involved with the nonprofit.

Yang, a first-term council member, doesn't think he should take heat for a scandal that took place before he became involved with the nonprofit.

On the same day officials raided Community Action of Minneapolis, a nonprofit accused in a state audit of misappropriating $800,000 in taxpayers dollars, Minneapolis City Council member Blong Yang defended his short tenure on the organization's board of directors.

Yang, who was appointed to the board early this year -- the audit in question covered 2011 to 2013 -- told us he agreed to serve on Community Action's board at the behest of City Council President Barb Johnson.

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[jump] "I got elected, I came in here, and our leadership, our council president, said, 'These are the boards that we're supposed to serve on -- we're going to dole these things out,'" Yang said. "In this situation, myself and Abdi [Warsame] were both appointed to serve on the Community Action board, so, you know, our names were forwarded to [Community's Action's embattled chief executive] Bill Davis and we had lunch together. At that point they gave us the option of going [to meetings] personally, and at some point I said, 'I'm not going to be able to find time to do this,' and I appointed a person [as a proxy], Natalie Johnson Lee."

We asked Yang if the reports about the monthly board meetings he received from Johnson Lee gave him any indication there were big problems at Community Action.

"She had gone to maybe three or four meetings," he replied. "That's not enough time to give us a sense of the whole dynamics and all that stuff... We had this understanding that if something was big that was coming up [she'd let us know, otherwise] she was doing her thing."

Even though he wasn't on the board during the time when Community Action was allegedly misappropriating funds, Yang said the scandal will make him more discerning about which boards he agrees to serve on in the future.

"My fear is that we make appointees, designate somebody to serve on our behalf, and if we're going to be responsible for their action or lack of action, I'll be much more choosy about which ones I serve on or don't serve on," he said. "I got elected and I get paid [to serve on the City Council] and I want to do this job, I don't get paid to do other stuff... When all this stuff happens, there's going to be a ripple effect where a lot of elected officials who are ceremonially [on boards] and don't have time to serve will take their names off and not [go] near anything like that."

"It's going to be hard, it's hard to spend time and do it right," Yang added. "At some level, I do have to say, 'I'm not going to have time to do that stuff'... [I was] put in harm's way politically. I think this is going to be a wake up call for all of us."

Shortly before we talked with Yang, he distributed a press release announcing that both he and Warsame were resigning from Community Action of Minneapolis's board. To read it, click to page two.

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Yang, Warsame Statement