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Saturday, April 1, 2023

Keith Ellison’s Office Demands Community Center Reforms at Cameroon Community Organization

In late 2013, leaders of the Twin Cities’ Cameroonian community pooled their resources and paid $200,000 for a 57,000-square-foot, two-level office facility in St. Paul’s Bandana Square.

By any measure of the imagination, that was a good deal. On paper, the prospective MinCam Community Center off Energy Park Drive had a market worth of $3 million, but it came with the demand that the organization pay off $100,000 in unpaid property taxes.

However, there has been a lot of infighting and instability at the community center, which has resulted in legal action and public charges of mismanagement.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office stated last week that they have entered the fray as the state’s charity regulator.

According to a statement from Ellison’s office, the attorney general’s new 16-page “assurance of discontinuance” agreement, signed by a representative of the Minnesota Cameroon Community and filed in Ramsey County District Court, seeks to hold the organization accountable for “inattentiveness and governance violations” that have “allowed this important community asset to fall into disrepair.”

The property tax obligation had grown to $172,000, according to records from the attorney general’s office. Over the course of a winter, a damaged boiler remained untreated for months, producing what some worry is irreversible building damage. In February 2021, water mains break. In 2017, the building’s property insurance expired, and energy expenses skyrocketed.

According to the attorney general’s office, community center management are unable to account for all of the monies received for property tax payments and facility repairs. Questions over who really runs MinCam – its board of directors, president, representative assembly, general assembly, or community center management team — erupted into a court battle over who had the authority to hold elections in the summer of 2020.

MinCam cannot seek additional donations without first registering as a charity with the attorney general’s office, which its founders had failed to do, according to the agreement with the attorney general’s office.

MinCam’s leadership must be restructured such that the organization’s business and affairs are overseen by a single board. It must also follow internal financial management standards devised in conjunction with experts, as well as a conflict-of-interest, whistleblower, and document-retention policy.

According to a statement from Ellison’s office, “MCC’s directors and officers are also obliged to properly preserve the books and records of the organization and create rules to guarantee that money are appropriately spent for the reasons for which they were granted.”

An attorney representing MinCam did not respond to a request for comment on Friday. The community center’s advertised phone number was out of service on Friday.

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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