After chaotic end to 2017, Dayton’s Bluff Community Council slowly stabilizing

The Dayton’s Bluff Community Council board of directors has slowly been picking up the pieces to stabilize the organization following tumultuous events at the end of last year.

Closing out 2017, the organization dealt with financial woes, concerns over its workplace environment brought forward by staff, pushback from the community and the eventual resignation of then-executive director Deanna Abbott-Foster. In addition, all community council staffers were laid-off due to the inability of the organization to pay them.  

The nonprofit council advises the St. Paul City Council on matters involving the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood, such as zoning, new businesses, and other neighborhood issues. The St. Paul City Council is not bound by the community council’s recommendations.

In the roughly two months since the upheaval, the organization’s board has been attempting to shore up the organization’s finances and figure out how to move forward. 


Temporary leadership

Part of the repair process has included the hiring of an interim executive director.

At the beginning of March, the board brought on Lissa Jones-Lofgren to work part time as the organization’s interim executive director while a more in-depth search can take place for a permanent executive director. 

Jones-Lofgren also serves as the interim executive director for the Payne-Phalen Community Council, a role she has had since 2016 after the organization’s former executive director Leslie McMurray left suddenly. The Payne-Phalen council originally intended to find a permanent replacement for McMurray by the end of 2016 or early 2017, but the search continues.

Jones-Lofgren also hosts the radio show “Urban Agenda” on KMOJ out of North Minneapolis.


Reaching a plateau

Holly Windingstad, who has been serving as board treasurer since December, said many of the financial issues have “plateaued” and that the next step is to apply for reimbursements from grants awarded to the organization. 

She explained that much of the cash flow for the organization depends on reimbursement grants, which are grants that require an organization to spend money before receiving funds to cover the spending.

She said the ebb and flow of incoming cash created by these types of grants contributed to the financial difficulties the council experienced at the end of 2017.

Windingstad added that the need to apply for these reimbursements pushed the board to hire an interim executive director sooner than later, in order to have someone with experience writing grant applications. She added that once the organization starts receiving reimbursements it will help the board finalize a budget, which will in turn determine how the organization moves forward in terms of programming.

“It’s definitely less frantic, it’s much calmer,” Windingstad said of the atmosphere at the council.

Before the upheaval, the organization was in the process of refinancing the mortgage on the East Side Enterprise Center. While there initially were concerns of how the upheaval and community pushback would affect the refinance, Windingstad said the process is still moving forward. 

At the end of February, the council was scheduled to end its financial support of the Indigenous Roots Cultural Arts Center, which included paying its lease and utility bills, a move planned before the financial woes came to light last year.

During the Feb. 26 board meeting, board members said the arts center has established its own funding and the transition was able to happen smoothly.

Windingstad said all the former staffers, except for Abbott-Foster, have been given their back pay. She said they are still working to tabulate what they owe to Abbott-Foster.

One former staff member has filed a claim in small claims court against the organization, but the board wasn’t able to provide any further details, as the case was still pending. 


Community involvement

During January and February, the organization held four community roundtable discussions for community members to share their vision for the neighborhood and the organization. 

According to meeting minutes posted to the Dayton’s Bluff Community Council’s website, each meeting averaged less than 10 visitors

Common themes emerged from the conversations — the importance of having board members committed to their roles, better training for board members and having the organization driven more by the board and less by an executive director, perhaps even splitting the executive director’s responsibilities among more people. 

Another theme carried through the meetings was continuing the roundtable discussions, noting that it would make it easier for neighbors to participate without being tied to an agenda or meeting rules, as is the case with the regular board meetings.

Participants also discussed the need for better communication and to find ways to make sure the East Side is getting the attention it needs from the city. 

The need for more community participation is evident on the board of directors itself. During its latest monthly board meeting in February, only eight of the possible 18 board positions were filled.

Board chair Jeanelle Foster stressed the need to hold board elections as soon as possible, adding that the board cannot continue to operate in such a skeletal form. 

Board positions are held in a voluntary, unpaid capacity, with meetings held every third Monday of the month.

For those interested in joining the board, go to for more information and to fill out an application. The Dayton’s Bluff Community Council can be reached at 651-772-2075 or


– Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto

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