Yonemura Goes Before School Board Empty-Handed

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Self-described entrepreneur Mikiyo Yonemura stood before the Payson School District's governing board members Thursday morning to formally introduce his controversial plan to pump $6.7 million into the local school system.

But he didn't hand over any money. And asking the board to consider any plans for promised cash is "putting the cart before the horse," said Board President Kristi Ford.

"One of the constraints we have is that we are not allowed to project (our budget) beyond hard dollars," Ford said of the school board. "We cannot project on monies we think may be coming in."

Yonemura, president and CEO of the Phoenix-based Yonemura, Inc., replied, "When (the) funds are dispersed to my corporation, we will have a cashier's check for you in the amount of $700,000."

After the meeting, Herb Weissenfels, Payson School District superintendent, said, "There really wasn't anything new. I think everyone's waiting to see when the hard dollars hit the table."

Yonemura has said he plans to hire "300-plus" employees to work in Mario's Restaurant, which he is trying to buy in a deal "set to close the first part of next week," he told town councilmembers at Thursday evening's meeting.

He has also said that 130 of those employees and their 200 children will be relocated from Phoenix to Payson and that he plans to build affordable housing within six months for his employees and the community at large.

Yonemura's purpose before the school board was to reiterate his plan to help the district accommodate those 200 children. He promised to give the district $700,000 $400,000 for modular classrooms and $300,000 for teacher salaries. He additionally offered to make four payments of $1.5 million over the next four years to compensate the district for the sudden influx of students.

In earlier interviews, Yonemura has said he expects to invest a total of $21 million in the Rim country, which would come from an investment group he has not identified. The total investment would include his purchase of Mario's and what he described to the school board as "18 individual business that will grow out of that" acquisition.

Keeping Yonemura's plans straight is no easy task. In an interview published in the Roundup's March 12 issue, Yonemura mentioned the 130 Valley employees and their 200 children. However, in a subsequent KMOG radio interview, Yonemura said he had only 30 employees who had children.

"The advice given to me was not to go on the radio and say 200 children, because people were already in an uproar," Yonemura told the Roundup following the radio interview. "We've already been accused of trying to buy the school system, trying to buy the community, trying to do all of these negative things. Of course, I'm going to be very guarded about what I say in public."

That, indeed, has been the case.

During the earlier Roundup interview, while outlining his personal credentials as a restaurateur and as a chef, Yonemura said he had attended and graduated from both Tokyo University and Le Cordon Bleu International Culinary School in Paris, France.

But at the end of the school board meeting, when Yonemura was asked for details concerning his period of attendance at those schools, he declined to discuss the issue.

"I am not going to delve into my personal life," Yonemura said. "That is not at issue here. I have a right to my privacy ... I do not appreciate this intrusion ... My financial backers are satisfied with my qualifications. That's all that is important to me ... I have no need to go beyond that ... I do not have to justify my qualifications and my expertise to the public ..."

Told that it is a newspaper's job to investigate the qualifications of anyone claiming to have expert knowledge in any field, Yonemura replied, "Yes. But your job is not to investigate the officers of this corporation."

According to papers filed with the Arizona Corporation Commission, Yonemura Inc. is a corporation of one: Mikiyo Yonemura, who is listed as the president, secretary and statutory agent.

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