Time after time in the seven months after he appointed Frances Semler to the Kansas City park board, Mayor Mark Funkhouser refused to ask her to resign.
In the end, though, Semler said his words — and those of his wife — led to her abrupt resignation.
Semler said in a letter faxed to the mayor’s office and media outlets late Monday that she could not continue on the park board because of the lack of support from Funkhouser and his wife, Gloria Squitiro.
“ENOUGH,” the letter started. It ended with “I feel BETRAYED.”
Funkhouser, who is in Washington, D.C.,on city business with Squitiro, said in an interview that he wished Semler had talked to him before going public.
“Obviously, I wish she had called me,” he said. “I would have explained what I meant.”
Almost immediately after Semler’s appointment in June, calls for her resignation erupted because of her membership in the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which has conducted armed patrols along the U.S.-Mexican border. Funkhouser repeatedly rejected calls for her resignation by minority and other civil- and human-rights organizations.
As a result, the National Council of La Raza and the national Southern Christian Leadership Conference announced they weren’t bringing conferences to Kansas City. The NAACP said it was reconsidering its plans to convene here.
Semler’s resignation means the two civil rights organizations may consider Kansas City in the future, and the NAACP convention should no longer be in peril, civil rights leaders and city officials said Tuesday. NAACP officials did not return telephone calls Tuesday.
Semler said in an interview with The Kansas City Star that she found recent comments by the mayor and his wife offensive.
She cited an interview in the Kansas City Hispanic News in which Squitiro said Semler had been warned against acting in a biased or bigoted way.
“That sounded like I was a child and I have been reprimanded,” Semler said. “And they never talked to me.”
Semler acknowledged that Funkhouser about a month ago instructed her not to attend a Minuteman convention scheduled for Feb. 1 and 2 at the Uptown Theater. She said she did not want to have her voice silenced on problems with illegal immigration.
A Minuteman leader said Tuesday that Semler would get at least one chance to address the attendees.
Semler also pointed to Funkhouser remarks quoted in a Mike Hendricks column last week in The Star. The mayor repeated his support of Semler, the only Northlander on the five-member volunteer park board, but also said he needed “the support of the conservative white folks north of the river in order to do what I want to do for the vulnerable people of color south of the river.”
That seemed to belie Funkhouser’s claim of not being a politician, Semler said. She said Tuesday that she had campaigned for Funkhouser for mayor because he wasn’t a typical politician. “I really believed in the man,” she said.
Funkhouser said some of his comments had been misconstrued.
“It’s pretty clear to me you can’t understand what a person thinks by reading the newspaper,” he said.
Funkhouser plans a methodical search to find a replacement for Semler. Several council members said Tuesday that he must consult with them and then pick a proven leader from the Northland.
Semler’s resignation “is a good first step toward the healing,” Councilwoman Beth Gottstein said. “Obviously, we’ve got a lot of work to do. This offers us an opening.”
Gottstein, Councilwoman Deb Hermann and others said they hoped Funkhouser would choose a Northlander.
Councilman Ed Ford said “hard-core Minuteman supporters” will feel betrayed, but most residents will be relieved and are ready to move on to more pressing issues.
“I actually felt sorry for Funk when (Semler) unloaded on him,” Ford said about Semler’s resignation letter. “As many arrows as he has taken for her, it just shows no good deed goes unpunished.”
Others weren’t feeling sympathy for Funkhouser.
Ed Hayes, Heart of America chapter director for the Minuteman, said he was angry at Funkhouser for not supporting Semler and the Minuteman organization sufficiently.
“She didn’t ask to be on the park board,” he said. “She would have made a difference if they had left her alone. Now she’s going to come make a difference for the Minutemen, I guarantee it.”
National Council of La Raza President Janet Murguía, a Kansas City, Kan., native, said it was too late to return the 2009 convention to Kansas City, but the city could be in the mix for future meetings.
She said her organization would be closely watching Funkhouser’s actions, particularly with minority residents and the future of City Manager Wayne Cauthen, an African-American.
The Rev. Nelson Thompson, head of the local SCLC chapter, which recommended the national pullout, said the group wouldn’t reconsider moving its convention to New Orleans this year. He was optimistic the group would consider Kansas City in the future.
However, he said the Semler resignation didn’t solve all the mayor’s racial issues.
“We also need to be vigilant over what happens with Wayne Cauthen,” Thompson said. “Semler was only part of the picture. We still have a lot of concerns about the mayor’s activities. … The main issue is the mayor’s attitude.”
Kansas City resident Mary Mittenfelner said she thought a drumbeat of opposition from civil rights groups drove Semler off the park board. “They harangued this woman out of her job, taking her constitutional right to have an opinion.”
Park Commissioner Aggie Stackhaus, who became friendly with Semler during their service on the park board, applauded Semler’s service.
“She did a great job,” Stackhaus said. “She read everything, she always did her homework. She really cared about the children and youth activities.”