Records: KC mayor attempted to compromise on La Raza conference

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The National Council of La Raza pulled the conference because a city park board member is also a Minuteman member.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Records show Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser conducted a frantic last-ditch effort to reach a compromise before Hispanic leaders decided a week ago to move their annual conference to another city.

The National Council of La Raza voted Oct. 20 to pull the 2009 conference because of a city park board member who is also a member of the anti-illegal immigrant Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.

The Kansas City Star reported in Saturday's editions that e-mails, faxes and other documents obtained from Funkhouser's office showed he was prepared to ask his appointee, Frances Semler, to refrain from taking a leadership role with the Minuteman organization.

But the NCLR ultimately rejected that concession, instead demanding Semler either quit the Minutemen or step down from the park board.

The NCLR believes the Minuteman organization is hostile to Hispanics. The group is known for posting sometimes armed patrols on the Mexican border and picketing construction sites where it thinks illegal immigrants are working.

Minuteman officials say the group abides by the law and is dedicated to combating illegal immigration.

The documents show Funkhouser, who appointed Semler in June and refused to ask her to step down from the board, signed off on the NCLR's request that Semler say that her involvement with the Minuteman organization was "a bold statement" that reflected her frustration with the federal government's inability to secure the country's borders or enforce immigration laws and that she rejected "the use of violence, intimidation and vigilantism to enforce our immigration laws."

If accepted, Semler would have also had to read a statement promising not to speak publicly on behalf of the Minuteman group, organize any group-related activities or appear at any Minuteman-related press conferences.

Negotiations broke off before the statements could be offered to Semler, but she told the Star that she doubted she would have agreed to make those statements because the wording went too far.

Hispanic leaders who were involved in a two-hour federal mediation session Oct. 19 with Funkhouser either couldn't be reached for comment or declined to comment, saying a news conference was to be scheduled soon.

Funkhouser previously had declined to discuss his last-minute discussions with the Hispanic groups, as well as the final two-hour meeting, which has been described as intense. He said he couldn't discuss that meeting because of the federal mediator's involvement.

He said he had planned to finalize the compromise statement to present to Semler but the Hispanic leaders at the final meeting insisted on Semler's resignation from the park board or the Minuteman organization.

Funkhouser did present two other statements to her that came from U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City, who helped in the discussions.

Funkhouser had agreed in principle to ask Semler to write a letter to NCLR President Janet Murguia, saying she personally rejected "violence and vigilantism." A second option would have had the park board passing a resolution denouncing violence and vigilantism and encouraging civil-rights groups to bring their conventions to Kansas City.

Semler said she doesn't believe Minuteman members are vigilantes and wanted to change some of the wording but said generally supported those statements. She said she offered to meet with Funkhouser and Murguia at her home to work out a solution.

"That fell through," she said. "I don't know why."

Semler said she felt Funkhouser had done everything he could to solve the NCLR's concerns and keep them from moving their conference.

"I think he's bent over backward," she said.

Funkhouser said he would likely do a more thorough job researching the backgrounds of future appointees, but he said he didn't blame Semler for not telling him about her Minuteman membership, saying immigration "was completely irrelevant to municipal government and certainly the park service."

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