Embattled KC parks board member resigns

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Frances Semler, who was the focus of months of controversy because of her affiliation with an anti-illegal immigration organization, has resigned from the city parks board.

Semler, 74, said Tuesday she resigned because her involvement with the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Board had become too contentious and she did not feel Mayor Mark Funkhouser supported her.

"I feel betrayed," she said. "From time to time they would say good things, but from time to time there would be something hurtful. ... But it all piles up."

Semler, a member since December 2006 of the Arizona-based Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, said she spoke with Funkhouser on Tuesday after he received her resignation letter, which she faxed to his office late Monday night. Funkhouser did not know Semler planned to resign, according to his spokesman, Kendrick Blackwood.

Funkhouser said he was disappointed with Semler's resignation.

"She says she didn't feel supported," Funkhouser said. "I think the record shows differently."

Funkhouser named Semler to the five-member park board last summer. Her appointment triggered protests from minority groups, including the National Council of La Raza, which voted in October to cancel plans to hold its national convention in Kansas City because of Semler's Minuteman membership.

Last week the Southern Christian Leadership Conference said it also decided to move its convention from Kansas City to New Orleans.

Charles Steele Jr., president and chief executive officer of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, advised other civil rights organizations to boycott the city because of Semler.

Janet Murguia, president of La Raza, said Tuesday it was "regrettable that the mayor did not act sooner."

"I place responsibility for this whole mess straight at the feet of the mayor," Murguia said. "He has to be accountable for this, and he should move forward hopefully having learned from the experience and becoming more sensitive to the interests of the Hispanic community and to the broader economic interests of the city."

Chris Simcox, president of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, said Funkhouser "has chosen to play racial politics and cater to the bigotry of the open borders lobby, rather than support his own appointee Frances Semler."

In a telephone interview Tuesday, Semler defended her involvement in the anti-illegal immigration group, which advocates patrolling the Mexican border and reports illegal immigrants to authorities.

"I'm a decent, nice person that happens to belong to the Minuteman and thinks our borders should be protected and our laws upheld," Semler said.

Semler said her resignation was not prompted by any one incident, but that she grew tired of being called a racist and of the "unjust" accusations against the Minutemen.

"Several times I was accused of being racist, and I've never been racist," she said. "When you see horrible names that people call you, it takes you aback."

She said an option she was given by the city was to renounce the Minutemen while continuing her participation, which did not sit well with her.

"It just seemed dishonest," she said. "It was just being false."

"Then it's just gone on. Little things here or there, he (Funkhouser) stated that he doesn't care for the Minuteman. That's his privilege."

However, she said, she should be able to express her ideas about illegal immigration and serve on the park board.

"Many citizens are reluctant to do so for fear of being subjected to the destruction of their character as I have been," her resignation letter said.

She said she will continue her involvement with the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps but would not become involved again in city politics.

"It really saddens me," Semler said. "I wish them well. I really do, for the city's sake too."

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