KC Mayor: Minuteman board member spurred needed dialogue

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The controversy spurred by the appointment to the parks board of a member of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps brought up an unexpected but necessary dialogue about immigration in Kansas City, Mayor Mark Funkhouser said Wednesday.

"When I was running for election in Kansas City I thought (immigration) was a national issue," Funkhouser said. "But on the other hand, what I have learned is that it is also a neighborhood issue. There are multiple sides to this issue."

He said immigration was not a top priority in his administration but that "it matters to the city, and it matters in the neighborhoods."

Funkhouser, who spoke on a telephone conference call from Washington. D.C., said his appointment of Frances Semler, 74, to the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Board last July opened a dialogue about immigration that the city might not have had otherwise.

"It might be a difficult conversation," he said. "But I think it's one we needed to have."

Semler has been a member since December 2006 of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, an Arizona-based organization that advocates patrolling of the Mexican border and reports illegal immigrants to authorities.

She resigned from the parks board late Monday after months of protests from minority advocacy groups, including the National Council of La Raza, which voted in October to cancel plans to hold its 2009 convention in Kansas City because of Semler's membership in the Minutemen.

Last week, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference said it also decided to move its convention from Kansas City to New Orleans and called on other organizations to boycott Kansas City.

Funkhouser said he did not know who would replace Semler on the parks board. He said that while he would accept applications from anyone, it was "extremely unlikely" he would appoint another member of the Minuteman organization.

"I'm going to interview folks, and quite a few of us will be Googling the person's name," Funkhouser said. "I won't do a litmus test, per se. ... But it's extremely unlikely that I will appoint someone who is a member of the Minuteman.

"I'm not trying to deal with immigration through the parks."

In her letter, Semler said she felt betrayed and that Funkhouser's support of her had waned. Semler had offered her resignation to Funkhouser after the controversy erupted several months ago. But Funkhouser then refused, saying he supported Semler's right to free speech and association.

Funkhouser said Wednesday that he was surprised by Semler's resignation, which she announced with a letter faxed to City Hall and several media outlets late Monday night.

Funkhouser also said he asked Semler several months ago to "ratchet" down her presence at the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps' national leadership conference, scheduled for Feb. 1-2 in Kansas City.

"I asked her if she would refrain from politicizing her role," he said. "I asked her to ratchet down her public statements about the Minuteman issue. ... I expressed a preference. It was not a command."

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