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Archive for Sunday, April 26, 2009

K.C. challenges mayor’s volunteer suit

April 26, 2009

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— The city attorney for Kansas City is claiming that Mayor Mark Funkhouser lacks the legal standing to challenge an ordinance prohibiting his wife from volunteering full-time in his office.

The mayor filed a lawsuit in November asking the court to void the section of the law barring family members who provide the mayor with “consulting or advisory” services. The ordinance was motivated in part by the presence in the mayor’s office of Funkhouser’s wife, Gloria Squitiro.

Funkhouser and his attorney claim they haven’t found a similar ordinance anywhere in the nation and say the law is an unconstitutional infringement on the rights of his family members and on his authority to run his office how he wants.

In a reply filed this week, City Attorney Galen Beaufort defended the constitutionality and logic of the ordinance. He said Funkhouser’s oath of office in May 2007 required him to enforce the city’s ordinances, which would prevent him from suing to overturn one.

“The Mayor is required to, and has the duty to, enforce all the city’s ordinances, whether they are to his liking or not,” Beaufort wrote in his brief. Beaufort also said the ordinance makes sense, saying that close family relationships in government can cause problems and cost taxpayer money — pointing to a lawsuit filed against Funkhouser and Squitiro last year by former mayoral employee Ruth Bates.

“Three members of the mayor’s original staff who have left the mayor’s office have testified in the (Bates) lawsuit that the presence, actions and comments of Plaintiff Gloria Squitiro, as a volunteer in her husband’s office, created tensions in the workplace of the mayor’s office that disrupted their work,” the brief notes.

Beaufort’s office also pointed out that the Bates lawsuit has cost more than $60,000 in fees to the mayor’s outside council and $5,000 in other fees.

The brief also argues that the volunteer ordinance avoids the appearance of nepotism, which is barred in the Missouri Constitution, and denies the mayor’s claim that the ordinance is “special legislation,” aimed specifically at his wife.

Beaufort said the law also applies to the other 12 council members and their families. He also said the mayor can still communicate with his wife without having her constantly in the office.

“No where in any of these charter sections is the mayor granted the authority to create a physical office for a close family member within the mayor’s office at City Hall to allow the close family member to be a policy or political advisor,” the brief says. “It just is not there.”

A Jackson County judge plans to meet with both sides Tuesday to schedule a ruling in the case.

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