Archive for Saturday, August 1, 2009

Judge strikes down part of K.C. volunteer ordinance

August 1, 2009

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— A Jackson County judge on Friday struck down the portion of a Kansas City ordinance that prohibited the mayor’s wife from volunteering in his office, calling part of the city’s position “simply irrational.”

Jackson County Judge Justine E. Del Muro ruled in the mayor’s favor Friday, saying the section of the ordinance that bars family members who provide the mayor with consulting or advisory services is unconstitutionally vague.

Mayor Mark Funkhouser filed a lawsuit in November asking the court to void that section of the law. The ordinance was motivated in part by the presence in the mayor’s office of Funkhouser’s wife, Gloria Squitiro, who became the subject of an employee discrimination lawsuit. That lawsuit was settled last week for $550,000.

Del Muro said in her ruling “it is no secret that the passage of City’s volunteer ordinance was specifically aimed at” Squitiro and the couple’s daughter, Tara, who was also a plaintiff in the case.

But Del Muro said the ordinance was unconstitutionally vague and did not have “precise language and prohibitions” about what constituted a “periodic” volunteer.

“It is impossible to determine what combination of time, hour, week and month could result in a violation of the ordinance,” the ruling said.

Del Muro also said the section of the ordinance prohibiting family members constitutes “special legislation” for a particular group of people, which is also a violation of the state constitution.

The city’s claim that family members of elected officials are “particularly susceptible to exposing the city to financial liability by volunteering” is “simply irrational,” Del Muro said.

City attorney Galen Beaufort did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

But he had said earlier that the ordinance was fair because it also applied to the 12 city council members and their families and that the mayor could still communicate with his wife without having her constantly in the office.

Funkhouser said in a statement that he was “grateful” for the ruling and glad to put the issue behind him.

“The judge’s decision protects the authority of the mayor’s office, not only for my term, but for future mayors as well,” the statement said. He did not address whether his wife would return to work in his office.

But Funkhouser’s lawyer, Doug Carter, said Squitiro “would be at liberty to.”

“I just know we got rid of a bad law,” Carter said.

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