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Thu September 25, 2008
Council Overrides Mayor's Veto, Bans Squitiro From Work In Office
Kansas City, MO – Kansas City has done something perhaps no other city has. It passed an ordinance to keep the mayor's wife from volunteering in the mayor's office.
The mayor responded with the first veto in the city's history.
With mounting crime, crumbling sewers and a fiscal crisis looming, KCUR's Frank Morris reports on what brought Kansas City to its current impasse.
Mark Funkhouser is a serious, imposing guy, especially sitting on his front porch, talking about the role of his wife, Gloria Squitiro at City Hall.
Funkhouser: "I KNOW WHAT I NEED. And I choose to have my wife beside me. And I don't give a flat damn who cares."
At first blush, Funkhouser and Squitiro seem kind of an odd couple. He used to be the City Auditor, amazingly tall, 6'8, bony, and gruff.
Squitiro: "And I'm a feisty, tiny little Italian broad."
When Funkhouser ran for mayor, Gloria Squitiro jumped in to manage, and humanize, the campaign. They beat the local business and political establishment. And when Mayor Funkhouser moved into City Hall, Squitiro grabbed a tiny cubicle right outside his door.
Frank: "Looks kind of cramped." Gloria: "Oh, do you think? We're very cozy together here, aren't we Frank? My husband might get a little miffed if he saw this."
Squitiro says that, after 30 years together, she knows exactly how Funkhouser thinks. So, when the people in the office have questions for the Mayor - and he's busy - they can just ask her.
Squitiro: "I am the link, from him to them, them to him, him to people in the community."
Abouhalkah: "We don't need a gatekeeper in the mayor's office."
Yael T. Abouhalkah is a columnist with The Kansas City Star. He backed Funkhouser in last year's election but didn't figure on Squitiro's huge role in the administration.
Abouhalkah: "She is irritating. She is outspoken. I think the mayor's even admitted that she's kind of, can be, brash. And yes, some council members don't like that.
In fact all 12 of them voted for an ordinance that would stop Squitiro from volunteering in the mayor's office. Councilwoman Jan Marcason sponsored it.
Marcason: "When a spouse or someone one closely related to you is working for you, your judgment is clouded by your feelings for them, and so there's a lack of accountability."
Gloria Squitiro has done a few things that just might get a normal staffer canned. For one thing, she sent out a holiday letter gleefully describing Funkhouser's prostate exam.
That turned up on blogs, and eventually, major newspapers and magazines.
Then, Squitiro drew a lawsuit. It claims she's prone to overtly sexual, and racist talk in the mayor's office. And that sparked the ordinance banning her type of volunteer service. Council members say they have to protect the city, but Mayor Funkhouser considers it a power grab, and a pointless diversion.
Funkhouser: "People say 'When are you going to get the weeds cut?' People say the police response takes too long. My god, there were 20 murders in Kansas City in August, the worst month we've had in 20 years. That's what people care about, and that's what I'm working on, and I want to be left alone to do that."
Members of the city council say they too want to get past this. But they blame the whole flap on Mayor Funkhouser's intransigence (refusal to compromise). And they say they're eager to get on with the city's real business.
But Mayor Funkhouser insists that ordinance or no, no matter who it annoys, Gloria Squitiro's sticking with him, in the mayor's office. That means, the fight over Kansas City's First Lady is likely to shift soon from city hall, to the courthouse.