KANSAS CITY - Mayor Mark Funkhouser has rejected a City Council's ordinance that would prohibit his wife from serving as an unpaid worker in his office.
Thursday's veto by Funkhouser was the first in modern Kansas City history.
It came in response to a measure the City Council passed 12-1 last week. The ordinance says elected officials can have family members volunteer only infrequently in their offices. Funkhouser cast the dissenting vote.
Funkhouser said that he believes there's nothing inappropriate about his wife, Gloria Squitiro, working in his office at City Hall.
"In a world where political sex scandals get the most play, a loving couple working together is made light of and is made to seem inappropriate and even weird. Let me assure you it is neither," he told the council in an emotional exchange. "She has become a convenient scapegoat."
Council members countered that they were "sick" of the distraction provide by Squitiro's role in her husband's office. The ordinance was in part a response to a former mayoral staffer's lawsuit alleging that Squitiro, who has an unpaid position with her husband's office, created a hostile workplace.
"The citizens do not deserve this," Councilwoman Cathy Jolly said. "All we are doing is talking about your family, and that is unfair. I would hope we would just move on."
The lawsuit accuses Squitiro of making racially sensitive and sexually explicit comments. Squitiro has denied the allegations brought by former employee Ruth Bates.
Funkhouser expressed outrage that the council had singled out someone he said has been an indispensable personal assistant to him as mayor.
The veto sets up a historical council vote, scheduled for next Thursday. With eight votes, the council can override the veto.
Funkhouser says the ordinance is unconstitutional and threatened to sue the council if it overrides him.
The veto is the first in Kansas City since such mayoral powers were added to the city charter during the 1990s, when Emanuel Cleaver was mayor. Cleaver and his successor, Kay Barnes, never exercised the veto power.
Funkhouser says Squitiro spends 20 to 30 hours a week in the office, tackling such duties as constituent correspondence and facilitating communication between Funkhouser and his staff, among other things.