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Former communications director says K.C. mayor told him to act unethically

Wednesday, December 10, 2008 | 4:03 p.m. CST

KANSAS CITY – A former communications director for Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser said he was following directions from the mayor when he acted unethically at least twice.

Joe Miller told The Kansas City Star that the unethical moves happened during a fall light-rail tax campaign and a controversy last year over a parks board appointment.

"Sometimes you get into gray areas, and before you know it, you've crossed a line that you didn't expect to cross,'' said Miller, who resigned from the mayor's staff last month to attend graduate school.

Miller spoke to The Star on Tuesday, a day after he testified in a deposition related to former mayoral employee Ruth Bates' discrimination lawsuit against the city.

He said one of the unethical acts came when he followed Funkhouser's instruction to not give The Star minutes of a meeting involving former parks board member Frances Semler.

"Ultimately, Mark said to me, 'We're not releasing this document,''' Miller said. "That has haunted me ever since.''

Semler's board appointment was controversial because of her involvement in the anti-illegal immigration group, Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. The document, which The Star had sought through a Sunshine Law request, gave details about a dispute within the mayor's office about how to respond to backlash over Semler being on the board.

Kendrick Blackwood, spokesman for Funkhouser, said the mayor and his staff work to comply with the law and with the ethics advice that the city attorney gives them. Blackwood said it is difficult to comment on the specifics of Miller's deposition because the mayor and staff hadn't heard or seen it.

Funkhouser wasn't immediately available for comment when contacted Wednesday.

Miller said the second unethical move stemmed from his work on the failed light-rail campaign, which he claimed Funkhouser assigned to him as his job duty. State law generally forbids public employees from working on campaigns while on duty or using public facilities or equipment for campaigns.

An ethics complaint was filed with the state in October alleging that Miller was improperly involved in the light-rail effort.

Blackwood said the city attorney's office guided the mayor's office on how to handle the light-rail campaign. He said the entire staff was instructed on how to follow ethics rules regarding campaigns.

"I'm sure Joe was instructed to stay within the bounds of the law,'' Blackwood said of Miller.

City Attorney Galen Beaufort said he was not aware of Miller's specific campaign duties. However, he said, it would not have been an ethical violation for Miller to issue news releases and other informational material related to the light-rail proposal.


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