Funkhouser’s latest weapon against Cauthen: memos

On July 14 and 16, Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser wrote three short memos to City Manager Wayne Cauthen. The memos were identical in length (three paragraphs) and in tone (annoyed).

Two memos asked Cauthen about the lack of progress being made on changes the council adopted when it passed the budget in March. The third memo wanted to know when Cauthen was going to hire a finance director. Each conveyed a sense that Funkhouser felt Cauthen was being insubordinate. “It is your job as City Manager to implement the budget as it is approved,” Funkhouser wrote in one.

It’s no secret that Funkhouser and Cauthen have a poor working relationship. As a candidate, Funkhouser talked about helping the city manager find a new job. Once he was in office, Funkhouser tried to get rid of Cauthen but was outmaneuvered by the council, which reacted to Funk’s act of aggression by awarding Cauthen a new contract and a raise last December. “Today we have to check the mayor,” Councilwoman Sharon Sanders Brooks said when she voted with the majority.

Seven months later, Funk and Cauthen continue to battle.

On 8-inch-by-11-inch sheets of paper.

Cauthen came up with a memo of his own on July 16. It was addressed to the city’s Finance and Audit Committee. Cauthen described problems that had arisen in the first quarter of the fiscal year and outlined a $10.3 million budget shortfall.

Cauthen’s memo contained some strange elements. He listed a $1 million “expenditure issue” stemming from the consolidation of two police patrols, one at the airport and one covering the Northland. The idea of combining the patrols had come out of the budget process; it was designed to produce $1 million in savings. Cauthen resisted the consolidation idea at the time of the budget discussion last spring. Listing it as an “issue” in his recent memo indicated an unwillingness or an inability to go forward with the plan.

Cauthen also stated his intent to lift a hiring freeze after 190 positions had been left open. But the budget directed him to go further and freeze 245 spots.

Funkhouser was not pleased to receive this update. He responded to Cauthen’s “Here’s what I’m not doing” memo by the end of the day. This memo asked, more or less, “What the hell?”

The mayor demanded an update on the status of the police reorganization. Funkhouser wanted to know if Cauthen’s refusal to recognize the savings from consolidation indicated “that you intend to not follow our policy direction.”

As for the hiring freeze, Funkhouser reminded Cauthen of the 245 target. “That is a policy decision we have made,” he wrote. In other words, do it.

Cauthen came up with a response five days later. Whereas the mayor had been blunt, Cauthen went with a softer, more bureaucratic delivery. Resistance to implementing the change in the security operations at the airport, he explained, stemmed from the need for FAA approval and “other reservations.” Cauthen also insisted that he could lift the hiring freeze and still manage to save the $9.8 million in personnel costs outlined in the budget.

Three days later, Cauthen informed Deb Hermann, who is the chair of the council’s Finance Committee, that he had told his department heads to anticipate 1-percent to 3-percent reductions in their budgets. This did not sit well with Funkhouser, either. In a July 29 memo, the mayor stated his opposition to across-the-board budget cuts. The council, Funkhouser said, had taken “an enormous amount of political heat” when it cut programs in the spring. A $600,000 subtraction from the zoo’s subsidy, for instance, had led to shrieks about starving animals.

Hermann is also bothered by Cauthen’s approach. “We’re not doing across-the-board cuts,” she tells me. Hermann says that she, Finance Committee Vice Chairman Jan Marcason and Cauthen hammered out budget changes in the spring, but the city manager has failed to implement them. If cuts need to be made, Marcason says, “It’s really our job to make those decisions.”

These are not mere turf wars.

Hermann and others on the council fear that across-the-board cuts will mean a reduction in services that residents expect. Citizens tend to notice a loose terrier mauling their legs because a hiring freeze has depleted the force of animal-control officers. Cauthen, too, believes that the city cannot simply stop hiring people, calculate the savings and call it a day. In one of the memos, he notes the vacant lots that need mowing and the community centers that have had to curtail hours. (Through a spokeswoman, Cauthen declined to comment on the memos.)

Residents can take encouragement from the bickering and gamesmanship taking place in these documents. It’s a good thing when government officials argue about the best way to put four dogcatchers on the streets. After all, they could be fighting over a time-share in Cancun that a contractor has made available.

But it’s a little pathetic to watch the two most powerful people in city government exchange this sort of hate mail. What, is selection of the new finance director going to come down to a game of rock-paper-scissors?

For now, I’m putting most of the blame on Funk.

Mayor Sepulchral was within his right to try to engineer Cauthen’s departure; that’s what mayors do. But the act itself was inept. Funkhouser tried to use a technicality — a charter rule giving the mayor the authority to introduce an ordinance for the manager’s contract — rather than unite the council behind his position. Defied by his colleagues, Funkhouser then had to sit in the council chamber and listen as a parade of community and business leaders told him what a clod he was. The botched termination drags on. Mayor Pro Tem Bill Skaggs sued the city after the council majority’s vote to extend Cauthen’s contract; the case is under appeal.

Funkhouser needed political capital if he wanted to oust Cauthen, but by mid-December, he’d spent a lot of it defending a parks board appointee‘s right to associate with the nativist Minutemen. He’s also lost political standing thanks to the actions of his wife, Gloria Squitiro — unpaid adviser and right brain. Funkhouser continues to insist that the two-for-one arrangement works as the city negotiates a settlement with a former aide who claimed that Squitiro created a hostile work environment. Meanwhile, most council members are on record as believing that the mayor needs to at least re-examine his wife’s role.

Cauthen is not innocent. If he hasn’t been insubordinate, he at least has displayed a passive-aggressive streak. But a guy doesn’t get to his position without being a skilled practitioner of the bureaucratic arts. In some ways, he’s just being true to his nature.

Funkhouser’s best hope is for an appeals court to find Cauthen’s contract unlawful. Until then, he will have to continue to govern by memo.

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