The Associated Press
Kansas City — A woman whose presence on the city's park board has two national groups threatening to pull their conventions from Kansas City unless she steps down says she doesn't intend to resign.
Mayor Mark Funkhouser's June appointment of an Frances Semler, an anti-illegal immigration activist and member of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, has caused a stir in the local Hispanic community. It also has led officers of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Council of La Raza to threaten cancellation of national conventions in Kansas City.
Not hosting those events in 2009 and 2010 could cost the city thousands of visitors and millions of dollars.
Semler said Thursday that she felt the pressure from the two national groups and was shaken by a local group that showed up at her doorstep Wednesday.
But, she said, "I don't intend to resign."
In June, Funkhouser turned down Semler's offer to resign after the initial uproar over her appointment. But on Thursday he said he wouldn't require her to stay on the park board, because of recent events.
"If she feels like it's more than she wants to deal with, I'm not going to force her to do it," Funkhouser said.
Semler called the attention from the national civil rights groups "the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard" and said her views on immigration should not affect her service on the board. She is a member of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which opposes illegal immigration and has set up patrols along the border with Mexico.
Funkhouser said he continues to support Semler, even if it means losing the two conventions and any other events.
The dispute comes amid efforts to boost downtown and has left many in the Kansas City tourism industry concerned. More than $1 billion has been invested in visitor amenities and attractions now under construction in a reinvented entertainment and night life district near the city's Bartle Hall convention center. As the new district slowly takes shape ahead of a planned spring 2008 opening, future convention bookings have been hitting record levels.
"This has turned into a political dogfight that hurts our employees, and that is sad," said Tom Holden, executive director of the Hotel and Lodging Association of Greater Kansas City.
Kansas City officials learned last month that the city was the NAACP's unofficial choice to host the group's 2010 national convention, which is expected to bring 10,000 visitors and $9 million in spending impact over the weeklong event.
La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights organization, plans to hold its 2009 four-day event in Kansas City, bringing in 4,000 visitors who are estimated to spend $5.5 million.
"The country is looking at our city and seeing what we stand for," said Rita Valenciano of the Coalition of Hispanic Organizations. "Do we stand for a community that's diverse, inclusive and welcoming? Or do we stand for bigotry and hatred against a targeted group because of their looks and appearance and language?"
City Councilwoman Beth Gottstein said she worries this issue could grow into a bigger boycott of Kansas City.