By MICHAEL MANSUR, LYNN HORSLEY and DAVE HELLING
The Kansas City StarPosted on Wed, Jan. 05, 2011 11:58 PM
Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser said Wednesday that federal authorities have launched an inquiry into contracts involving the general counsel of Kansas City’s Port Authority, William Session, and construction work at the old Richards-Gebaur air base.
Agents this week interviewed at least one official with the Economic Development Corp., the umbrella group that now serves as the Port Authority’s fiscal agent. Funkhouser, a member of the EDC’s executive committee, said the interview was conducted by the FBI.
“I can confirm that they absolutely have been there,” Funkhouser said of the FBI. “It’s another red flag for the Port Authority.”
FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton said the agency could neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.
Session said Wednesday that he has not been contacted by federal authorities. He previously had denied any conflicts of interest, and two earlier internal investigations cleared Session and the Port Authority of any conflicts.
A spokeswoman for the Port Authority, meanwhile, said none of its staff members has been contacted by investigators.
Funkhouser is locked in a dispute with the City Council over control of the PortAuthority, which oversees development along the riverfront and at the former air base. He has campaigned to remove Trey Runnion, the chairman of the Port Authority’s board, and has raised questions about the agency’s spending practices.
The Port Authority recently moved its office and is involved in talks to sever most of its relationship with the EDC, just days after the EDC’s executive committee asked Runnion to step down and acted to discourage the move.
On Wednesday, however, a City Council committee refused to endorse two new Funkhouser nominees to the Port Authority, a decision the mayor — who is running for re-election — later criticized in a meeting with reporters.
“I watch as the council twists slowly in the wind,” Funkhouser said, adding that he was astonished the council would condone keeping Runnion on as chairman of the Port Authority when Session’s contract is being investigated by the FBI.
During the committee meeting, Councilman Ed Ford moved to support Funkhouser’s new appointments.
“I would agree with you that currently, it’s a mess,” Ford said of the Port Authority situation. But Ford’s motion died for lack of a second.
Committee members Cindy Circo, Bill Skaggs and John Sharp said after their meeting that they had no knowledge of an FBI investigation. The council has asked for a city audit of the agency, and it would only be fair to wait for its outcome, Circo said.
Funkhouser said agents this week specifically asked EDC officials about contracts involving TWS Technical Services, Session’s construction company, and its work at the Richards-Gebaur site in 2008 as a subcontractor for CenterPoint Properties, the site’s developer.
“They’re looking into the Session contract,” Funkhouser said.
The Port Authority came under renewed scrutiny last month after more details emerged about work at the old Richards-Gebaur site in south Kansas City. Funkhouser and other critics said they were worried about a potential conflict-of-interest involving Session.
The Kansas City Star reported in December that private earth-moving subcontracts — worth at least $9.7 million — were awarded to Session’s TWS in 2008.
At the time, Session’s law firm was representing the Port Authority in an “oversight role” for the Richards-Gebaur project, which was being developed by CenterPoint Properties, a private company.
Concerns about the contracts first surfaced in a memo written by Sandra Rayford, the affirmative action compliance officer with the EDC.
After news reports, Funkhouser asked the U.S. attorney’s office in Kansas City to consider assigning an investigator to examine the Port Authority. Funkhouser said he hasn’t received a response to his request.