Trey Runnion kept in place at Port Authority as FBI takes interest
|The mayor says the FBI is asking about Port Authority lawyer William Session.|
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Mayor Mark Funkhouser has identified replacements for Runnion and another Port Authority board member. The agency has come under fire because its lawyer, William Session, received a contract to excavate land that the Port Authority sold to a private developer. But members of the City Council are clinging to the idea that retaining Runnion, Session's enabler, is better than the alternative Funkhouser is proposing.
Resolutions naming Craig Porter and John Burnett to the Port Authority's board were introduced at the Planning and Zoning Committee on Wednesday. At the meeting, Funkhouser reiterated his belief that Runnion and Mike Sturgeon are "squatters." (Their terms expired in August.) Calling the Port Authority a "mess" and a "distraction," Funkhouser encouraged the committee members to consider his replacements.
Session's double life as an excavator was first reported in The Pitch in November. The Kansas City Star followed with a story that described how Sandra Rayford, a staff member at the Economic Development Corporation, the Port Authority's parent agency, complained that Session's roles as legal adviser and construction manager presented a conflict of interest. Runnion told Rayford that he was fine with the arrangement.
Session and Runnion made the mistake of not thinking how their actions would look on the front page of the city's largest newspaper, which is where the details of the excavation deal landed on December 12 (a Sunday, no less). The City Council asked for an audit of the agency after the Star's report. The Economic Development Corporation's executive committee called for Runnion to step down at a meeting on December 21.
Yet Runnion continues to call shots at the agency, which has tried to assert its independence. A few hours before the council met on Wednesday, the Port Authority sent out e-mails announcing its new River Market address. The EDC's executive committee has instructed the staff to not pay the new lease and other expenses related to the Port Authority's bolt from the office building that the EDC uses.
The drama is not enough to convince the council that it screwed up when it rammed through Runnion's reappointment to the Port Authority in August. Runnion had lobbied the council to give him another term when Funkhouser demurred. Problem is, it wasn't legal. At least not in the eyes of City Attorney Galen Beaufort, who reminded the council that the city charter gives the mayor the power to make appointments.
Porter and Burnett are not controversial alternatives. Still, Funkhouser's resolutions went nowhere. After a meeting in closed session and then a brief public discussion, Councilman Ed Ford made a motion to adopt the resolutions appointing Porter and Burnett to the board. The other four committee members didn't second the motion. Before the (non) vote, Councilwoman Cindy Circo talked about her reluctance to act before the audit was completed. (The cat that's completely out of the bag needs to do a few tricks and take a dump in the mudroom, apparently.)
After his resolution failed, Funkhouser told reporters that the FBI had met with Rayford. "They don't make idle house calls," said the mayor, who had encouraged the U.S. Attorney's Office to examine the Port Authority when the Star story broke.
Funkhouser said he was amazed that the council would stick by Runnion in light of recent events. "The City Council is completely responsible for this," he said.