Opinion by Tom Bogdon
Mark Siettmann, Mayor Mark Funkhouser’s press secretary, called KCTribune.com this week to request a correction for what he said was a misleading quote in an editorial that appeared in this space beginning last Friday.
Headlined, “Chronic Neglect of Vietnam Memorial Just One of Kansas City’s Mixed Bag of Problems,” the editorial stated that the Parks Board, the members of which are all appointed by the Mayor, has more or less fiddled while the Vietnam Memorial and Fountains has steadily deteriorated for more than a year.
Siettmann wanted it known that Mayor Funkhouser did attend a Memorial Day observance at the Vietnam Memorial last spring. That was when veterans and other participants reported ugly black splotches on the bottoms of the reflecting pools, just one of a number of signs of long deferred maintenance.
Randy Barnett, president of the Kansas City Chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America, confirmed seeing Funkhouser at the Memorial Day observance; he added, however, that the veterans committee had already been notified by Funkhouser’s office that the mayor would not attend a Veterans Day observance Nov. 11 at the memorial.
In a separate interview, George Biswell, 1st vice president of the Vietnam Veterans of America and a landscape inspector for the Parks Dept., who has led a months-long but quiet veterans’ campaign to restore the Vietnam Memorial, said his remark about the mayor’s indifference to the memorial had to do with a lack of concern and action, not attendance or lack of attendance at the Memorial Day observance.
Biswell said that in contrast to Funkhouser, Mayor Dick Berkley, who was in office when the Vietnam Memorial was being built in 1985 and 1986, stopped by daily at a veterans encampment back then at the memorial site, 43rd and Broadway. The veterans camped out there after the unfinished memorial was vandalized.
Later, Berkley was a frequent attendee at Memorial Day and Veterans Day observances, as were Mayors Emanuel Cleaver and Kay Barnes. Cleaver, now a member of Congress, still attends these events.
“My perception as a member of the veterans community is I don’t see we’ve gotten much interest from the city administration in the maintenance problems of the memorial, much less the other problems many veterans face,” Biswell said.
“I would say if the mayor’s press secretary has been following this issue in the KCTribune, then we see no evidence of an effective response to the problem,” Biswell said. “The mayor seems to be more worried about his public image than he is in working with the veterans and saying, ‘What can we do to find a long-term solution to these problems?’”