When Union Station CEO George Guastello fired Kansas City Museum director Christopher Leitch on June 9, the dismissal caught most museum supporters by surprise.
"You could have knocked me over with a feather," Northeast News publisher Mike Bushnell told The Pitch that day.
At least one person might have seen it coming: Amy Hull, a retired Kansas City police detective who has served on two boards overseeing the Kansas City Museum. She'd written a memo to Leitch, dated October 18, 2011, recounting a conversation she believed indicated that the longtime museum director's job had been in jeopardy.
In 2011, Hull was a member of the Friends of Kansas City Museum board, a membership wing of the Northeast Kansas City institution. On July 29, 2011, she met with fellow board member Pam Lipari and with president Katrina Henke to discuss the Friends of the Kansas City Museum's potential merger with Union Station. According to Hull's account of the conversation, Henke mentioned conversations she'd had with Leitch, who is openly gay, about Leitch's "bringing too many gays" onto the Friends board, and how that "discouraged other people" from joining.
At some point, Guastello caught wind of Henke's remarks to Leitch and told her that she had "made a mistake with Christopher" but, according to Hull's memo, "George said it was okay, he would find some other reason to get rid of him [Leitch]."
"Because of this statement, I could only assume that President Henke and Guastello had been in conversation about this and Guastello reassured President Henke that he would get 'rid of' you," continues Hull's memo.
Hull's recollection of the conversation triggered a Union Station human-resources investigation, the results of which are unclear.
Lipari recalls the conversation differently. She says Hull was opposed to the Friends' merger with Union Station and came into the conversation with an agenda. Lipari doesn't recall Henke making remarks about gay people.
"I honestly don't recall anything being said regarding Christopher bringing too many gay people in," Lipari tells The Pitch. "There was never that conversation."
Hull insists otherwise.
"It was an off-the-wall conversation," Hull tells The Pitch. "Part of it was just the fact that I was hearing this, and the second part of the shock was that she would tell me this and the fact that anybody would entertain those kinds of attitudes."
Henke, now a Union Station board member and executive with Milbank Manufacturing, tells The Pitch that Hull's contention is "ridiculous" and has declined to comment further.
In a written response to questions delivered to his office by The Pitch, Guastello says, "We will not comment on allegations, hearsay and innuendos, nor will we comment on the misinformation that is being publicly reported by others without regard for, or interest in, the truth."
Leitch declined to comment on the matter.
Leitch was in charge of city-owned Corinthian Hall but was a Union Station employee, reporting to Guastello, due to the 2000 merger of the Kansas City Museum and Union Station. That merger arrangement, now widely considered clunky and impractical, was struck at a time when Union Station was receiving $118 million in tax revenue from the Bistate Tax — a sales-tax increase that drew from Jackson, Clay and Platte counties in Missouri, and Johnson County in Kansas, to renovate the decaying edifice at Main Street and Pershing Road.
Union Station officials were under pressure to fix up the old train depot and make it a viable financial operation. That emphasis made many Northeast residents feel that one of its own visible treasures — Corinthian Hall and the Kansas City Museum — had unfairly taken a backseat. Leitch was regarded as a passionate museum advocate, and his dismissal represents a spike in an already uneasy and complicated relationship — one that the city is trying to figure out a way to split.