In the wake of Monday evening’s surprising decision by the board of directors of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (MTHA) to invalidate last week’s membership vote to change the group’s bylaws (here), a number of members of the group expressed mounting frustration. Meanwhile, among some a growing sense began to emerge that it was time for cooler heads to try to broker a solution to the issues.
Supporters of the 9-5 Board vote to hold a second vote on the amendments pointed to concern over the participation of ineligible voters in the process. According to the MTHA, some 87 people obtained owner or trainer licenses — thus entitling them to MTHA membership — too late to be allowed to vote in the April 30 meeting. But because of an error by the MTHA, those people were not excluded from the voter rolls or from the meeting itself but were instead allowed to participate.
Although multiple MTHA leadership sources did not speak for attribution, they estimated that “some” to “many” of those 87 people did participate in the election. But no firm numbers exist because the MTHA did not keep a record of who attended the special meeting and thus cannot cross-reference new member lists with meeting attendance.
Those opposing the Board decision expressed frustration that the will of the membership was, in their view, being ignored by the Board. “Nearly 250 people came out at an inopportune time with insufficient notice to attend the meeting last week,” said Board member R. Larry Johnson, who had proposed the bylaws amendments. “The Board decided that that didn’t happen at all.”
Michael Horning, another Board member, supported Johnson’s position. “I think it’s wrong to overturn a vote of a duly called special meeting of the members. It’s irresponsible oversight and governance of the organization,” he said.
Owner Libby Butts, one of those who attended the membership’s special meeting, told me, “I’m really angry about the way this whole thing was handled. If the votes weren’t going to count, I wouldn’t have taken the time off.”
On social media, predictably, the responses were less kind. One Facebook commenter lamented that “the fix was in,” while on Twitter, one scion of a Maryland racing family sputtered that, though not a member of the MTHA, “I am livid. How can this… activity continue?”
Trainer/owner/breeder Ann Merryman, commenting on my earlier post about the Board’s decision, called it “so unreal.” And commenter Robbieleibner, commenting on the Paulick Report, asserted, “If [the Board members who supported the re-vote] had a conscience, they would be ashamed of themselves.”
At the same time, a growing number of people believe that the expiration date on the organizational acrimony has passed.
Trainer Katy Voss, a member of the Board, had signed a statement opposing the bylaws amendments as “detrimental to and contrary to the best interests of the MTHA and its membership.” Yet she opposed the re-vote and worries that the infighting is harming the organization. “We need to get the ballots out quickly for the next vote,” she said. “We need to get this thing behind us, however it comes out.”
Similarly, board member Christine Bricker opposed the bylaws amendments but favored leaving intact the actions of the special meeting. “I didn’t care for all the amendments,” she said. “But the outcome was what it was. To me, you have to live with what the outcome was. We need to accept that and go forward.”
That, of course, may be difficult given what Larry Johnson called the “inflamed passions” of many MTHA members. Still, some believe that some sort of negotiated settlement remains a viable option.
“We don’t have to take sides,” Bricker said. “We need to work through this together.”