By Ray Paulick
President Barack Obama, on his first full day in office, called for higher standards in transparency and accountability for his administration. While there already have been some bumps on that road, our new president’s demands are in line with a broader movement toward greater transparency, accountability and openness, not only in government but in private enterprise as well.
A recent scandal in Lexington, Ky., involving the executive director of Blue Grass Airport and several of his key staff was uncovered only after the local newspaper, the Herald-Leader, filed an open records request and examined travel and expense reports filed by airport executives. What the paper found was shocking: thousands of dollars of taxpayer’s money spent on a night of partying at a Texas strip club, airport credit card purchases of a shotgun, audio systems, DVDs and other items seemingly unrelated to the operation, including scalped tickets to a Hannah Montana concert at Rupp Arena.
The airport’s oversight board at first dismissed the newspaper’s charges that the executive director’s travel and entertainment expenses were exorbitant, but after conducting an internal audit discovered numerous irregularities and suspended him. Shortly thereafter he resigned.
The episode teaches us several valuable lessons, including the importance of a free press, open records law, and vigilance by members of oversight boards. Without transparency or sunshine laws, it’s likely the airport scandal never would have been uncovered and taxpayers would continue to be abused by officials entrusted to serve them.
While I am by no means suggesting similar transgressions are taking place, a call for greater transparency and accountability is also at the heart of Thoroughbred owner and breeder Peter Blum’s recent criticisms of the Breeders’ Cup – a non-profit company funded in part through stallion and foal nominations by thousands of breeders. Following a guest commentary he wrote for the Jan. 10 edition of the Thoroughbred Times and a follow-up letter to the editor published in both the Jan. 31 Thoroughbred Times and Feb. 2 Paulick Report, Blum has heard from a number of fellow horsemen who are in philosophical agreement.
“As a result of my willingness to speak out, many people have contacted me and have expressed their concerns and serious reservations about Breeders’ Cup management,” Blum told the Paulick Report. “One theme that continually comes up when people share their thoughts with me is, ‘What are they trying to cover up?’ Have there been any bonuses recently paid, particularly in this troubling economy when (President Obama) in the last few days referred to bonuses paid to bankers as shameful, outrageous and the height of irresponsibility? If there have been any bonuses, who got them, when they did get them, and how much did they get? And if they were given, why were they given, especially in light of the Breeders’ Cup announcement to cut off supplemental funding for 121 races throughout the year? (That decision was quickly reversed.) Furthermore, have there been any recent senior management contract extensions. If so, who got them, and when and why were they given?”
Blum sees things only getting worse unless there are changes in how the Breeders’ Cup operates. “There is very little transparency and it is apparent that is the core of all major issues,” he said. “Does the Breeders’ Cup management not understand how angry its members are? Unless transparency soon occurs, the Breeders’ Cup cannot succeed in its present form. And has there been any disclosure to membership of an agenda of board member meetings, votes, and minutes? If not, why not?”
The Breeders’ Cup moved toward a democratically elected board in 2006 after complaints from some breeders that it had been run for too long by a handful of people selected by a self-perpetuating board of directors. But as Blum pointed out in his letter to the editor, there are flaws in the revised bylaws that appear to stack the election process in favor of the status quo.
Thirty-nine individuals are elected to the board of members and trustees by stallion and foal nominators (each year, 13 of the 39 seats are up for election to three-year terms). Those members and trustees are responsible for electing the 13-member operating board of directors. However, in addition to the 39 elected members and trustees who vote for the smaller board, also given votes in the small board election are six “founding fathers” of the Breeders’ Cup: Brownell Combs, formerly of Spendthrift Farm; William S. Farish of Lane’s End; Seth Hancock of Claiborne Farm (whose proxy has been permanently bestowed upon farm executive Jim Friess); Brereton Jones of Airdrie Stud, John T. L. Jones, director emeritus of Walmac Farm; and James Philpott, an attorney who has served as Breeders’ Cup secretary. Two former Breeders’ Cup presidents, James E. (Ted) Bassett III and D.G. Van Clief Jr., also are entitled to vote in the small board election, as are four current officers of the Breeders’ Cup, including CEO Greg Avioli.
It strikes me as unfair to “grandfather” any founding fathers onto the board of members and trustees. When the U.S. Constitution was written, individuals who signed the Declaration of Independence were not given a lifetime seat in Congress. Representatives of farms like Coolmore, Darley and Three Chimneys, among many others that have been major financial contributors to the Breeders’ Cup, are forced to actively run for a board seat while those farms associated with founding members get an automatic seat. Furthermore, at least two of the founding Breeders’ Cup members are no longer actively engaged in the business. Doesn’t seem right.
It also seems downright scandalous to allow paid staff, including CEO Avioli, to vote for who their bosses will be on the operating board of directors. Human nature suggests they will always favor those who butter their bread.
Blum also takes issue with how votes are allocated to those farms with stallions (stallion owners are entitled to one vote for each $500 of a stallion’s stud fee).
“It appears that large farms standing stallions may control the outcome of the election of inner and outer board members,” Blum said. “For example, if Gainesway stands a syndicated stallion like Tapit or Mr. Greeley, the farm is given all of the votes, not the actual owners or shareholders of the stallion. If this is true, won’t this inequity come as a surprise to most breeders?” (Editor’s note: It is believed that some stallion syndicate agreements may convey Breeders’ Cup votes to majority shareholders.)
As a result of the inequities he sees in the bylaws, Blum calls for widespread change in the election process.
“In view of the existing controversy, will management agree to submit to membership the right to hold a new election for board members under a more democratic process sooner rather than later?” he asked. “When will the BC provide an accounting of all the nomination fees paid in, and why have we not received them to date?”
Breeders’ Cup board member Satish Sanan wrote a rebuttal to Blum’s commentary that was published in the Thoroughbred Times of Jan. 24. Sanan later spoke with the Paulick Report about some of the issues raised by Blum, along with his own role as chairman of a Breeders’ Cup strategic planning committee.
“Mr. Sanan appears to be a constructive voice at the Breeders’ Cup and I hope his efforts bring much needed changes in transparency and benefits to breeders,” said Blum.
Blum said he hopes his decision to speak out on the management and direction of the Breeders’ Cup is not misinterpreted
“My remarks were intended as constructive criticism of Breeders’ Cup management and recommendations for change,” he said. “In no way were they made to be personal in nature or an attack on the Breeders’ Cup concept or festival of racing. On the contrary, my remarks were intended to encourage needed change and redirection of management.”
miércoles, 4 de febrero de 2009
BREEDERS’ CUP: TRANSPARENCY AND DEMOCRACY? By Ray Paulick President Barack Obama, on his first full day in office, called for higher standards in tran
Racehorses get jet lag when traveling?
Racehorses get jet lag when traveling? por CNN_International Horses are flown around the world to compete and that raises a few intriguing questions. Andrew Stevens reports.
Racehorses get jet lag when traveling? por CNN_International
Racehorses get jet lag when traveling? por CNN_International