Officials with the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association have indicated the organization's fate as a member of the National HBPA could be decided during a Feb. 10 board of directors meeting.
The situation came to light during the National HBPA winter convention, which wrapped up Feb. 4 in New Orleans. There are several issues at play, including Florida HBPA bylaws and what one official called a "personal division."
Florida HBPA president Linda Mills said the organization's bylaws allow it to pay no more than $25,000 a year in dues to the National HBPA. Last year, the National HBPA adopted a new structure that hiked dues for some affiliates. The Florida HBPA is among those that pay the most--$25,000 -- to the National HBPA, but the amount is scheduled to increase slightly.
"We're in a position to take it to our board to see what they want to do with it," Mills said of the dues increase and the Florida HBPA financial situation. "The (National Thoroughbred Racing Association) is our most important membership, and its goals are in line with Florida's goals. It will be addressed at our board meeting."
The Florida HBPA has contributed $100,000 it receives in membership benefits from the NTRA to the National HBPA to help fund communications through the Horsemen's Journal magazine. The amount recently was reduced by about $25,000 so the Florida HBPA could contribute to an NTRA task force on wagering integrity and security.
On Feb. 2, it was announced that Mills had resigned as chairman of the National HBPA Insurance Committee, to which she has devoted a lot of time. On Feb. 4, National HBPA president John Roark said "a personal division has risen" between himself and members of an affiliate which he didn't name.
"I apologize for anything on my part," Roark said. "If my actions as your president are such that they would require an affiliate to drop out, I'd rather drop out. If you're in this for personal reasons, you're in it for the wrong reasons."
During the National HBPA summer convention in Ohio last year, Roark defeated Mills in a two-person election for president. Mills said the election isn't a factor in the latest developments.
"My outspokenness at times has been reported by people as being sour grapes," Mills said. "The issues that caused me to run against him as president are still some of the issues that at times cause controversy. Controversy isn't a bad thing. It should stimulate dialogue, which is always a good thing."
The Feb. 4 National HBPA board of directors meeting was missing some of that spirited dialogue because of the absence of Dick Watson, who in December lost his bid for re-election as president of the Charles Town HBPA. Watson, recognized nationally as an advocate for horsemen's rights, was a member of the National HBPA Executive Committee and like Mills not afraid to publicly speak his mind.
Watson lost his election to Ann Hilton, who in early January said the Charles Town HBPA was undergoing a reorganization and would be unable to send representatives to the National HBPA winter convention. Individuals with some knowledge of the situation said the absence of the Charles Town HBPA wasn't an indication it planned to drop out of the National HBPA.
Along with Mills' involvement in key issues such as workers' compensation insurance, the Florida HBPA has been very active with the National HBPA financially and through its executive director, Kent Stirling, who chairs the National HBPA Medication Committee and represents the organization on the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. Stirling, a former trainer, has been quite outspoken on medication and drug-testing issues over the years.