Former Charles Town HBPA President Fires Back

The former president of the Charles Town Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association is calling for a special election in the wake of what he calls repeated attempts by the current president and board of directors to discredit him and his wife.

The response by Dick Watson, who was sued by the Charles Town HBPA for allegedly using HBPA funds for his personal benefit, came two days after the horsemen's group issued a July 12 press release saying the legal proceedings had ended. The release included a copy of an admission and apology signed by Watson and his wife, Janene, the former executive director of the Charles Town HBPA.

Watson said the civil suit against him has been "mediated and settled." However, the release from the Charles Town HBPA said the Watsons "face the possibility of expulsion from Charles Town HBPA membership due to their violation of the association's bylaws."

Watson was defeated in a heated 2003 election by Ann Hilton, who took over as president but took a leave of absence a few months later, reportedly due to health reasons. Wayne Harrison took over, and has remained president since that time.

"It was very disheartening to learn that the former president and his wife admitted to taking funds from the Charles Town HBPA accounts for their personal use," Harrison said in a release. "Mr. Watson abused the bylaws for his own personal benefit."

Though Watson has admitted to most of the charges, settled the civil suit, and has apologized to the HBPA, he claims the organization continues to employ a campaign of "lies, half-truths, innuendos, and character assassinations" that began in 2003 and carried through the election. Watson, who was recognized nationally as a horsemen's advocate who took a strong stand with racetrack management, also indicated he still has support from his former constituents despite the civil suit.

"I call upon Harrison to have his compliant board of directors order a special election as soon as possible," Watson said in a statement. "The election would be for president of the Charles Town HBPA--candidates Wayne Harrison and Richard Watson--and we will see who the rank and file members want to run their organization."

Watson cited bylaws that would allow for such an election.

Dated June 14, the document released by the Charles Town HBPA indicates Watson admitted to making the personal loans; using an HBPA vehicle at his farm; paying retirement benefits, bonuses, and vacation funds to his wife, who at the time was executive director of the HBPA; using HBPA money to pay personal bills, and later repaying the money; and failing to provide audit reports to the HBPA board.