The firing of the horsemen's bookkeeper has sparked a protest among South Florida horsemen against the leadership of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.
In a contentious Jan. 13 meeting attended by about 150 horsemen at Calder Race Course, Florida HBPA president Linda Mills was the target of criticism for issues ranging from the lack of health insurance for trainers to a failure to disseminate information.
"This is a dysfunctional board of directors," said trainer Eddie Plesa, Jr., a member of the 15-person board. "We don't talk to each other. Nellie got fired and nobody on the board was told."
Nellie Torrente, the popular horsemen's bookkeeper at Calder, was fired Dec. 28 following discrepancies involving a financial transaction. Though Torrente wasn't accused of any impropriety, Mills said Torrente had violated the policies and procedures for transfers on previous occasions as well.
"This was the culmination of events over the past several months," she said.
But a number of trainers, including some on the board of directors, complained that the firing was done without the knowledge and approval of the entire board. "The reason we're here is because of communication," said Manny Tortora, a trainer and member of the board. "We're on the board but we're not told anything."
As a result, Mills and Florida HBPA officials agreed to hold a special director's meeting Jan. 16 to review the firing. Mills also announced she wouldn't seek re-election to the board of directors when her term expires in March.
Among those who may succeed her is trainer Bill Cesare. Among the most vocal individuals at the meeting, Cesare strongly asserted his position that the Florida HBPA needs outside assistance with issues such as worker's compensation insurance and negotiation of contracts with the racetracks.
"Right now they're outsmarting us," he said. "No disrespect to anyone here, but I don't feel we're competent."