The Alabama Supreme Court has affirmed a circuit court ruling that vacated a 2006 election of board members of the Alabama Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and ordered a new election.
The action, taken Aug. 14, is the latest in a more than 10-year controversy surrounding the horsemen’s group, which exists in a state that hasn’t had live Thoroughbred or Quarter Horse racing since the mid-1990s. The Alabama HBPA, however, has remained a member of the National HBPA, which has about 30 affiliates in North America.
The state Supreme Court in its ruling issued no opinion.
Jefferson County, Ala., Circuit Court issued its ruling March 22, 2007. Its order made five points: the Alabama HBPA is the proper entity to represent horsemen at Birmingham Race Course; the election of Oct. 22, 2006, be vacated; another election be held within 90 days to elect officers and directors; a “special master” be appointed by the court to conduct and oversee the election; and, other than “ordinary and necessary expenses,” the Alabama HBPA can’t disburse funds pending the election.
Accordingly, the election must be held within 90 days of Aug. 14.
In February 2007, the National HBPA accepted the 2006 election results of the Alabama HBPA but said the group must be more transparent, hold regular meetings, provide financial reports, and be aggressive in seeking to bring back live horse racing to Birmingham.
In January 2008, the National HBPA Executive Committee discussed the Alabama situation at length but took no action. Officials said they simply wanted to ensure the Alabama HBPA was in compliance by holding regular meetings, changing its bylaws, be more transparent with its members, and work to return live horse racing to the state.
“I’m totally and completely confused,” Pat Drinkard, secretary/treasurer of the Alabama HBPA and wife of its president, Skip Drinkard, said during the 2008 meeting. “There is nothing that isn’t transparent. I feel you are micromanaging Alabama, picking on us, and keeping us in the dark.
“I’m frustrated. It seems like it never ends.”
The discussion ended with a comment from Arkansas HBPA board member Bill Walmsley, who said: “The Alabama affiliate is a member in good standing.”
No officers or members of the Alabama HBPA attended the National HBPA summer convention this year. The issue wasn’t discussed during public meetings at the convention, though it is on the agenda for the National HBPA winter convention in Tucson, Ariz., in December.
National HBPA chief executive officer Remi Bellocq said Sept. 3 the Alabama HBPA remains a member of the national body, which sticks to the conditions it issued in 2007 and reiterated in 2008.
“We stick to what the board (of directors) approved and executive committee recommended,” Bellocq said. “We’re going to let the local legal action work itself out. Regardless of what is happening down there, we said we wanted an update at our winter convention.”
In an interview in the fall of 2006, Dr. David Harrington, a former member of the Alabama HBPA who has pushed for financial disclosure and regular meetings, criticized the National HBPA for not taking sufficient action and asked why the local group would determine voter eligibility given the circumstances.
“That’s like putting the fox in to guard the hen house,” he said.
National HBPA officials have said they can only go so far because of agreed-upon policy that keeps the organization from interfering in affiliate business. The National HBPA receives dues each year from affiliates.
For more background on the issue, see the following stories at bloodhorse.com: