An Election Mulligan - by Eric Mitchell

The New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association must hold another election.

If the association’s goal is truly to operate with transparency, then the NYTHA board of directors has no choice but to re-run last fall’s election that selected a president and 10 directors. The compelling reason for a do-over:
Slightly more than 30% of eligible members, around 1,518 owners, did not receive ballots.

Most NYTHA elections have been pretty humdrum affairs, but the recent vote featured a highly charged contest for the association’s presidency. West Point Thoroughbreds founder and president Terry Finley challenged two-term incumbent trainer Rick Violette Jr.

Finley ran as a reformer, calling for greater transparency in how the association is managed and better communication with members. Violette defended NYTHA’s work in preserving a year-round racing circuit in New York and received strong backing from other state THA organization executives, who felt he had consistently displayed strong leadership.

When the final votes were counted Dec. 2, only 14 votes separated the two candidates with Violette garnering 625 votes to Finley’s 611. Incumbent owner/directors Mike Shanley and Steve Zorn also were re-elected, with Joseph Appelbaum, Tina Marie Bond, and Jack Brothers filling the three additional owner/director positions. Incumbent trainer/directors Patrick Kelly, Linda Rice, and Richard Schosberg were re-elected and were joined by Jimmy Ferraro and Leah Gyarmati on the board.

The election appeared to be set and done until word spread about eligible association members either not receiving ballots or getting them only a week prior to the submission deadline.

Many NYTHA members apparently never got ballots because the association reportedly did not have a current roster of licensed owners and trainers. During testimony taken following the election, NYTHA executive director Jim Gallagher said the association could not get current information from the New York Gaming Commission. “The state will not release addresses, even if a FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request is made,” he stated.

On Dec. 26 attorney Christopher Green, who represents Finley, submitted a FOIL request to the Gaming Commission and got a response by Dec. 31. What Green initially received, however, did not include contact information. Green followed up with a Jan. 12 request for mailing and e-mail addresses, and his request was reviewed by Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government. Freeman concluded “disclosure of both mailing and electronic mail addresses were appropriate.” By Jan. 20, Green had a complete list of licensed New York owners and trainers for 2013 and 2014.

A subsequent analysis of these lists by Marianne DeMario, a certified public accountant who specializes in forensic accounting investigations, revealed 1,456 individual licensed owners and 1,482 ownership entities, the latter including 1,032 owners or ownership groups identified only by a stable name. These are licensed owners that also started a horse at a New York Racing Association track in 2014, which is a requirement to participate in a NYTHA election. Because DeMario did not know how many partners were in these stables, she had to create an estimate using the publicly stated NYTHA membership of 5,000-6,000 as a target. DeMario determined that 4,950 people were eligible to vote but only 3,410 ballots had actually been distributed, according to Gallagher and NYTHA counsel Alan Foreman. When the difference of 1,540 is adjusted for trainers and trainer/owners, DeMario estimated 1,518 eligible owners didn’t receive ballots.

About one-third of the membership got shut out, and who will now decide whether a new election is warranted? The NYTHA board members who just got elected.

The exclusion of so many owners is damning enough, but documentation filed by Finley in his protest of the election provides plenty of other reasons to consider voiding the results.

For example, some additional ballots were sent out at the request of NYTHA members after the initial mailing. NYTHA by-laws require its members to sign a receipt when a new ballot or replacement ballot is issued. Green, who observed the ballot count, was told these receipts would be made available for inspection by a partner of Bryan Cave, the law firm representing the NYTHA board. During the Dec. 2 ballot count, Green asked for the receipts and was told they had never been provided by NYTHA to Bryan Cave.

Then there were six ballots that got counted because they were reportedly on a separate “master list” of ballot recipients maintained by Gallagher—a list that was not provided to Bryan Cave, which oversaw the ballot counting. Of these six ballots, five cast votes for Violette. Another eight ballots returned had not been counted because the senders could not be verified on any list. So how did these eight people get ballots in the first place?

Too many questions. Too many 

Only one decision can now protect NYTHA’s integrity: Scrap this election and start again. 

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