Dear Fellow MTHA Members,
I was initially elected to the MTHA Board of Directors six years ago. At that time, the industry was on the verge of collapse, the relationship of the MTHA with the breeders was acrimonious, at best, and the MTHA’s relationship with the Maryland Jockey Club was adversarial.
During the 2011 election, the membership spoke loud and clear that change was needed and that things could not continue as they were. A number of new Board members, myself included, were elected with a mandate of change, and slowly the wheels of progress began to turn. The new Board members were vocal that the oversight and governance of the association could not continue in the hands of a small number of individuals who had led the industry to the precipice. The differences between the industry factions had to be put aside and the industry needed to unite – we are one industry and if we did not come together, the outcome was inevitable. Emboldened by the mandate for change, the new Board members challenged embedded beliefs and positions despite their significant minority, which was widely publicized in the minutes of the Board meetings.
Gradually, though, change began to occur because it had to. I have spent almost forty years in the corporate world as a board chair, board member, and CFO who interacts regularly with boards of directors, and one of my main priorities as a new Board member was to establish the proper oversight and governance processes for the MTHA. We have made great progress in that area. The MTHA now acts like the deliberative body that it should be – discussing and debating the business of the association and the issues that arise during the course of the business - rather than being the “rubber stamp” board of old. The transparency of information and the actions of the Board have been enhanced.
I championed the introduction of a formalized Conflict of Interest disclosure process for Board members that now includes an annual declaration by each board member concerning conflicts of interest. We now have board committees that function and perform their duties as delegated by the Board. The Finance Committee, which I chair, meets twice a year with the external auditors – before and after the financial statement audit – to plan the audit and review the audit results before they are presented to the entire membership. We review the annual Form 990 before it is presented to the Board and filed with the IRS. The Finance Committee also conducted a review and revised the Association’s bylaws, recommending changes that were approved by the Board and full membership. The bylaws had not been updated in more than twenty years. The Finance Committee developed an investment policy statement for investment of the Association’s funds with the goal of providing funds for operating needs and income from investments to enhance the financial strength of the MTHA. The Finance Committee recently conducted a competitive bidding process and hired an investment manager to manage the investments of the backstretch pension fund and advise the MTHA on the Association’s investments and the investments of the employee pension plan. The changes I have outlined above are just a few examples of the positive things that have happened in the small area of board operations that I have spent most of my time focusing on.
It is hard not to be impressed with the major accomplishments Tim Keefe outlined in his letter that describes the major successes of the MTHA. Mr. O’Neill is entitled to his own opinion on the accomplishments of the Board but I, too, echo Larry Johnson’s comments and believe Mr. O’Neill is wrong when it comes to his conclusions on the Board’s accomplishments.
Is everything perfect – absolutely not. We have more work to do and I know the members of the Board are anxious to make more progress.
There has been considerable discussion in the election materials concerning the condition book and claiming rules. The MTHA Board has a Racing Committee consisting of five trainers – Dale Capuano, Mike Trombetta, Linda Gaudet, Katy Voss and Ferris Allen. That Committee’s role is to oversee the horsemen’s interaction with the track in constructing the condition book and rules by which we race, some of which may be subject to oversight by the racing commission (# of jail days, etc). I would strongly encourage all horsemen to seek out the Racing Committee members to express your views on what changes need to be made and how they need to be made. They are your representatives and you should feel free to have those discussions with them. In my opinion, those issues do not require an overhaul of the Board, and there currently is a forum to get at the issues.
Another issue that has been raised is ensuring we support the Maryland owners, trainers and breeders who “put on the show” here in Maryland. When I joined the MTHA Board six years ago, there was very strong opposition to any sort of Maryland bred owner or breeder awards and Maryland bred races were unthinkable. Through the work of the MTHA in cooperation with the breeders, the influx of the slots revenue, and the enlightened guidance (or was it a mandate) from the racing commission, Commissioner Quade in particular, all are now a reality.
This election is not about “draining the swamp” as some have referred to it – that happened in the last two MTHA elections, in my opinion. Your all-volunteer Board is very engaged and anxious to do what is best for the horsemen and our industry. This election is about the achievements accomplished by the Board and building upon that success.
Very truly yours,
Michael F. Horning