Copyright WHR 2008

By Christy Howard Parsons

At the 2007 Annual Meeting of the membership of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association, the motion was passed to separate the general membership meeting from the annual meeting of the newly elected board of directors in an attempt to give both venues sufficient time to cover all necessary topics. In recent years, members were sometimes rushed in their comments to leave sufficient time for the newly convened board of directors to hold their meeting before the evening’s banquet. Other times the membership meeting went exceptionally long leaving little time for the first national board of directors meeting.
In 2008, this all changed. The General Membership meeting was held on Friday, December 5, 2008 in Lewisburg at 9 am, while the Board of Directors meeting will be held on Saturday, December 6.
TWHBEA President David Pruett called the meeting to order and made his initial comments. “We’ve been through some rough times, but I am happy to report that I have seen a renewed spirit  . . . We have been making significant progress and are moving forward on lots of initiatives,” said Pruett.
Pruett introduced a short video presentation of the new book being promoted by TWHBEA, The Tennessee Walking Horse An American Tradition.
Mike Inman presented a very positive presentation on the financial progress of the Association. “We had several objectives this year. First to publish each month the actual financial performance of the association so our membership can be informed and involved. We accomplished that task this year. We found the membership became more involved when they become more informed.”
“Secondly, we stopped the plan to place our Association headquarters at risk… as of today, we have thrown in the trash all the preliminary paperwork to put a lien on the building,” explained Inman.
“Finally, we hoped to restore the financial integrity of our Association. This is an ongoing task. We have made significant progress, but we truly have a long way to go. I feel it is important for us to get six months of reserves in the bank,” concluded Inman.
DeeDee Sale presented the accomplishments of the Breeders Committee. This committee worked to establish an upgraded iPeds program, distributed a new email membership survey, instituted a membership email newsletter, consulted in the creation of the new TWHBEA website, and created new committees to further study membership fees, the needs for leasing horses and the specific needs of spotted and exotic color breeders.
Bill Stricklend reported on the transition of the National Futurity to a true futurity program. The weanling colts at the 2008 National Futurity will be the only colts of that years crop allowed to participate in the National Futurity in the future. The same qualification system will apply for the foal crops of 2009 and beyond. Stricklend also indicated his committee would continue to study ways to link the National Futurity with the Regional futurities in a way that would benefit the regional futuries.
Joyce Moyer gave her enthusiastic report from her 57 member Marketing Committee. Despite very little money, Moyer was successful in signing the five-year contract with the National Park Service including the National Youth Trails Day program. Moyer also secured partnerships with other organizations that provided opportunities to market the Tennessee Walking Horse. Moyer was excited to discuss the Best of America by Horseback program, the Celebration seminars, and various other marketing venues that were undertaken and planned in 2008.
Darren Gray presented the Go! Gelding awards during his committee report for the Owners/Exhibitors Committee. Connie Hess discussed the Academy Program and Youth Challenge that were held in conjunction with WHOA. Diana McMurtrey reported on the progress of the World Versatility Show. Jamie Hankins was pleased to report on the positive communication that took place in 2008 between TWHBEA and the Walking Horse Trainers Association. Hankins gave as an example the progress he made yesterday at the Trainers Board meeting regarding the Pleasure Horse committees concerns about specialized judging.
Debra Jack reported on the eight new bylaw changes enacted by her committee this year. Christy Lantis was excited to say that her committee was able to continue all the youth initiatives including the youth scholarships through donations she solicited.
Bob Ramsbottom explained that he was proud of the unanimous decisions made by the Executive Committee. “The accomplishment that I am proudest of is that in 12 monthly meetings that usually lasted as many as 12 hours each, we took many votes, but all of those votes were unanimous except for one. We ironed out all our differences before we ever voted,”
David Pruett announced the newly elected board of directors by state and asked for items of old business. There were no comments made by the membership in old business or in new business. However when the member comment portion of the agenda opened, Mark Mattson stepped up to argue his case.
Mattson has filed legal charges against the Executive Committee relative to their refusal to provide him with the complete membership list of the TWHBEA in an electronic format in an Excel file. Mattson indicated he had been given an Excel file of the Ohio membership, but that the disk that he was sent with the entire membership was merely a TIFF file of the Canadian membership.
“I want this list because my wife and I want to communicate with members about various issues and we wanted to be able to compare this list with the number of directors available from each state, member’s eligibility, etc.,” explained Mattson. Mattson had previously obtained a written opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General stating that a nonprofit organization was required to provide such a list to its members, and he was critical of this Executive Committee for not providing the list to him when many of those members were also members of the Free The Breeders organization that argued for access to the same list last year.
Pruett and the parliamentarian attempted to limit Mattson’s arguments by asking him not to speak again until all others had been heard from, by telling him he had to ask permission to read from the law, and later by asking him to make only new points on new issues. Mattson doggedly continued making his points and several members in the audience vehemently disagreed making the meeting difficult to keep under control for Pruett and the parliamentarian.
Eventually attorney John T. Bobo suggested that he intervene in order to avoid the lawsuit and asked Mattson to meet with him individually in the afternoon to resubmit his request in a concise format for him to walk through with the Executive Committee. Interestingly enough, Nathan Jackson, who in previous membership meetings has been very critical of the TWHBEA leadership intervened on the Executive Committee’s behalf.
“This year I have met people that I had only seen their names before and knew they were on the other side. Ramsbottom, Hankins . . . now we’ve talked and we’ve worked on committees together. Is it all right and is everything going the way it should? No, it’s not. But only actually getting involved and working on it can you understand why some things that you want to happen, can’t happen. It wasn’t as easy as it looked from the outside. Now I have more patience and understanding and I have put my hands to the grindstone to work for the promotion of our wonderful breed,” said Jackson.
“I know about fighting this organization. I know about ultimatums and I’m not in that place anymore. Give them a chance to work it out today and if it doesn’t work out, I’ll come sit with you tomorrow,” continued Jackson.
Donna Benefield also encouraged the Association to find a common ground. “My concern is not for this Executive Committee or for Mr. Mattson, but for our organization that could now be open to another legal action. We are confronted with legal exposure. After reading the Attorney General’s opinion, it’s clear that we are on shaky ground. I would not want to go to court on these facts. I think we should comply with this man’s request and avoid a trip to court.”
After the lunch break, the members comments resumed and Mark Mattson brought up a new issue. Mattson argued that the transfers made by Chuck Cadle from the Futurity account to the Operating account at TWHBEA had been the same amount as the net proceeds of the annual futurity and thus were appropriate transfers.
Mike Inman disagreed vehemently and offered to sit down tomorrow with Mattson and TWHBEA CPA Greg Cook to go over the numbers with him.
Mattson also questioned the membership numbers in 2008 and beyond. Inman responded by giving the recent trend in membership showing memberships in 2005 of approximately 18000, 16000 in 2006, 13,772 in 2007 and a projected 12,164 in 2008.
Other member comments were generally heartfelt thank yous to the Executive Committee for their service and thoughtful recognition of various TWHBEA staff and members for their service to the organization.