Patterson & Millar Talk About Their Resignations

It’s the concerned disciplines, lack of process, “Mushroom Cloud,” lack of communication and transparency, and finances,” said Al Patterson

By: Horse-Canada.com |

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“It’s not one thing. It’s the concerned disciplines, lack of process, “Mushroom Cloud,” lack of communication and transparency, and finances,” said Al Patterson of his laundry list of concerns prompting his resignation from the board of Equestrian Canada. Ross Millar made a similar comment about his departure. “I became very frustrated with the lack of accountability and transparency at the board level. I could no longer support the direction of the board and felt I had no choice but to resign.” Their departures come just three weeks after Terrance Millar resigned from his position on the board of EC, headed by CEO Eva Havaris and president Jorge Bernhard.

When Terrance Millar resigned, he was clear about his disapproval of how the disciplines were being treated. Since then, the jump committee sent a letter to Bernhard outlining a number of their concerns. In fact, it was over the handling of the reply to that letter specifically that triggered Ross Millar (no relation to Terrance) to resign. “The reply to the jump committee really was my tipping point,” he explained. “In spite of the fact that the president responded directly to the committee, I really felt that the board should have been asked for their input for what was communicated regarding sensitive issues.”

Patterson also considered the handling of the jump letter the final straw. “I’m not leaving because of the letter or because people are upset. I’ve been through that before! It was the process and the way it was handled. If I’m going to be part of the board, I want to be part of the input and the decisions. If a concern arises, there should be a discussion with the board, and then the president carries forward the board consensus. I can live with that process, but when that doesn’t take place, I have a hard time being a party to it.”

Bernhard is at the heart of another contentious issue, this one involving a lucrative contract that was awarded to his son’s company, Mushroom Cloud. The contract with EC was “to completely overhaul its member service practices and technology infrastructure” and was awarded to Mushroom Cloud without having been through the traditional Request For Proposal that is the norm for not for profit organizations. Bernhard did disclose his conflict of interest to the board and recused himself from the board’s discussion of the contract, but that EC would award such a critical piece of business to a relatively inexperienced firm without going through the formal bidding process is of serious concern.

Many in the industry are concerned that established processes are not being followed, which is partially due to the change in EC’s structure. Previously, discipline committees and others were sub-groups of the board and thus answered to the board. Under the structure of the new by-laws, however, the committees are considered operational and fall under the domain of the CEO and her staff. The CEO, however, doesn’t have any experience in the sport or the industry and neither do many of her staff. With no industry experience, they literally don’t know, what they don’t know – from practical experience to the purpose and importance of established policies. It was this exact concern that Terrance Millar raised when he resigned stating, “I don’t think they have the knowledge, background, skill set, or capacity to do so.”

The new structure, however, is only partially to blame as it is management that is in charge of administering them. “Processes aren’t being followed in the organization,” commented Patterson about the disregard for established protocol. “They aren’t my processes, they are governance processes that aren’t being done. [EC is] writing new policy to align with new governance, but the fact is that policies and processes that are in place aren’t being followed.”

More than just policies, even the by-laws aren’t being properly followed. Under EC’s own Governance Policy Manual, in advance of a meeting board members are to be provided with “Financial statements for the prior month [which are] normally available by the 4th Tuesday in each month,” but that has not happened. EC did implement new accounting software and the CFO’s office saw three faces last year, but the lack of reporting to the board is a serious concern.

“Finances are definitely a concern of mine,” noted Ross Millar. “In my nine months there, I could not get an understanding of where they were financially. We were shown a rough budget for 2017, but none of the details were forthcoming. I first wrote an email regarding this in November and I have yet to receive a satisfactory response. In fact, since joining, and despite many requests, the CEO wasn’t able to provide a balance sheet that would indicate our current financial position. Most concerning to me was that the board has not been getting monthly reports as outlined in the by-laws. Despite the fact that there have been three CFOs in the nine months I got involved, I really feel the board is owed financial transparency.”

While Patterson wasn’t worried about ECs financial stability, he was very concerned about the lack of transparency. “I was concerned that we weren’t getting the statements, but not concerned with our financial position,” he said. “My concern is that we put a budget in place but the financial statements are supposed to be available to corroborate what’s in the budget. Without those, how are we to know if they are on the right track?”

The finances are of particular concern because EC lost over $450,000 in 2015 and was only able to show a profit in 2016 largely because of the contributions of Jump Canada. In an interview with Horse Sport last November, Bernhard and Havaris both agreed that the sport specific funds would remain restricted, but it’s not clear what they are going to do to make up the $560,000 operating shortfall without those funds.

What has also suffered under the current administration is a wholesale lack of communication. Patterson found this trend most disturbing. “The whole issue is about communication,” he said. “We are seeing the disciplines upset, members upset, and it’s because they aren’t getting the information to understand what is moving forward and what is taking place. If you have problems people will understand, but if you don’t tell them, they will surmise and that’s where the trouble starts.”

Havaris has been heavily criticized for creating and promoting a culture of secrecy at the federation which has gone unchecked by the board. In fact, Patterson noted that it is the board’s responsibility to guide the CEO. “This comes back to the board,” he explained. “The CEO is on the board’s shoulder. If the direction isn’t right, it’s up to the board and the president to direct her and hold her accountable.

“I do believe in what they are trying to do, just not the process. I think the whole organization has forgotten that we are the national sport representatives for Canadians, not just the people that ride a horse. We are the national body for all equestrians and every Canadian in it and I think a lot of that’s been forgotten. That’s who I worked for.”

Many are asking what can be done and what the next steps are. The first option is to contact the voting members and share your thoughts. The board is answerable to the voting members who represent the entire industry, and under EC by-laws and Under the Canada Not For Profit Act they have the power to remove any one of the directors: “The members of a corporation may by ordinary resolution at a special meeting remove any director or directors from office.”

Communicate your thoughts to the voting members who are:

Category A – Equestrian Sports DisciplinesCategoryA@equestrian.ca
Craig Collins, ON
Michel Lapierre, QC
Mike Lawrence, ON
Maura Leahy, MB
Terre O’Brennan, BC
Karen Pavicic, BC
Elizabeth Quigg, ON
Cara Whitham, ON

Category B – Provincial and Territorial Sport Organizations – CategoryB@equestrian.ca
Nicole Duplessis, QC
Adrienne Smith, NS
Claudia Wagner Wilson, ON
Jean Szkotnicki, ON
Mary Ann Olson, SK
Gord McKenzie, BC
Susan Harrison, BC
Heather Findlay, NB

Category C – National Equine Affiliate OrganizationsCategoryC@equestrian.ca
Jill Barton, ON
David Brent, ON
Tina Collins, ON
Terry Johnson, BC
Sue Ockendon, QC
Dr. Wayne Burwash, AB
Barb Blackwell, ON
Gary Gushuliak, MB
Muriel Burnley, ON

You can also email the board directly to tell them what you think: board@equestrian.ca

Equestrian Canada Board of Directors
Frederic Pierrestiger
Dominique Chagnon
Doug Orr
Jorge Bernhard
Lisa Lazarus
Tony Eames
Deanna Phelan
Liz Saunders
Peggy Hambly