Judge orders new election for horsemen's association over secret ballot issue

Ann Knef Apr. 28, 2010, 6:20am

Madison County Associate Judge Thomas Chapman has nullified an election of board members and the president of the Illinois Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (IHBPA) and ordered a new one that adheres to the group's secret ballot requirements.

The IHBPA operates at Fairmount Park Racetrack in Collinsville. It represents the interests of owners and trainers, in part by negotiating with the track over purse structures.

Chapman presided over a preliminary injunction hearing Tuesday morning in a case brought by IHBPA member Gary Leming. Tuesday also was the opening of a 17-week season at Fairmount Park, the shortest in the track's history.

Leming alleged in a complaint filed against IHBPA on Friday that ballots mailed to voting members did not contain an unmarked envelope capable of being sealed, as required by IHBPA by-laws. He said that without the unmarked envelope, he and his fellow members would be "forever denied the opportunity for voting by secret ballot at the election."

"Voting by secret ballot is a public interest concept...," his complaint stated.

During the hearing, Leming described the vote, which began April 1 and would have concluded May 1, as "very contested."

Leming testified that the election had "absolutely" become compromised. On cross examination, though, he said he did not have direct knowledge that the election had been compromised.

East Alton attorney Ed Unsell represented Leming. The association was represented by Greg Shevlin of Belleville.

Chapman ordered another election to begin within 14 days, in accordance with the association's by-laws and "observing the secrecy requirement by sending an unmarked sealable envelope with each ballot."

Leming said he was supporting candidate for president, Jim Watkins, who is challenging incumbent association president John Wainwright.

A second count in Leming's complaint, which alleged harassment suffered by Watkins, was not argued at the hearing.

In it, Leming alleged that the association's executive director Lanny Brooks sent Watkins a letter stating that a formal protest had been filed against his candidacy.

According to Leming's complaint, Brooks later admitted he knew there was no formal protest filed.

Leming alleged that Watkins, during his campaign for president of the association, was told he and one of his supporters would be denied stalls at the track.

Livelihoods of trainers and owners are determined by the number of stalls designated to them, Leming said.

"The performance and compensation of the E/D is an issue in the election," Leming's complaint stated.

Brooks' wife is secretary-treasurer and his daughter is an assistant secretary of the association, Leming stated in his complaint.

Wainwright, who is seeking his third three-year term, testified that unmarked envelopes have not been sent out in recent elections. But, he said, secrecy is maintained while ballots are being tallied.

Members of the three-person election committee keep return envelopes that bear a member's name facedown during the counting process, Wainwright said.

He said that ballots are stored in a locked room until the committee counts them. He testified that he appoints the election committee.

Chapman's order also requires the association to provide Leming with an association membership roster after results of the new election are tallied. There are approximately 400 members, according to testimony.

Leming also has the right to contest the new election "if there is a claimed violation of the by-laws in that election," Chapman's order reads.

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