11/11/2005 12:00AM

Jockeys form strategy to remove head of guild

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Riders seeking to remove the embattled president of the Jockeys' Guild, L. Wayne Gertmenian, will not be able to directly call for his resignation during a meeting of the guild's senate on Tuesday but will instead pursue a more indirect strategy, an adviser to the jockeys said this week.

Barry Broad, a longtime California lobbyist for the guild who is advising the 11 senate members who are seeking to oust Gertmenian, said that instead of calling for Gertmenian's removal, the senate will propose that the guild's bylaws be changed to allow the senate to replace the guild's board of directors. The nine-member board currently includes several supporters of Gertmenian who have resisted calls for him to resign. If the bylaw change is approved by the 27-member senate - which includes all nine board members and 18 active riders - the senate will appoint nine directors from its ranks who will then vote on whether to remove Gertmenian, Broad said.

According to Broad, under the guild's bylaws only the board of directors can make management changes. However, the bylaws grant the senate the power to change the bylaws, accounting for the convoluted strategy.

"You can't draw a straight line, because there isn't a straight line," Broad said. "But if they can appoint a new board of directors, then the new board of directors could meet right then and there, and they could vote on management."

Broad believes that the proposal to change the bylaws will easily pass.

The Tuesday meeting was called two weeks ago by 11 of the guild's 27 senators, including John Velazquez, the current co-vice chairman of the board. Since then, Velazquez said this week, all 27 senate members have been notified about the meeting, which will take place at noon on Tuesday via conference call.

Velazquez declined to discuss any of the proposals that the senate will hear, saying it would be inappropriate to discuss the issues before the meeting.

The guild's current board of directors includes several staunch defenders of Gertmenian, principally David Shepherd, the board's chairman, and Tomey Jean Swan, the board's co-vice chairwoman. Shepherd did not return a phone call, and Swan could not be reached.

On Oct. 26, two guild members said that during a board meeting the prior evening, Velazquez called for Gertmenian to step down. Only one other board member, Larry Reynolds, voiced any support for Velazquez's motion. However, since that meeting, another board member, Jeff Johnston, joined with Velazquez and the other senate members to call for the special meeting on Tuesday. Johnston did not return a phone call this week.

Broad, who cut his ties to the guild's current management after a congressional hearing on Oct. 17 focusing on the guild's management, said the guild's bylaws require that 14 senators be present in order to constitute a quorum for the Tuesday meeting. As long as there is a quorum, then a simple majority vote would suffice to pass any motion.

"I know that everyone on the senate has been contacted," Broad said. "I would assume there will be 14 on the call, and I know that all 11 who called the meeting are going to be there. And I really don't know how controversial this is going to be. For all I know, [replacing Gertmenian] is the unanimous position of everyone on the senate."

Dissatisfaction at the guild has spread to some of the company's employees, including Darrell Haire, a regional manager for the guild who was first hired by the organization's previous national manager, John Giovanni, six years ago. Haire was one of the few guild employees retained by the organization after Gertmenian took the reins in 2001 as the result of a rift among the guild's board of directors. Many of those members, including Jerry Bailey and Pat Day, have since resigned.

Haire, who has lobbied for riders' issues in front of the California Horse Racing Board and Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, issued a release this week contending he had been "manipulated and deceived" by Gertmenian, and said he supported the riders' call to have Gertmenian removed.

"Gertmenian's management has been virtually nonexistent for months, and staff has been left hanging out there on their own, trying to meet the membership's needs," Haire said. "If Gertmenian really cared about the jockeys, he'd step down, but I doubt if he will leave until he is forced out."

In addition, on Friday, a group of 25 disabled riders released a letter that has been sent to Shepherd calling on the guild's board to "give careful and immediate consideration to replacing Dr. Gertmenian" and his management team. Signers of the letter included Ron Turcotte, the former rider of Secretariat; Gary Donohue, a disabled rider who was the past chairman of the Disabled Jockeys' Fund, a charity that was dissolved by Gertmenian and replaced with a different endowment; and Gary Birzer, a jockey who was paralyzed from the middle of the back down in an accident at Mountaineer Park in July 2004. The letter also asked the guild's board to consider rehiring Giovanni.

Gertmenian could not be reached this week. On Thursday, the phone number for the guild's office in Monrovia, Calif., was disconnected; on Friday, the phone was back up, but voice-mail messages were not returned. The guild's office is also the mailing address for Matrix Capital Associates, a consulting company owned by Gertmenian that receives $335,000 a year from the guild.

Calls to Albert Fiss, the guild's chief operating officer, were not returned.

Broad also said that the senate will vote on a bylaw change that will prohibit the guild's next head from drawing any compensation other than a salary from the organization.

"You can't have someone like Gertmenian be the chief executive officer of the guild and also own a company that can bill the guild for outside services," Broad said. "The conflicts of interest are just incredible."

Broad said he was advising the senate members without compensation. He said he had no designs on becoming the guild's national manager, but would like to continue to lobby on riders' issues in California.