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SKC members bemused after fractious meeting

It had been billed as a ‘must be there’ AGM for Scottish Kennel Club members.

Despite being battle weary from the Special General Meetings in January and February, 160 from the 2200 plus members turned out last week to see if the club’s ongoing problems could be resolved by a proposal to alter the way in which the club elected its convener and vice convener.

But the proposal, sent by Special Delivery apparently lost in the SKC offices but found in time to be placed on the agenda for the meeting on March 25th., failed to achieve the two thirds majority for a rule change.

Some members seemed somewhat surprised to see Robert Crawford taking the chair at the meeting at the Grosvenor Hotel, Edinburgh, as it was just a few weeks ago that members met for a second SGM in which a vote was carried calling for the resignations of both the Convener Robert Crawford and Vice Convener Eleanor Bothwell from the Executive Council.

Again this meeting was held midweek, this time in a different part of Scotland, the previous meetings being in Glasgow and Stirling.

Members may also have been puzzled as to why a second Agenda was sent out thus incurring further distribution costs. The first had arrived included in the Annual report.

Member Bill Golden had sent in a motion proposing that the Constitution be changed to allow the membership, instead of the Executive Council, to elect the Convener and Vice-Convener

This proposal had been omitted from the first Agenda. Fortunately Mr Golden had sent the item to the SKC offices by Special delivery and the Royal Mail were able to confirm that it had been received by the SKC offices and signed for accordingly. After clarification by Mr Crawford, a single sheet was sent out with the updated agenda.

For the 160 people who attended the meeting on Thursday night there was obviously a split of opinion. One supporter of Robert Crawford described it as him ‘holding the wolves at bay’ and, to be fair, some members found it impossible not to vent their feelings. However, this is the third time that members have turned out and, despite raising several issues, they have yet to receive any answer from Robert Crawford. It is therefore perhaps understandable that, at times, sheer frustration allowed tempers to become a little frayed. It is, however, interesting to note that last year just 50 people attended the AGM!

The meeting started a few minutes later than the scheduled time of 7.20pm. This time the layout was somewhat different from the last meeting with members of the Executive sitting with the members and four people on the top table, Brian Marshall (treasurer) Andy Kousourou (secretary), Robert Crawford (Convener ) and Eleanor Bothwell (Vice Convener).
A list of apologies was read out and then the minutes of the 2003 AGM approved.

There was only one matter arising which was an apology for the erroneous report of the death of Mrs E Williams. Thereafter the Convener made a short speech regarding the death of various members through the year, which included that of Executive Council member John Young. A minute’s silence was then observed in their memory.

Item No 5, approval of the report from the executive council passed without too much comment. The Convener reported that successful events of the past year had been overshadowed by events from recent months which had perhaps undermined all that has been achieved throughout the year. He touched on the events that the SKC has run throughout the year, including the two new competitions for Open Show Dog of the Year and Puppy of the Year, both held in 2004, introduced to encourage open show entries. He explained that the layout of the balance sheet had changed giving improved transparency and a clearer picture of the income and how it is spent. He went into some detail about how a projected shortfall which had been well publicised in the dog press had been turned around into net surplus, explaining that this had been achieved by extending the championship show from two days to three and by a reduction in staff costs. A new appeals committee has also been introduced – the previous system could have been criticised and the appeals committee has been inaugurated. So far they have heard just three cases with one dismissal, one being upheld and one where the fine was reduced, so that ultimately justice can be seen to be done. He also touched on the work done by junior members and particularly Aitken Johnston, for whom a successor is required. He then gave thanks to Allan Sim and the former staff members of SKC and wished them well in the future. He also thanked various members of the executive who have stepped in over the last few months and assisted with running the office and then finished by welcoming the new staff members Katherine, Karen and Myra.

A question came from the floor with the member stating that they were quite surprised to see Robert Crawford there as the membership had recently voted by a large majority to remove him. He replied that he would be making a statement at the end of the meeting regarding this. The question was reiterated by another member asking what authority he had to continue as he certainly did not have the authority of the members. Again Robert Crawford replied that he would make a statement at the end of the meeting. At this time there were cries of ‘point of order’ from the floor and a general unrest.

Moving to the next item the new Treasurer Brian Marshall explained that while all the figures in the Treasurer’s report had been compiled by Allan Sim, some changes had been made to the layout. He explained that previously it was the practice to allocate some of the office administration expenses to each of the shows: these were costs that by their very nature could not be attributed to each show, i.e. telephone costs, postage and secretarial costs, however he had now changed this which gave a true reflection of the administration costs, being £137,138 for 2003. This also meant that the August championship show which has traditionally not been a financial success now looks much better, making a profit of £15,277 in 2003 compared with £7,751 in 2002. Brian Marshall also pointed out that previously the valuation of the SKC office premises in Musselburgh had been queried but that the premises were now valued at £215,000 and had recouped their initial loss. At this point Allan Sim got to his feet and asked various questions regarding the accounts. His argument briefly was that when allocating these costs to the shows, all such costs must be included, not just some and that, according to accounting principles, consistency must be applied as per the statement in the Annual Report. If secretarial costs are removed, then postage, telephone etc. must also be removed. To do otherwise would mean that the accounts will be presented in a wrong manner. This debate between the two accountants went on for some time and was perhaps over the heads of the majority of the members. This also caused some confusion throughout the floor with members starting to query the accuracy of the figures.

However eventually Robert Crawford pointed out that whichever way you looked at the given figures the bottom figure remained the same and the arguments were regarding accountancy practice rather than policy. Other members queried other figures, why were judges’ expenses so high? Why were car park fees being absorbed by the entries ? This latter was eventually explained by the point that exhibitors last year received free parking.

One member stated that he felt that he approved of the new layout and considered that the accounts were more meaningful than in previous years and that this was a huge improvement. He did query the small audit fees and raised this in relation to whether the auditors were doing their job properly, but was assured that they were.

The meeting then moved on to item 7, the result of the election of the Executive Council and the following were announced: Sandra Caldow, Ruth Dalrymple, Jean Fairlie, Bill Golden, Aitken Johnston, Andy Kousourou, Anne Macdonald, Alec Patterson and Derek Sharpe.

It followed that sitting members, Sheila Stoddard and Margaret Quinn had failed to be re-elected. An appreciation was given to the two scrutineers Mrs Cole Hamilton and Mrs Cluny who have done this job for the last fifty years. Some debate was then held to find a replacement for them with one member proposing the Kennel Club, another the Auditors and then a further proposal of the Electoral Reform Society. After a healthy debate, a show of hands was taken with the ERS being carried.

Next onto item 10 which was election of representation to the KC show executive committee. Robert Crawford had been proposed.

In previous years, no particular named individual had appeared on the Agenda. It was suggested that, with Mr Crawford’s name as the candidate, it might be more appropriate that the Vice Convener, Mrs Bothwell, take the chair for this item. This suggestion was dismissed by Mr Crawford.

An alternative nomination naming Mrs Irene McManus was proposed and seconded by members. Mrs McManus has been the SKC’s representative for the past seven years. Mr Crawford refused to allow this nomination ruling it out of order, with resultant uproar at what was apparently received as an apparent disregard of the democratic process.

Eventually, Mr Crawford decided that the members had to vote as to whether they would allow a second nomination and advised that this required a two-thirds majority to succeed.

Hands were raised, Mr Crawford attempted to rule that what appeared to be an overwhelming response had not achieved the required two-thirds. Amongst outrage from the floor, he rescinded this decision and ruled that a counter proposal, not a nomination, could be made which would then be voted on first. Mrs Irene McManus agreed to stand and the motion was carried that Mrs McManus remain the representative to the KC SEC.

The next item, the election of a deputy for the KC SEC caused some debate with various names coming from the floor, including Margo Cowe, Alec Patterson and Jean Fairlie along with the original Agenda proposal of Ken McKie. Alec Patterson and Margo Cowe then withdrew their nominations and again the counter proposal was voted on with Jean Fairlie being elected by a large majority.

Again at this point there was some cat calling from the floor with one gentleman member shouting that it was ridiculous that nominations can be taken from the floor on a whim! Irene McManus then stood up and addressing the chair stated that she took exception to the previous comment as she had served Scotland on this committee for some seven years.

Robert Crawford interjected, commenting on how well she had served and on the work she had done for SKC

The meeting then moved on to the election of an SKC president with two names being put forward on the agenda, Aitken Johnston and Dr Arthur Sneeden. A short speech was made by each of their proposers and show of hands was taken. Mr Crawford again ruled a close result. A paper ballot was taken and while the staff members counted the votes a short comfort break was taken. Some fifteen minutes later the result of the ballot was announced with Aitken Johnston being declared President.

Moving on to item 13, the election of vice presidents, just one name was on the agenda, John McManus. Eleanor Bothwell proposed Betty Young, widow of John Young who had been a long standing member of the executive. Both were then passed and the meeting moved on.

The next item was that of John McKinlay who was asked to explain his agenda items. He gave a long preamble, much of which appeared lost on the membership and not particularly relevant to the proposal, but overall was querying the previous figures and the well reported forecast deficit of £24,000 turned into a forecast surplus of £20,000. At this time the membership was becoming impatient, some members were refusing to use the proffered microphone resulting in many not being able to hear what was going on. This was answered by Brian Marshall who explained that the £24,000 deficit had been prepared in September 2003 and was only a forecast. Allan Sim explained that forecasts are made with certain assumptions: number of staff employed, two day show versus three day show etc. However, regarding John McKinley’s query, and the costs to Johnston Smillie, Mr Marshall assured the members that this was a highly respected firm to whom no criticism can be addressed and the club was on a sound financial footing.

Moving on to the next item, the cost and consequences of both SGMs. The costs were read out by Brian Marshall as follows for the first SGM held on the 9th January

Postage and printing 924
Venue 706
Solicitor (chair) 500
Minute taker 180
138 pages @ £10 per page 1380
3690

SGM held on 17 February 2004
Printing and postage 948
Venue 156
1104

Total £4794

A member then asked in view of these costs why did the SKC not use their own Musselburgh offices for this, but it was pointed out that they were not big enough. Robert Crawford explained that the Stirling venue was ideal due to its location and cost. Several members retorted at this stating that they had come long distances and had not found the venue geographically ideal at all. A member queried the cost of the solicitor and who had authorised it. Robert Crawford stated that he had authorised this and the Executive council had now backed him regarding this. Many people were now on their feet with hands raised trying to get their points heard.

The question was asked as to why Robert Crawford hired an independent chair for the first meeting and then chaired the second meeting himself. Robert Crawford stated that he had to apologise to the membership for that one as at the time he was under increasing pressure from some members, the Kennel Club and some members of the Executive council and thus introduced an independent chair much against his better judgement. Someone asked why a solicitor? The response was that a man of such standing had the highest integrity and was not open to challenge; Mr Crawford also pointed out that his £500 fee was also for advice sought on the constitution although the bill was not itemised.

Another member pointed out that the costs of the SGMs could not be blamed on the Convener as it was the members that had called the meetings and they had to shoulder the responsibility for the costs, while another member suggested that surely the person to advise on the constitution was Roy Ellison who wrote most of it in the first place.

The question was asked ‘is it not the case that you did not have the backing of the full executive over the hire of the solicitor’. The convener explained that two of the executive were appointed to do this and only had a few days to organise things. To get a minute-taker they went to a firm of court reporters who agreed to cover the SGM and the Executive Council had subsequently agreed to the expenditure.

As the Agenda item had requested answers on both the costs and the consequences of the SGMs, one member sought to elicit some statement from Mr Crawford as to the consequences.

Mr Crawford repeatedly refused stating he would be making his statement under AOB. By this time people were getting restless and looking at their watches. Many had travelled some considerable distance and had trains to catch. A member asked‘to allow us to move forward, you have stated that you wish to make a statement regarding this item under AOB, will the members be allowed to discuss this.’

Robert Crawford stated there would be no discussion after his statement. Many of the members were clearly unhappy at this. After the vote at the second SGM, Mr Crawford had instantly closed the meeting refusing to answer questions or allow discussion. Was he was about to do the same?

Others questions followed: ‘do you and your vice convener intend to resign?’ Again Robert Crawford reiterated his statement regarding speaking at the end of the evening. There appeared little else to do but have the meeting move on to the last item which covered the proposed change in the constitution.

By now several members were quietly leaving, no doubt mindful of dog and babysitters. Bill Golden was asked to explain his changes to the constitution which he did.

There then followed a debate during which time Robert Crawford explained that if this were passed it would have several knock on effects. It would increase the size of the Executive Council, and could have a lack of continuity. It would also remove the vote from the vice convener. The convener would still have a vote as he would be chairing most meetings anyway.

The amendment was then put on the table ‘the appointed Convener and the Vice-Convener will automatically make up two of the positions on the Executive Council. These appointments should come from the existing Executive Council members but if no such person is willing to stand then the positions will be open to applicants from the full membership’.

Robert Crawford appeared reluctant to accept this amendment and there was a lot of argument on this. John McKinlay called for a point of order but the amendment was pushed forward to a show of hands and it was passed by a clear majority.

As more and more people started putting on coats, Robert Crawford called for a vote on the original proposal stating that this must pass on a two-thirds majority. A show of hands followed which was counted by SKC staff. The result was 102 votes for and 53 against meaning that the proposal fell by just three votes.

Bill Golden initially asked for a recount but it was pointed out to him that a fair number had by now left the meeting and Mr Crawford ruled that the vote would not be accurate. Reluctantly, Mr Golden accepted the verdict and the motion fell.

What became apparent during the evening and was commented on by all quarters was the feeling that the constitution needs a total overhaul and Andy Kousourou stated he would be making a review of the Constitution.

The vote on the constitution took place at quarter to eleven at night and it was a rapidly thinning crowd that remained to hear Robert Crawford’s statement. He began by stating that although a vote for him to resign had been carried by the members, in his opinion to resign would be a tacit admission of mismanagement and added that everything that he had done had been with the approval of the executive council.

He stated that no evidence of mismanagement had been given, that he believed he was not guilty of any wrongdoing and, therefore, neither he nor Mrs Bothwell would accept the members’ vote.

As more members left the meeting Mr Crawford continued to speak and quoted clause 42 in the constitution, stating that this did not apply here and going to say that he had several letters from some members of the executive council who had pleaded with him not to resign and stated that if he resigned they would as well. By now some of the remaining members were on their feet with hands raised presumably trying to pose questions, but Robert Crawford closed the meeting.

Mr Crawford refused to release his statement to the canine press but in a phone call to OUR DOGS this week said that he would be acting in the best interests of the Scottish Kennel Club and would be guided by that and that alone as to whether he would allow his name to go forward for the election to the post of convener for another year. Mr Crawford has a third and final year to run on the SKC’s Executive Council following his election in 2002. ‘It is possible’, said Mr Crawford, ‘that I may release a statement next week after I have spoken to members of the Executive Council.’

There was a meeting of the SKC Executive Council last Wednesday at which members voted, by secret ballot, on the posts of Convener and Vice Convener for the ensuing year.

l It is further understood by OUR DOGS that the previous staff problems which resulted in staff resignations at the end of 2003 is about to surface again with an industrial tribunal case suggesting constructive dismissal on at least one count. At the second SGM members queried why the letters of apology that had been authorised last November had never been received. The same ‘stereo’ was, infact, posted out the day AFTER the meetings.