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Home arrow Sentinel e-Newsletter arrow February 2007 arrow Amateurs, Amateurs, Amateurs: The Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time R-CALF Reality Show
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Amateurs, Amateurs, Amateurs: The Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time R-CALF Reality Show PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Friday, 23 February 2007
AFF Sentinel Vol.4#5
The Inside Story of Lettersgate

The following is based on a lengthy explanation of the recent implosion at R- CALF from a board member who was present. That explanation is, of course, one man's view of events. The results of the leadership's actions made public dovetail with this board member's and other member's accounts.

For whatever reason, R-CALF CEO Bill Bullard apparently ignored basic professional business procedures in early January and jumped the traces. He sent a letter to Ag Secretary Mike Johanns regarding the over- 30-month proposed rule on beef and cattle imports from Canada. The letter had not been reviewed or approved by the board. The word is that not only was the board still undecided over some positions in the letter but that the tone was considered strident or offensive in tone by some.

The next day, R-CALF President Chuck Kiker sent a follow-up letter to Johanns, requesting that Bullard's letter be disregarded. Nor was that letter reviewed or approved by the board.

So much for the grassroots, bottom- up decision-making that R-CALF had proudly proclaimed they had perfected.

The story is that Bullard "took great exception" to Kiker's letter. Bullard was still so furious he refused to shake Kiker's hand when next they met in Denver. Kiker asked to discuss it and Bullard refused.

Fascinating that in such a "grassroots" group: a) the employee refused a request from the top officer and b) the elected officer was not the eventual survivor.

The underground rumor mill worked full bore at R-CALF's Denver convention, complete with misinformation and leaks from board executive sessions.

After convention, the entire R-CALF board met in Kansas City. Interestingly, also present was a mediator/attorney selected by Max Thornsberry. No mention was made of a sergeant-at-arms. But it turns out several board members, uncomfortable with the tension, had also sought legal counsel at their own expense prior to the meeting.

The board thrashed out the problems and devised a strategy to go forward, to "move on." Or so they thought.

Shortly after that meeting, a director visited R- CALF headquarters and was taken aback by the staff wearing T-shirts reading, "Team Bill." In such an unsettled time, he felt sad the shirts did not read "Team R-CALF."

In an emergency board meeting conference call on other issues Feb. 8, "Lettersgate" was brought up again. The board had agreed in Kansas City to not revisit the letters issue again. But a board member on the call insisted, points of order were called, the motion was called out of order by one, but the director persisted. A motion was made by another director to remove Kiker as president and it was seconded. The vote was five to four in favor, with Thornsberry abstaining. Thornsberry took over as president.

The board member lamented the numerous accusations, falsehoods, claims of deception and fraud circulated by email in the weeks before and after R-CALF's convention. He added the letters issue was essentially about respecting procedures, manners and how R- CALF presents the facts. That's a mouthful.

Because of the board's actions, the director said three directors resigned from the board, including founder Leo McDonnell. He listed a dozen committee chairmen resignations plus the magazine's principals.

At a past R-CALF convention, a member commented that R-CALF members were a bit hardheaded and certainly non-conformist or R-CALF wouldn't exist. In cowboy parlance, we'd say bunchquitters. And some of the emails the board member referred to were certainly rancorous, none-too-polite attacks on each other.

So what do we make of this circus?

R-CALF's colossal breakdown - Bullard's unapproved maverick run, Kiker's unapproved attempt at damage control, the board's inability to resolve difficulties without lawyers and failure to control voting procedures - throws the harsh light of reality on a group with reckless and unstable tendencies and chaotic methods damaging to themselves and the industry. The whole soap opera is reflective of their approach to problem solving for the industry: harness emotional responses to problems to legal weapons of mass destruction, ignore key facts, heed not damage to the industry or consumers, be oblivious to unintended consequences and use the spin tactics of demagoguery to hoodwink media, consumers and cattlemen.

Is this group, is this approach, what the beef industry or the cow/calf producers of America need in the 21st century?

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Last Updated ( Saturday, 24 February 2007 )
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