Friday, October 22, 2010

The Coup That Failed

by Don Shelton
Forget watching the West Wing; SCV national politics of late has had more intrigue and twists than anything television show writers could ever dream up. Board of Director removals, lawsuits, temporary restraining orders, a coup d’etat, and historic first-ever special convention of the entire SCV are the highlights (lowlights?) of this tale.

The SCV has always had its share of squabbles to keep things interesting. About 15 years ago a personality conflict between two Past Commander’s-in-Chief became so involved that large segments of the SCV were being forced to choose sides until then Commander-in-Chief Hawkins had to settle things down. The current brouhaha is somewhat more driven by policy differences and power than personality clashes, but cults of personality still weigh heavily. Conflict came to a head during Ron Wilson’s administration. Wilson, certainly not a weak personality in this drama, delineated the struggle; the SCV must adapt to the unprecedented modern challenges we face by becoming more aggressive in areas of recruiting, legislative battles, legal battles and heritage battles in general. The problem, Wilson contended, was the exclusive “country club” atmosphere preferred by most of the Past Commanders-in-Chief (who, with their lifetime appointments to the SCV’s board of directors known as the General Executive Council nearly controlled the SCV no matter who was voted into the elected positions) could no longer be the SCV’s method of operation. In addition, he pointed out many of the PCIC’s had not kept current enough on issues and developments in the years since they were CIC’s that they were informed to make board of director decisions. Wilson led an effort to have the constitution changed to only include the most recent three PCIC’s on the GEC.

Amendments require a 2/3 majority and it fell just 4% short of the 67% needed. This amendment effort was a throwing down of the gauntlet for both sides; the acrimony and intensity of response continued to escalate in each round from then on.

The next major development was the revelation that PCIC Hawkins, an attorney, had stipulated in Missouri court to billing fraud of over $30,000 and had entered into an agreement—in the face of disbarment—where he gave up his law license. Hawkins had also been Executive Director of the historic Beauvior home of Jefferson Davis, but was no longer after the suspension of his license. PCIC Hawkins did not reveal this event to the GEC, but eventually when CIC Wilson discovered it, he felt that Hawkin’s presence on the GEC created a moral dilemma for the SCV and suspended Hawkins. Hawkins responded by filing suit. The suit was dropped after discussions in the post-convention GEC meeting which reinstated Hawkins for dismissal of the suit.

Meanwhile, supporters of the PCIC’s (the term ‘Old Guard' has been applied, apparently without offense, so we will use it here, and will use the term ‘Reformers’ for the other side) threw their efforts into getting Troy Massey elected last year at the Dalton reunion. It was Massey’s third attempt to win the CIC spot, but it wasn’t the charm as Denne Sweeney prevailed. However, Dr. Anthony Hodges, who had run as a moderate, but was clearly the choice of the Old Guard, won the Lt. CIC spot thus setting the stage for the takeover attempt.

CIC Sweeney knew there were fences to mend, and he attempted to work with the Old Guard at the Fall GEC meeting; the reception was described as hostile (as reported by the CIC in the Confederate Veteran).

By the first of this year a petition was circulating among officers and members calling for the removal of PCIC Hawkins over the billing fraud issue, and threatening a derivative lawsuit to have Hawkins removed if CIC Sweeney did not do so. Sweeney responded by suspending Hawkins again, and he also suspended PCIC Orlebeke for alleged voter fraud at the Dalton reunion. Apparently PCIC Orlebeke cast votes for a camp in which he was not enumerated as a member. This was apparently the result of the habit of some members of the Old Guard to transfer into camps just before the convention and then transfer back afterwards (Orlebeke contends it should be allowed, but the Judge Advocate General-in-Chief had ruled such actions to be, indeed, prohibited proxy voting), and CIC Wilson had ordered transfers held until after the convention to prevent proxy voting.

The suspensions of Hawkins and Orlebeke were too much for the Old Guard, and the plans to oust CIC Sweeney and other members of the GEC were soon formulated.

At the next scheduled GEC meeting in December, the Old Guard members of GEC mounted a boycott of the meeting to deny a quorum. In order to conduct business, CIC Sweeney temporarily suspended the boycotting GEC members for the day so that a quorum could be declared. While unusual, the temporary suspension move was based on a precedence set by PCIC Orlebeke when he was CIC and suspended hundreds of SCV camps for a few days so a quorum could be declared at a national convention. AoT Commander Tarry Beasley did not make the December GEC meeting as he had scheduled a meeting with heritage leaders in Georgia. He was not included in Sweeney’s temporary suspensions.

As events unfolded, it became clear that the primary architects of the takeover were two attorneys from the Oklahoma division, Mark “Beau” Cantrell (who was Army of Trans-Mississippi Commander) and Jeff Massey (brother of CIC candidate Troy), with help from Hawkins and others. The takeover plan was very slick (no surprise, with so much attorney brainpower behind it), and very nearly succeeded.

The first phase of the plan was to set up a “meeting” of the GEC under circumstances the Old Guard could control (a conference call). They did so by having three members of the GEC “call” for a GEC meeting, and the three calling members also set the time, place and manner of the meeting in their call. The did this despite the fact that there was already a GEC meeting scheduled just a few days later, and despite the fact that the Commander-in-Chief sets the time and place of a meeting when three GEC members call for it (according to the constitution).

The conference call meeting was recorded, and can be heard on the internet at:

The recording reveals several disturbing items: 1) AoT Commander Tarry Beasley saying he was tricked into being on the conference call by being told it was a discussion about resolving the differences on the GEC. “I’m not part of this” Beasley stated when it became obvious the that the call was for the purpose of a coup d’etat unseating CIC Sweeney. Beasley’s presence was required to create a quorum. 2) That other than a need for Beasley to make quorum, the meeting was for those participating in the coup only, as Adjutant-in-Chief Jim Dark’s recorded attempts to gain access to the meeting (to lodge protest) show. When he was finally allowed onto the call, Dark found someone else acting as Adjutant (Jeff Massey). 3) That Army of Trans-Mississippi Commander Beau Cantrell is prone to vulgar outbursts at GEC meetings, as he told Dark to “shut up”, referred to CIC Sweeney as a “gorilla” and told Dark that they were there to “throw you out on your a—”.

After Dark and Beasley both declared that they were not part of the meeting , were not to be included in any quorum (but Beasley had said “I’d have to vote no” on the first resolution, and the judge later ruled that voting made him part of the quorum) and left the call, the coup meeting continued, with resolutions passed by number reference only with no discussion. All resolutions “passed” with only PCIC Shaw voting against.

The coup members did not stop at voting to oust CIC Sweeney, though they stated only had complaints with his actions, but also voted to remove his appointees from the GEC. They even voted to remove two members of the GEC whom they had previously voted to place on the GEC, which are the Editor-in-Chief and Adjutant-in-chief (those are only nominated by the CIC, they must be approved by the GEC). Even more, they voted to remove from the GEC the councilman from the AoT.

The next phase of the plan was to approach Maury County, TN Chancery Judge Robert Jones, with a suit against (if their conference call meeting was indeed legal, the now former) CIC Sweeney in order to get the court’s blessings on their takeover. The complaint was presented in an ex parte hearing. Ex parte means that only one side is heard, and in many, but not all, cases ex parte is not allowed because of the inherent unfairness. CIC Sweeney had virtually no notice of the hearing (and of course, he was in Texas), so an attorney was hastily put in front of the judge to represent him, but had little or no preparation time and the judge did concede the hearing to be ex parte in fact. The Old Guard had a litany of complaints against the CIC, but the “double jeopardy” of suspending PCIC Hawkins after his reinstatement deal in Dalton was what appeared most to strike the judge as potentially improper. Judge Jones issued a temporary restraining order which removed CIC Sweeney from office, and as a consequence elevated Lt. CIC Hodges to acting CIC, and set a date for a hearing to determine if the TRO would become a permanent injunction.

Later that day, in Atlanta where the physical meeting of the GEC had been scheduled by CIC Sweeney, a number of members and GEC members had already gathered when the startling news of the coup’s successfully being blessed by the courts was announced. Most of those gathered were stunned and angry; a few were jubilant. Apparently in a mood to gloat, ATM Commander Beau Cantrell stood on a chair in the hotel and addressed those present in a speech on the “Rights and Entitlements” of the GEC Old Guard members.

Because the Old Guard petitioners in the suit were members of the board of directors (GEC), the suit was filed as being on behalf of the SCV against Sweeney. This incensed the Reformers, as they pointed out that the Old Guard was voted against by nearly two-thirds of the membership and were not truly representative of the SCV. In addition, while the suit being styled as it was made sense legally, it also put Sweeney in the position of having to pay for his own legal defense, while the Old Guard intended to use the SCV treasury to pay for their side of the legal battle (which incensed the Reformers even more, if that was possible).

The result of the TRO was like an electric shock to the SCV. Within a short time 21 divisions (which is most all of them), including Kentucky, had issued resolutions condemning the actions of the Old Guard and tens of thousands of dollars came pouring in from the membership to pay for Sweeney’s defense.

Meanwhile, acting CIC Hodges and the other members of the coup quickly went about acting as a new administration—filling positions, making committee appointments, etc.—trying to create a sense of business as usual in the face of open revolt by overwhelming numbers of divisions and camps which refused to recognize their ascension to power. Beau Cantrell then went to the media and said that divisions and camps should mind their own business, and let them (the post-coup GEC) take care of national SCV business. He also said through the media that members who were upset at the coup should leave the SCV, but that suggestion was universally ignored.

Rumors began circulating that the Old Guard had proof of financial malfeasance by Sweeney (and in some rumors Ron Wilson also), and also had proof showing Sweeney was about to facilitate a takeover of the SCV by the political and modern-day secessionist League of the South. Giving the appearance of some credence to the rumors, acting CIC Hodges ordered an audit of SCV finances (even though there is an annual independent audit of the SCV finances anyway). However, the rumored evidence never materialized in the hearing or in any evidentiary submissions to the court.

Overall reaction to Hodges and the coup was so strong in terms of protest via email and phone, an announcement appeared on the SCV website stating “CIC Hodges is unavailable during the current crisis”.

Attorneys for both sides began running up large amounts of billable hours in preparation for the court hearing on March 9th that would decide if the TRO would become a permanent injunction removing Sweeney. On the 9th about 65 Sweeney supporters (wearing “Denne Sweeney is My Commander-in-Chief stickers) filled the Maury County courtroom. A few of the coup members along with a handful of supporters and AoT Commander Beasley sat to the side in the jury box.

A full description of the day-long hearing is beyond our scope to portray here, but in the end the judge ruled that the telephonic GEC meeting which removed Sweeney and other members of the GEC was not valid due to a lack of notice and care required for such an important decision. He did rule that their telephonic meeting would have been legal otherwise, stating AoT Commander Beasley’s presence did establish a quorum, and he told Beasley, “as an attorney, you knew what was going on”. He also ruled that the CIC does not have the power to suspend “designated directors” (which is what he ruled the lifetime appointed PCIC’s to be) for any reason, making it clear that he felt CIC Sweeney’s suspensions were detrimental to the SCV, and he returned the two suspended PCIC’s to the GEC. While the Old Guard took some solace in being vindicated by the court on the suspensions, clearly the ruling fell far short of what they needed for the coup to hold or to be successfully attempted again. With all the players put back in their original positions by the judge—thus returning to the stalemate status— it was time for the membership to weigh in with their opinions on where for the SCV to go next. The reaction was swift and strong; within a few days over three thousand members had submitted petitions invoking powers provided under Mississippi corporate law for the membership to call itself into convention. With the law only requiring about 1,600 petitions to call a special convention, the course was set. The Amendments and Resolutions Committee reported favorably on two amendments submitted by Chris Sullivan to be considered at the special convention. One would limit Past Commanders-in-Chief on the GEC to the last three, and the other would eliminate the non-voting Commander-General of the MOSB (who had participated in the coup) from sitting on the GEC.

Before the special convention, though, the attorneys for the GEC “coup” members who filed suit against CIC Sweeney had a “present” for the SCV—their legal bill of $45,859.07. CIC Sweeney’s legal bill was even higher, but he had never asked for the SCV national treasury to be used in paying it; instead it was paid with private donations and his own funds. His attorney quickly pointed out to the “coup” attorney that because the judge had ruled their telephonic coup meeting invalid, the corporate resolution they passed at the meeting making the SCV party to the suit didn’t happen and the legal fees would have to be collected from the individuals who filed the suit. Obviously, this meant that if the coup were successful, the SCV would have had its treasury lightened by more than $45,000, which gave the Reformers one more hot button issue to press. As this news spread in the days before the convention it appeared to bring camps normally not involved in national politics to pre-register, and dashed the hopes of the Old Guard of swaying any significant numbers of undecided camps to their arguments.

The special convention in Concord, North Carolina (suburb of Charlotte) arrived April 23rd with much anticipation. Early fears there might not be enough camps for a quorum had mostly faded—although internet traffic indicated some of the Old Guard thought there might be a chance of quorum failure (20% of all camps is a quorum). Instead, the short-notice low-cost convention turned out to be the largest in SCV history with 379 camps represented— nearly half of all SCV camps and in excess of 60 more camps than attended in Dalton last year.

Once standing rules were adopted, with only two questions before the membership things proceeded quickly. A tremendous amount of preparation had gone into making sure parliamentary procedure was followed. Not one but three professional parliamentarians oversaw conduct of the meeting, and a half-dozen parliamentary procedure students aided as microphone monitors and other jobs. The result was a very smooth flow to the meeting, and within about an hour debate had ceased and voting began. When the votes were all counted 90 minutes later the results were stunning. On the first amendment the ayes were 1565, nays 74 with 11 abstentions—an incredible 96% yes vote. The second amendment was nearly as impressive, with a 93% yes vote. All 16 camps in the Kentucky delegation voted for both amendments. A thunderous ovation greeted the voting report, and after a few more housekeeping matters the truly historic special convention of the SCV had ended—however there was a GEC meeting scheduled later that afternoon, so the day still had some SCV history to be made.

In the time before the GEC meeting, some small excitement centered around Beau Cantrell, the only coup leader who came to Concord. After the convention adjourned a member from North Carolina stood on a chair in obvious mockery of Cantrell’s Atlanta “Rights and Entitlements” speech. Cantrell took extreme exception to it. The member described the events thus:

While standing on a chair speaking to a group of compatriots at one table, I was rudely interrupted by Mark (Beau) Cantrell who had been seated at the end of another table in that area. Well, it seemed that my opinions on "Rights" and "Entitlements" conflicted with his and his violent nature erupted by him reaching out and choking me by grabbing the lanyard holding my Credentials Committee ID tag.

I told him to let go of me and he refused saying “no” and jerking tighter on the lanyard again. While not hurt in any manner by his grasp and assault and realizing (though) that he could have me seriously injured by causing me to fall from the chair to the cement floor I managed to get the violent brute to let go of me by an effective use of the English language without profanity. I never uttered a profane word to Beau.

A crowd quickly gathered, and while it was obvious that Cantrell was extremely upset, there were no punches thrown, but what exactly was being said in heated exchanges for several minutes was difficult to ascertain. Shortly a deputy sheriff arrived to investigate a disturbance. Determining that Cantrell was the source of the disturbance, the deputy asked him to leave. Cantrell refused (he was still ATM Commander and there was a GEC meeting scheduled there in an hour). The deputy then ordered him to leave and physically began moving him towards the door. Amidst some hoots from the crowd, Cantrell made an obscene gesture towards them. Someone asked the deputy if he had seen the obscenity and the deputy responded “yes, does anyone want to press charges” to which a quick “yes” was replied. Cantrell was then handcuffed and placed in the back of the cruiser, to be charged with causing a disturbance.

Soon CIC Sweeney and PCIC Wilson came outside in an effort to intervene on Cantrell’s behalf, explaining to the deputy that there was indeed a GEC meeting in a few minutes and that Cantrell was entitled to be there. The deputy released Cantrell, but stayed throughout to ensure his good behavior. No witnesses could ever recall seeing a GEC member acting thus, nor being detained so by authorities, and several expressed hopes it is never seen again.

Things were no more pleasant for Cantrell at the GEC meeting. Among the first orders of business was to deal with discipline of remaining GEC members (most of the PCIC’s now being removed by the amendment) who participated in the coup. A motion was made to remove Lt. CIC Hodges from his office. It passed with only Cantrell voting against and AoT Commander Beasley abstaining. CIC Sweeney then appointed Chris Sullivan of South Carolina to serve out the Lt. CIC term. Next up for removal was Cantrell and the vote was the same, thus ending one of the most contentious and ungentlemanly GEC terms ever. Next came AoT Councilman John French, who had been a vocal supporter of the coup. Only Beasley abstained, all others voted for removal.

Then a motion was made to censure AoT Commander Beasley for his actions during the coup crisis. Specifically it was believed by PCIC Ron Wilson that Beasley had conveniently arranged in December to be at another meeting so he could quietly support the GEC boycott but have an excuse, and Wilson believed the judge’s criticism that Beasley knew his presence on the conference call would give the coup plotters the quorum they needed. Wilson also took great exception to Beasley’s abstaining on the three previous votes in the face of the overwhelming reaction by the membership to the damaging coup. For several minutes Wilson, Army of Northern Virginia Councilman Randy Burbage and Lt. CIC Sullivan grilled Beasley about his stand (or lack thereof) during the coup, questions ranging from why Beasley sat with the Old Guard in the court hearing to conflicting stories as to why Beasley didn’t attend the December GEC meeting. The point of the line of questioning obviously being to elicit from Beasley something along the lines of a repudiation of the coup. Beasley refused to take the “bait” and either dealt with specifics of his actions, or stated that he always did what he thought best for the SCV. Finally, not getting what he was looking for from Beasley, Wilson offered a substitute motion to remove Beasley from the GEC. The motion passed, but Adjutant-in-Chief Jim Dark, Editor-in-Chief Frank Powell and PCIC Ed Deason voted against.

The sense in the room was nearly unanimous on the removals of Hodges, Cantrell and French, but was mixed concerning Beasley. In discussion allowed from the membership after the vote, several expressed opinions that Cmdr. Beasley—whatever the politics of the coup—has been an active and supportive army commander, pointing out his corporate restructuring proposal, extensive AoT traveling, Kroger fundraising program efforts and bringing informational AoT meetings to two locations.

Cmdr. Beasley has since announced that he will stand again for the AoT commander position in the special election to fill the vacancy in Nashville. At press time no other candidates had announced. Kelly Barrow of Georgia and Kevin Spargur of Florida have both announced candidacies to replace AoT Councilman French.

The GEC went on to a number of other items, including removing Beau Cantrell and Ed Cailleteau as chairmen of the Nashville reunion committee. Most important to Kentucky among the other business, though, the GEC voted $25,000 of heritage defense money to pay for legal expenses in the Jacqueline Duty case.

Finally, a long and historic day in the SCV came to an end. The Old Guard’s move to take power had backfired (barring another court ruling in their favor), and the question is what they’ll do next. There have been indications that John French (who is still Mississippi division cmdr. though removed from the GEC) will attempt to lead his division into a “secession” from the SCV. However, such reactionary moves seldom succeed fully and most members seem to be more interested in what the Reformers will do with the fact they now have the reigns. There was certainly damage done to the SCV—the coup left in its wake more than $100,000 of legal bills, tremendous resource drains on SCV manpower, the cost of the special convention, some inevitable loss of membership with such in-fighting, and traditional SCV enemies in the media have had a heyday. However, never has the SCV been so united. If that unity is focused on the true issues facing the organization, there could be a strong surge forward unlike has been seen before. Clearly the reformers have little time to celebrate: they have their work cut out to move the SCV ahead, and all eyes will be on their leadership in Nashville.

Originally published in the Spring 2005 The Lost Cause

1 comment:

William M. Hayes said...

This article is the best summary of what really happened that I've seen. I was there for some of the shenanigans (I don't know what else you'd call them) and was dumbfounded at the level of bickering that could exist in one organization.