Column #271 It’s Amazing What Happens When You Shake the Bushes!

August 23, 2006
Column 271
It’s Amazing What Happens When You Shake the Bushes!

I rustled the bushes once where I lived as a boy in Ohio and an empty bird’s nest fell into my mother’s garden. Down here in Florida small lizards scramble for cover. In other parts of the world where the bushes are bigger and uglier, like Sumatra and Boston, orangutans and even people come tumbling out. That’s what happened following my column two days ago reporting on the issues that are closing in on the embattled Board of Directors of the Minute Man Dart League (MMDL) in Massachusetts.

Although I have been communicating with people for months and thought I had a handle on the situation – the basic issues of financial fumbling or worse, conflicts of interest, unfair elections, mistreatment of those who ask questions about how the league is run, and more – even I was surprised at the number of people who bounded from cover to let me know that my words had struck a cord.

But what surprised me most is who some of those people are. Let me just say that not all of them are from outside the MMDL Board itself. Now that the concerns that have been expressed for so long by so many are gathered in one place, some of those people within the MMDL’s inner sanctum are privately beginning to bear their souls.

Within hours of the posting of my column, just shortly after the MMDL’s webmaster Craig Bryant was given orders to banish the Dartoid’s World link from the league’s website, some of those same Board members who have belittled the concerns I related as nothing but “rumors” and a “witch hunt” set about their own witch hunt.

My e-mail beeped. I scrolled down. And there was a message from Suzanne Flannery, the MMDL’s South Shore Area Director. It was a friendly message – she recalled our having met at the Mohegan during the Word Series of Darts. But it was also a transparent message. “I would like to know where exactly you are getting your information from,” she typed. “I sure hope it isn’t the SEWA forum.”

Of course, I replied. “Thanks for your message. In the story, I named the people who were comfortable letting their names be used. Suffice it to say that many, many people provided information, going back several months… By the way, you are spoken of very highly. I wish you all only the best.”

And I do wish only good things for the MMDL.

Somebody once asked my why I am so passionate about darts. I remember almost exactly what I said. I am captivated by the purity, the “sweet science” of the sport – the paradox of simplicity and complexity, the mix of power and precision, strategy and mental strength. The battle – and make no mistake about it, the sport of darts is nothing less, whether between two professionals on stage, under the lights, in front of the camera, or between two buddies in the back corner of a neighborhood bar – is exhausting, exhilarating and beautifully addictive.

It saddens me and yes, it pisses me off, when people – particularly people like some of those on the MMDL Board – crap all over the game and good people who just want to play it. That’s why I wrote the story and that’s why you can damn well be sure I will continue to follow it.

There are those who can confirm that for months I declined to become involved in this issue. My reason was simple. I write the Dartoid’s World column to promote the sport. I would never intentionally write anything that I thought might cause harm and I will never not write something that I am convinced will help advance participation in the sport. It was only after months of reading and dozens and dozens of conversations that I reached the unequivocal conclusion that covering the MMDL controversy was consistent with why I write about the sport.

I am not defending my decision to write and follow the story – I am just making the point that I did so and will continue to do so for a well considered reason. Unfortunately, it seems that rather than to consider the merit of the issues related – rather than to address the concerns that are spreading like wildfire across the ranks of the league and its sponsors – the MMDL Board (not all of them, mind you) has taken the decision to strike out at those who are calling for accountability and answers.

At its meeting on Monday night, just twelve hours after the column posted, the Board began to act. Tempers flared. Names were discussed. Decisions were reached. And the Board presumably collected their $35 for attending. Within twenty-four hours the first player was banned – “because his name appeared in (my) article.”

His name is David Walsh and he is one of many, many members who have for months been pushing the MMDL for answers to tough questions.

Walsh’s team captain (Ronald Packard) and his team mates from the South Shore Area’s Quietmen promptly and proudly stood behind him and against the MMDL Board’s arrogance by withdrawing from the league. All four of the teams that last year competed in South Shore “A” finals are now not competing.

More has happened.

Startling new questions have been raised by financial experts about the MMDL’s tax filings for 2003 and 2004. For example:

– The league reported collections of $129,534 in 2004 and expenditures of $107,767 but their Form 990 shows a LOSS of $21,766. Presumably this is an arithmetic error, albeit a disconcerting one considering that the league paid out legal fees of $3,000 (presumably, in part, to have their tax forms prepared).
– The league reported that it began 2004 with $44,398 in savings and temporary cash investments but ended the year with just $23,718. This is just not possible if they collected (as noted above) $21,766 more than they spent. So, where’s the money?
– If, as the league reported for 2004, they had $44,398 in investments and collected $129,534 (that they “managed” almost $174,000) – how on earth could it be that they earned only $159.05 in interest? Again, where’s the money?

People are more troubled than ever by the still unanswered question as to how or why the league spent nearly $160,000 in two years on printing and publications – and returned less than ten percent of funds collected in 2004 to the players by way of awards and prizes.

People are baffled by how in 2003 and 2004 the league could possibly have spent $16,552 on travel, conferences, meetings and conventions.

People are astonished that the league declared no compensation to its officers.

And people are OUTRAGED that the after months and months (and by some, years) of questioning, the MMDL’s “official” response has been nothing but an arrogant mix of stonewalling and recrimination. I say this with all due respect to those on the Board who are troubled and embarrassed and who I know fear being discovered.

But all on the Board should be concerned.

Mixed in with the many e-mails I have received is news that members have been or are about to be in contact with Boston’s television stations and the Globe. Even before the IRS digs in to this the Court of Public Opinion will almost certainly hand down its decision.

And have no doubt that the IRS is involved. I have in my possession a copy of twenty-six pages of materials that have been sent by the Commonwealth’s Attorney General’s office to the IRS. Let there be no question: the mysterious compensation issue is certain be on their radar. If Board members have been compensated (and payment for attending meetings, mileage reimbursement and trips is just as much considered compensation as annual stipends) the IRS will easily and quickly be able to determine if Board members have declared such income on their personal taxes.

Those at the heart of the Board of Directors would be well advised to give open, honest and serious attention to the issues that have been raised for so long. Those on the Board who are relatively new and have not been involved would be well advised to distance themselves from the controversy. Leave the Board. Protect your reputations. Serve another day.

It has been suggested by some that the best route to solving this crisis is to use the league’s By-Laws to the true advantage of the league – by invoking the opportunity provided in Article IX, Section 5. Essentially this provides that a Special General Meeting may be called upon the collection of 300 member signatures. Such a meeting must be limited to one specific purpose, in this case the recall of a Board member.

While there is no question that the signatures could be collected and a Board member could be brought up for recall, another section of the By-Laws (Article XVI, Section 1) requires that the decision vote is to be made by the Board members themselves and that a Board member may only be successfully recalled by a two-thirds majority of the Board.

Given that the MMDL Board is all powerful the Special General Meeting/Recall concept is a non-starter. It will not work. The Board of the MMDL shall remain as long as they wish.

One can only hope that sensible minds within the inner sanctum will soon prevail and convince those who need convincing that the time has come to part ways. Otherwise the league is doomed and the future of darts in Boston and points north and south will be determined by those with the fortitude to start and build a respectable and accountable new league.

To those of you who have been and continue to be in touch with me (particularly those of you on the “inside”) thank you but be careful. The knives are out. I encourage you to continue asking questions – not accusing, but demanding to know what the Board does not want you to know.

Finally, I hope that every member of the MMDL who David Walsh has paid the price for representing will join his captain and team mates by standing behind him too – and appearing on his behalf and behalf of your own rights and your league’s future when he stands before the Board on appeal on September 25. You owe it to him. You owe it to yourself. You owe it to the sport of darts.

From the Field,

Dartoid

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Dartoid
Author of the column that since 1995 has been featured by Bull’s Eye News, the American Darts Organization’s (ADO) Double Eagle and numerous other darts publications and websites around the globe.

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