BTIA President Murray Arnold Resigns after Vote of No Confidence

J. Murray Arnold
The Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA), at an extraordinary meeting called by the Board of Directors specifically to present a resolution of no confidence for president of the association J. Murray Arnold, after more than 5 hours voted 45 to 36 in favor of the resolution. The official BTIA press release reads as follows:

Press Release - Belize Tourism Industry Association, Nov. 26, 1996
- On Saturday, November 23 the membership of the Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA) was asked to vote on the resolution that "considering that the Board of Directors passed a motion at a meeting held on November 13, 1996 due to irreconcilable differences, the Board hereby moves for a motion of no confidence in the President." The majority of members attending this meeting voted in favor of the motion and Mr. Murray Arnold duly resigned to the membership.

The Board of Directors of the BTIA under the leadership of Acting President George Wade Bevier, extends its sincerest appreciation to the record number of members who, by their attendance at the meeting of November 23, 1996, showed their steadfast support and confirmed dedication to the Association.

Further, the Board of Directors highly commends its membership for their re-affirmation of democratic principles, the renewed commitment to the Constitution of BTIA and full utilization of our outstanding Association as an open forum for the voice of the membership to be heard. The Board of Directors hereby renews its pledge to members for continued service and benefits to each and every member of the Association.

The BTIA Board of Directors takes this opportunity to invite its members and the public to its semi-annual General Meeting and Christmas Open House in December. Dates and venue of this event will be published in next week's newspapers." End of Press Release.

President Arnold was chairman for the meeting and introduced Past President of the Association Paul Hunt who served as moderator and informed the membership of the ground rules set out the previous meeting. (Of the Board of Directors and past presidents of the Association). It was agreed:

1. The constitution will be the final authority.
2. Only items on the agenda will be discussed.
3. Due process.
4. Membership, only financial members will vote. A ten minute limit would be imposed on statements made by the board and the president; all supporting statements would be limited to 3 minutes; all questions must come through the chair; each member may have 2 minutes to speak; members who wish to speak will be recognized in order by the chair; dignity and proper good clean language will be used.
Arnold added that the chairman would have the right to intervene.

A discussion followed Hunt's introduction of the rules of conduct with regard to whether the meeting would be open to observers, the media and members of the public sector. It was brought to the attention of the membership that members of the media present (Channel 5 and the San Pedro Sun) are members of the Association. Henry Menzies of Corozal stated that he felt everyone should be present. "BTIA is always in public, everyone should see what happens." Bruce Collins reminded the members that their relationship with the media was not a one way street. "We can't expect press coverage when things are OK or we want publicity and close the door when there is a problem." A motion was made that only financial members be allowed to remain. The motion was defeated and the meeting was declared open.

Prior to reading the resolution, 1st Vice President Wade Bevier read a disclaimer from the Board of Directors stating they wished to disassociate themselves from all gossip and hearsay by the media and others. Bevier then read the resolution: "Considering the Board of Directors passed a motion due to irreconcilable differences (asked for the resignation of the President), the Board hereby calls for a motion and of no confidence." The motion was made by Steve Maestre and seconded by Wil Lala.

Godsman Ellis somberly introduced himself to present the statement of the Board's position. Ellis said he had been called on by the board, as a member of the board in his capacity as immediate past president, to bring to the attention of this meeting some of the occurrences that have led to today's meeting. "I am reminding the members we have an Association. The voice of the members speaks as was demonstrated just a few moments ago. There have been occurrences that have defied and violated the democratic process. The president has acted unilaterally on more than one occasion on matters that the board would have liked some input. The president has made public statements without consultation with the board, without discussing what was going on or what was going to happen. These statements were not endorsed. These matters were brought to his attention. He met with the Prime Minister, again without consultation with the board. The Board is made up of representatives of each destination and sector. Our representatives cannot represent you due to the behavior of the president. We have a problem. Communications with members is paramount. On the occasion of a meeting with the Past Presidents, where the President (Arnold) was asked why he didn't communicate with his board he answered 'I will not communicate with anyone who I think is hostile.' This is not professional nor the quality of a leader. On September 13, at a meeting chaired by two past presidents to address this issue, we thought we had arrived at a plateau of understanding, yet at the following meeting of the Board of Directors his behavior was the same.

The Executive Board then addressed the problem and thought the problems were resolved, they were not. Members of the board have personally addressed the president and said, 'I would like to work with you.' It doesn't happen. Nothing can be addressed at board level. We have had three resignations at top level and no details. At the committee level - the standing committees are to assist the president in making decisions - the Lobby Committee tried to meet with government. Because there was no due process this was left in the hands of the president. He knew the purpose, it was left to him and he never arranged the meeting, we never met with government." Ellis said when Arnold was questioned or confronted on issues he responded with tantrums.

"At the last board meeting (Nov. 13) when the financial report was read we learned the president had used the BTIA credit card to withdraw funds for his personal use. We were uninformed and most unhappy......."

President Arnold at this point called for a point of order stating, "The issue at hand was determined last night - irreconcilable differences. I warn you be very careful with any public statements. The decision was made at last night's meeting. The scurrilous rumors spread by the press......" Arnold was declared out of order. Moderator Hunt called on legal counsel to determine if the financial statements and bank statement could be used. Arnold then stated that this was not an issue of hiding, but one of fairness. It was decided last night if the matter is raised, legal counsel for both sides should be brought up. "I caution anyone who speaks on the issue to be very careful."

Moderator Hunt presented the opinion of the Association's legal counsel, Godfrey Smith. "The resolution is on the question of confidence in the president and within that position the Association can raise questions it wants on the operation of BTIA."

Arnold again cautioned members to insure that no untrue statements were made and that they understood the implications.

Stuart Krohn raised a point of information, "Can you explain implications? Are you suggesting that these people can be sued?" The moderator responded that he had no idea, the only advice he could give would be caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).

Ellis was permitted to continue his presentation. "We are not making accusations, these are the facts. I am not stating an opinion, no charges, just the proceedings of the meeting." Ellis' was signaled that his time had expired.

President Arnold in his statement said, "On November 13, the Board of BTIA had its regular meeting. A financial report was read to the board. On the last page, under outstanding bills payable by BTIA was an item for $2766.01 for personal use of VISA card by the president. The president drew to the attention of the board - that item. He had used the credit card for a personal cash advance and made arrangements with the accountant for repayment. $46 was charged to a restaurant, $396.50 a cash advance and $2,000 cash advance. The president informed the accountant not to pay the bill, it was for his personal use and he would repay. When the charge came through the president was not prepared to pay. The accountant raised the question about interest and was told not to worry.

Five times prior by the previous executive director the card was used. The BTB Chairmen use their card and pay for it, but ensures that the debt will be paid. This is a widely accepted practice, any executive does this. There was no attempt to hide the use of the card. When the card was issued there were no guidelines, nothing that forbids personal use. This matter of seizing on this one issue is defamatory and shameful. BTIA did not pay that bill. At best BTIA acted as guarantor. No BTIA funds were used, that is the whole thing.

As to irreconcilable differences, I quite agree. They say remove the president and the problem will be solved. I disagree. This is an example of the inadequacy of the board. We should take a look - there is a 20 member board, 19 on one side and the president on the other. What happens when the president and the board are unable to work together? This board has created a constitutional crisis. None the less it was the president who was elected and asked to lead individuals who were not elected."

He went on to say that only 10 members were present at the meeting when the resolution was made. The president then said that he had personally lobbied during his term of office. That he had met with the Prime Minister and every member of cabinet and that his efforts had benefitted every member of the association except the president. Time was called.

Ian Anderson was recognized to speak. "As a member of the board who was not present and did not vote for the motion I ask that the president be given another 4 minutes to speak. He had to rebut something that was not to be discussed."

Homer Leslie was recognized. "I also was not present. This is a black day that we are sitting here trying to remove a president."

Jim Scott was recognized. "With due respect, no allegations have been made. This is a procedural thing, not a legal one. Stick to that. The president said anyone who made a statement would be liable."

Two past presidents spoke stating that they objected to the reference to past presidents using credit cards for their personal use. Arnold clarified his statement saying that he said executive director and other corporate executives.

It was moved that the board and President Arnold both be given four more minutes to speak.

Bob Hales was recognized to speak. "President Arnold, contrary to his statement did not bring the matter to our attention (the board). I asked for a more detailed report. He then did inform the board that the cash advances were personal."

More discussion was heard on whether 4 minutes more would be allotted to each speaker. A vote was taken and reflected 42 in favor of more time and 25 against. Mr. Ellis declined the additional 4 minutes.

President Arnold continued and mentioned the inadequacies of the constitution in dealing with this crisis. "I ask whether the board acted in the best interest of the Association when they knew about the December 5 issue, the meeting with the BTB about BETEX, they rushed to a decision in a shameful way. The president has sat on 6 national boards and 5 local boards, been president twice, has worked well and accomplished a lot. While president of Belmopan I increased the membership from 11 to 26, had the 1st strategic planning retreat, produced a brochure and a tourism fair. I have worked with 5 local boards and five national boards. Can a board fly in the face of a popularly elected president? 19 people with their separate agendas, quibbling. If you have 19 people saying what is the BTIA doing for me, the answer is nothing."

The floor was open to the members. Jack Nightingale, the board member of Toledo, told the members that he has served on the board for 2 years and missed only two meetings. "We have always looked the public sector in the eye - they know we are ethical and clean. The president maintains a perception of his position. He acts unilaterally without consultation. All the clashes have at their root the ethical behavior of the president. We do not have a manual that spells out how to be president. But all office is service, and the higher the office the more humble the service. We have no trust, no communication, no local issues have been heard, no hope of moving forward. I ask that you read the minutes of our meetings."

President Arnold spoke in defence of himself. "At a meeting on September 11 the president was removed as head of the Lobby Committee. A new chair was elected and told to go ahead. They have not met, not once. I had an informal meeting with the Prime Minister and was instrumental in having the hotel tax not raised to 10% and left at 7%. That was a direct result of this president. Also duty exemption on marketing materials and DFC loans and as the Prime Minister says, the dialogue continues. The president does not have a single penny invested in the tourism industry today or in the last 4 years."

Members of the Lobby Committee spoke refuting the president's charges that they had not met.

Ian Anderson, the Belmopan representative, said that as a member of the board he felt that he had not done as good a job as he could have and that he felt other board members were also lacking. Anderson made a motion that the entire board be given a vote of no confidence and dissolved by a majority of the members present, and that no proxy votes be allowed, to facilitate a new board to be elected at the next general meeting.

A great deal of discussion followed Anderson's motion. The paramount concern of some members was that the motion would create a constitutional crisis. The motion was amended to read, "We move that the entire board remain until December 5, 1996 and that the board resign on December 5 before the General Meeting." This was seconded and then a discussion ensued as to whether or not two resolutions were appropriate. Legal counsel was called to advise on the motion and also on the use of proxies. It was suggested that the proxies were improperly worded and as a second motion would be voted on the proxies should not be allowed. Counsel advised that two motions were acceptable, however the use of the proxy vote would not be permitted as the proxies issued were non specific.

The members then voted on the manner the motions would be voted on. It was moved that the board's resolution of no confidence be voted on first. The question came up as to what the consequence of a favorable vote on the motion would be. President Arnold told the members that should the no confidence motion pass he would offer his resignation. Members voted to vote on the issues separately, the no confidence of the president motion first and the dissolution of the board second.

By a margin of nine votes, 45 to 36 the motion of no confidence was passed. President Arnold resigned. The second motion was narrowly defeated 41 to 39. Murray Arnold was thanked for his years of service.

Wade Bevier, 1st Vice President of the Association was asked to assume the chairmanship of the meeting. Bevier called on Past President Janice Aguilar to give the vote of thanks. Aguilar thanked the board and members of the Association for their effort and commended the membership on the manner in which the democratic process had been exercised. Bevier will serve as the Association's president until the Board of Directors meets and determines the course of action the Association will pursue.

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