Status of Legal Actions by Mitchell and Strawderman

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Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Strawderman were expelled from the Chapter again during the Board and Special Membership Meeting on March 5, 2019.  This is an unusual situation, for Virginia, anyway.  As we found out, there is very little case law on situations like this.


Since January 1, 2015, which is as far back as our QuickBooks accounting records go, these two gentlemen have cost us $159,300.49 in legal and accounting costs to protect the Chapter and the privacy of its membership.  That constitutes three times what our current reserves are.  They have succeeded in wasting management time and used the court system as a cudgel to chew up three quarters of the reserves we should have been using to repave the driveway, upgrade our ranges, improve the walking trails and campground, and enhance the ecology of our lake.  And for what end?


In addition, the atmosphere they crated within the Chapter had a major impact on our membership non-renewal rates.  2012 was 102; 2013 was 86, 2014 was 94; but in 2015 this surged to 140; 2016 was 176 and 2017 was 110.  We normally have members losing interest, moving away or passing on, but the common feed back I heard was not wanting to be near the two gentlemen who have been the subject of this proceeding.  Since they were first expelled in July last year, our membership has started surging.  Past members have applied for reinstatement and current members are again recommending the Chapter to their friends.  Membership is now back up to 656 memberships with 742 members and we had the largest group go through the February Orientation that I have ever seen here.


Since disruption of our Board Meetings ended last July, the Board has no longer needed to have Sheriff’s Deputies present to ensure order and has been able to work smoothly and collaboratively together to move the Chapter forward.  I must admit that attendance at Membership Meetings has not recovered – sometimes the best way to get turnout is a good controversy.  We are working on making our Membership meetings more interesting but without the controversy.


In a way, I feel sorry for Mr. Mitchell.  Instead of enjoying the Chapter, he has built his own private hell for himself.  But that does not give him the right to drag the rest of us down into that hell.  


Mr. Strawderman and I worked well together when he was appointed VP by the Board to work on improvements – the motion lights in the bathrooms, the replaced garbage cans, the window blinds in the Chapter House were all his initiatives – he would tell me what he needed, I would order it from Lowe’s on line and pay for it, we would both pick up the material and he would install.  This was a good working relationship that I would have liked to see continue, but it only lasted some three months and ended with him joining Mr. Mitchell’s efforts.


Both gentlemen have shown themselves to be intent on wasting our volunteer management time and Chapter resources, intimidating its members, and wasting court time with their litany of spurious legal challenges.  They do not deserve to be members of this Chapter or of the IWLA.

Chris Barltrop.

The Resolutions dated 3/5/2019 to re-expel Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Strawderman can be viewed by clicking on the buttons below -  each provide full background information on the charges and on the Member and Board voting involved.  The approval process was necessarily extremely detailed and time consuming - for each charge first voting on whether it was Established, and in a second vote to determine the appropriate disciplinary response. The Resolution Discussion section lays out the process that was followed.  We felt this process was necessary to ensure no possible challenge, and we thank the 77 members present who participated in and supported this process.

Cumulative Impact

Most of the financial impact has been on the legal costs of defending Member's phone and e-mail records, which we believed we had a fiduciary duty to protect and which we feared would be abused.  The National web site restricts access to this information to only two members in any chapter, typically the Membership Director and Treasurer, since they are the only members with a legitimate need to access that information.  We follow the same policy within our own Chapter.

 

The accounting costs imposed on us did not result in any recoveries of lost funds and resulted in boilerplate recommendations.  The QuickBooks accounting system was set up using bank statements and checkbook registers for the first half of 2015, Mike Harper's excellent Excel records for 6/2015 - 6/2016, and direct processing of entries since 6/2016.  The YHB report was not useful in this process.

Not included is the opportunity cost of lost membership dues - over 600 since 2013 - the management time taken up with dealing with these issues, and the drop off of volunteer activity.

Results

And what did Mitchell achieve with his court cases? 

 

The link to our analysis of last year's is shown at right. 

 

His more recent request for an injunction barring the Chapter from taking any disciplinary action against anyone till July 1, 2019 was not ruled on by the Court - links at right.

They have filed complaints requesting voiding of their expulsion, voiding of the June 2017 Board elections, and Mr. Strawderman has reactivated his complaint that he was denied access to the WIWL corporate documents, despite the fact that as VP he had control over access to those same documents and does not actually ask the court for anything other than his legal costs in filing his complaint.

Update as of 2/19/2019

What we had hoped would be the final chapter in this saga was the Court trial on January 29, 2019.  Unfortunately that proved not to be the case - the trial focused on the expulsion of Mitchell and Strawderman on July 10, 2018.  They claimed that they had not been properly advised of the location of their July 3, 2018 disciplinary hearing.  Both were told that the hearing would be at the regular July Board meeting, and since all Board meetings have been at the Chapter House and they knew that, they were fully aware of where the hearing would take place.  But their lawyer claimed that our hearing notification letters should have specified the exact location, and the judge agreed, in our opinion improperly citing a requirement in our Bylaws that applied to Special Membership Meetings, not Board Meetings.  As a result, the Judge voided our July 10 expulsions.

Appealing this decision would have taken months and cost another fortune, so we have decided to simply redo the expulsions at the March 5, 2019 Board meeting.  The relevant documents are attached at right.  Copies of the hearing notification letters have been mailed to them and placed in their mail boxes on February 19.

Update as of 3/6/2019

Dan Arico and Chris Barltrop attended a court hearing at 11:45 a.m. on Wednesday, May 5 to respond to a charge of Contempt of Court levied by Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Strawderman for denying them access to the Park, supposedly in violation of the court order above.  The facts are as follows:

1.  The court order above voided the July 10, 2018 expulsions and reinstated their membership rights for 2018.

2.  Their 2018 memberships expired, along with every other member's, on 12/31/2018 unless renewed for 2019 through payment of the 2019 dues.

3.  As with every other member whose membership had lapsed, their gate card was inactivated and they no longer had the right to enter the Park.

4.  Effectively, the court order changed their status from "non-member" to "member not in good standing" due to non-payment of current year dues.

5.  In response to the court order, we changed their status in QuickBooks from "Inactive" to "Active", allowing us to generate a Member Reinstatement form for each that were sent to them so they could apply for reinstatement - this conformed to the standard operating procedure we have been following for reinstating members whose memberships have lapsed.

6.  These procedures as established last year by the Board require that a member wishing reinstatement attend an Orientation meeting to update themselves on our rules and regulations, pay their dues and have new gate cards issued or old ones reactivated.  This process is shown on the Chapter's website Membership Page.

So next is a one hour hearing is set for Monday, March 25, 2019.

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