The Chairman’s Committee on Conflict of Interest

Background

The Conflict of Interest Committee (CIC) was appointed by the Chairman in November 2003. Its charge was to "evaluate all areas of possible conflict of interest situations within AKC and the sport. It should detail the conflict provisions now in place and make recommendations for possible modifications or further provisions if required. Its goal is a wide-ranging and thorough study of how, or if, conflict of interest situations warrant further regulation. Consistency of policy in all areas is an important criterion."

The Committee

The committee was chaired by David Merriam. The members were Judi Daniels, Dennis Sprung, William Speck, Helen Lee James, and Jim Smith. Jim Crowley acted as secretary. Mr. Crowley and Michael Swick were advisors to the committee. The Board Chairman also participated in the committee meetings.

Methodology

Mr. Merriam prepared an agenda for each meeting. Each committee member prepared a memo addressing that agenda. These memos were distributed prior to the meetings.

Input was sought from the delegates and the fancy. Mr. Merriam addressed the delegates in December 2003, explaining the purpose of the committee and seeking written input. Notice was placed on the AKC web site seeking input. In fact, the response was minimal. The committee was appreciative of written communication from: Bruce Voran, Chris Stone, Charlotte McGowan, Linda Shannon, Mark Stephenson, Larry Coleman, David Keene, Blackie Nygood, "Diane," and "ronan."

Further input was received from the delegates when the committee presented a program at the Delegates' Forum on September 14, 2004.

Committee meetings were held on February 24, 2004, June 8, 2004, and September 12, 2004.

Scope of Inquiry

Thirteen areas of possible conflict of interest considerations were:

  1. Delegate eligibility
  2. Judge eligibility
  3. AKC employees
  4. Judges, handlers, and exhibitors
  5. Breeder Judges and exhibitors
  6. Commercial breeders and AKC
  7. Foreign Judges' assignments in the USA
  8. Transfer of ownership between breeders, judges, exhibitors, and handlers
  9. Loans, gifts, and business transactions between judges, handlers, and owners
  10. Judges and exhibitors serving on the same boards
  11. Conflicts between rules, entry blanks, and breed standards
  12. Positive identification of entered dogs, disqualified dogs, and dogs presented for reinstatement
  13. Judges' conduct

The possible areas for conflict of interest were defined in four generic categories:

  1. Competitive events
  2. Governing or official capacities
  3. AKC employees
  4. Publications

Existing Conflict of Interest Provisions

Michael Swick detailed for the committee the existing provisions in AKC governing documents relating to conflict of interest:

A. Bylaws
  1. Article VI, Sections 5 and 10 (Delegates)
  2. Article VII, Section 1 (Directors)
  3. Article VIII, Sections 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 (Officers)
  4. Article XIII, Section 1 (Trial Boards)

B. Employee Handbook
  1. Employment of relatives or members of the same household
  2. Conflicts of interest and disclosure (Attached as "Exhibit A")
  3. Involvement in Board elections, dog club participation, and purchasing dogs
  4. Exhibiting by employees

C. Judging Conflict of Interest (Attached as "Exhibit B" find James Crowley's four page memo of January 8, 2004

D. Financial Conflict of Interest/Full Disclosure for Board (Attached as "Exhibit C"

E. New York State Law � Not for Profit Corporations, Sections 715 & 716

Preliminary Considerations

The committee first discussed the two principal approaches to conflict of interest provisions: 1) A general statement of conflict of interest principles and 2) Specific listing of conflict of interest prohibitions.

Each approach presented difficulties. It is always possible that a general statement of conflict of interest will fail to give adequate notice to those concerned of what is permitted and what is prohibited. The AKC experience of using "laundry lists" (e.g. delegate ineligibility and judge ineligibility) to spell out conflict of interest situations has demonstrated the extreme difficulty in making the list complete, consistent, and fair.

It was the opinion of the committee that the "laundry list" approach was too defective and that the committee would work toward developing general statements of conflict of interest.

In its initial discussions the committee operated under the premise that our concern was only with strict conflict of interest situations and would not be involved with "inappropriate conduct" situations. As you will discover in the balance of this report, the committee revised its initial presumption and came to the conclusion that the "conflict" and "inappropriate conduct" situations were so intertwined that one could not consider one without considering the other.

THE COMMITTEE ALSO ADDRESSED THE ISSUE OF UNIFORM APPLICATION OR ENFORCEMENT OF CONFLICT PROVISIONS. WHILE THIS PROBLEM IS NO DIFFERENT FROM THE AGE-OLD IRREGULAR OR PREFERENTIAL ENFORCEMENT OF LAWS IN OUR SOCIETY, IT STILL IS REAL AND NEEDS CONSTANT ATTENTION BY THOSE EMPOWERED TO ENFORCE AKC RULES, REGULATIONS, AND POLICY.

Judges, The Board, Employees and the Delegates

At its first meting on February 24, 2004 the committee addressed four specific areas of concern.

Judges

Most complaints AKC receives about conflict of interest relate to conformation judges. Most judges have been active in the sport for many years and have grown up with and associated with people who are still active as exhibitors and handlers. The close association of many of our fanciers facilitate doing business with them. All of these associations do not vanish when a person becomes a judge.

AKC must begin with an assumption that a judge will judge on the merits of the dogs presented to him or her and will not allow other factors to affect their decisions. Past and current associations will not diminish that assumption unless, over a period of time, it becomes apparent that favoritism has entered into a judge's deliberations.

With Jim Crowley's memo ("Exhibit B") in hand, the committee began an intense evaluation of the AKC publication "Guidelines for Conformation Dog Show Judges." This purports to be the "bible" for conformation judges.

The Committee concluded, and not surprisingly so, that this publication is sorely defective. It has evolved into a hodgepodge of mandates, prohibitions, advisements, suggestions, and threats. The earnest reader is at a loss to distinguish between them. To compound this melange of directives is the bold-lettered declaration on the inside cover: "FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH THESE GUIDELINES SUBJECTS A JUDGE TO POSSIBLE DISCIPLINARY ACTION."

Clearly a judge risks suspension of judging privileges if he or she accepts payments for placements (page 2). Less obvious is the possible disciplinary action for a judge who wears "inappropriate or outlandish dress" (page 8). The committee found that the booklet was overwhelmingly composed of negatives.

There was a consensus that the term listing "business relationship" as a conflict of interest either had to be defined more specifically or removed from the booklet. There was a discussion on whether a monetary amount could be applied and whether the actual gain by the recipient should be considered. It was suggested that possibly the business relationship should have to be "ongoing" to be a conflict, rather than one very large transaction. All types of business was discussed, from concessionaires to insurance and stockbrokers. Do stud fee payments create a business relationship?

It was suggested that personal friendships or relationships may be more responsible than business relationships for a potential conflict of interest.

The committee learned that in 2000 the Board approved the conflict of interest section of the Guidelines as part of a revision to a 22-page document, and there was little discussion on it by the Board. The staff proposed the addition of the business relationship factor. The committee recommends that it now be deleted. An attempt should be made to reword the ethics sections in a more positive way, emphasizing the presumption and the expectation of honesty and displaying respect for judges. Michael Swick suggested wording similar to that applied to AKC employees (see "Exhibit A").

The committee also saw as basically unenforceable the provision that judges "never accept payments or presents for past or future placements." It sounds like presents are fine from exhibitors as long as placements cannot be somehow directly tied to them. Such presents are common among friends in the sport, as are parties given by exhibitors where judges are guests. This is a case where a general statement of sportsmanship or appropriateness might be better.

Many of the provisions in the Guidelines pertain to eligibility of dogs. The committee agreed that the onus in these cases rests with the exhibitor rather than the judge. The judge should be able to judge any dog brought into the ring. It cannot be incumbent upon the judge to make inquiries of the handler of the dog to determine if there is an ineligible entry or if there may exist a conflict of interest.

The committee believed that it would be advantageous to give the judge the authority in the Rules to excuse a dog if that judge believed there was a conflict of interest. A proposed amendment to Chapter 7, Section 15 of the Rules Applying to Dog Shows is included as "EXHIBIT D."

AKC Employees

Currently AKC employees, except officers, inspectors and investigators, as well as in-house employees involved in judging approval may exhibit until their dog gets a title. Employees may also belong to dog clubs, but may not serve as officers. Employees may not judge or be delegates. All these restrictions apply to employees' household members as well.

The committee favored some liberalization of these restrictions:

  1. All employees, except those involved in the judging approval process and the corporate officers, should be able to exhibit on a limited basis. Field Representatives should be able to exhibit in activities outside their areas of responsibility. This should also apply to employees' household members.
  2. Employees, and their household members, who are approved judges before joining AKC, should be able to continue to judge, but may not receive additional breeds while employed at AKC. There were concerns about employees showing to each other or with board members showing to employees, but these issues can be easily addressed.
  3. The committee saw no need to restrict employees from being club officers or board members as long as they recuse themselves from matters that could involve AKC.

The committee believed that field staff had to be particularly mindful of appropriate behavior. The committee was concerned that some reps publicly criticize judges, or give the appearance of doing so, by talking to them in the ring.

It was also felt that some reps promote dogs and try to influence judges just by standing at ringside with particular people.

The AKC Board

A number of issues concerning AKC Board members were discussed. One issue was whether Board members should judge each other's dogs. The committee didn't see much difference in that than dog club board members judging each other's dogs. Basically, there has to be a presumption of honesty rather than dishonesty.

There was also a question about AKC Board members serving on the boards of organizations to which AKC makes contributions. As long as the Board members did not vote on those contributions, the committee saw no real issue. Mr. Merriam pointed out that Board members are given a great deal of latitude under the laws of most states to vote on issues involving other organizations in which they have an interest, as long as there is disclosure of their involvement.

AKC Delegates

The committee agreed that the "laundry list" of occupational ineligibility does not work. Many questionable occupations are not included and there is no provision to bar someone who definitely would not be interested in the best interests of AKC and the sport, e.g. the president of PETA.

The committee was in favor of opening up the delegate body to anyone, professional or amateur, with the prerequisite background in the sport, while having a general exclusion provision to prevent the seating of someone if it was believed it would not be in the best interest of AKC. An effort should be made to establish positive eligibility criteria focussing on background in the sport. The list of prohibited delegates would be reduced to three: 1) Current AKC employees and household members, 2) employees of competing registries and 3) those known to be working contrary to the best interests of AKC. The Delegate body should continue to have the final say on who is to become a delegate.

The committee addressed the dual role of Board members, as Delegates charged with representing the interest of a specific club and as a Board member charged with acting in the best interest of AKC and the Sport, even though that may be contrary to the wishes and interest of their club. The committee would therefore favor making a Board member a Delegate At Large, during their tenure on the Board. This would allow his or her club to appoint an Interim Delegate to represent its interest. It would also remove the situation where one club, or the majority of the Board in one club could thwart the will of a majority of the Delegate body by replacing its Delegate, who was an elected AKC Board member. A proposal to establish the Delegate At Large position is "EXHIBIT E."

Can It Be Defined?

The committee spent considerable time attempting to wordsmith a working definition of conflict of interest. In the area of judges the committee considered: "A conflict of interest exists when a judge is influenced in his or her decision by any relationship or factor other than the merits of the dogs." While the committee realizes that this can be a very subjective determination, it is perhaps no more subjective than the very act of judging.

A Realization

As the committee deliberations proceeded, it began to realize that if the solution to the conflict of interest issues were inseparable from the inappropriate conduct issues and that the solution was not a predetermined collection of lists of do's and don'ts, it was necessary to articulate some basic principles which would form the fundamental basis of specific statements.

The realization was that, within the history and tradition of AKC there were such fundamental principles. However, they were unstated. They were always assumed. The founders of our organization and our sport were gentlemen who participated with the clear understanding that SPORTSMANSHIP was fundamental to everything they did. Concepts of fairness, respect for competitors, and honesty were inherent in the sport.

The committee also realized that the concept of sportsmanship was meant to apply to ALL who participated in our sport, not just judges or officials. The conduct of exhibitors was most certainly under this umbrella.

In the area of AKC discipline, all our specifics developed from the basic prohibition of conduct "prejudicial to the best interests of purebred dogs, purebred dog events or the AKC."

Drawing from memos from David Merriam and Helen Lee James, the committee drafted a proposed basic statement articulating principles of sportsmanship in our sport:

An AKC Code of Sportsmanship

  • A SPORTSMAN RESPECTS THE HISTORY, TRADITIONS AND INTEGRITY OF THE SPORT OF PUREBRED DOGS.
  • A SPORTSMAN COMMITS HIM- OR HERSELF TO VALUES OF FAIR PLAY, HONESTY, COURTESY, VIGOROUS COMPETITION, AND LOSING WITH GRACE.
  • A SPORTSMAN JUDGE DOES NOT COMPROMISE HIS OR HER COMMITMENT TO THE SPORT OF PUREBRED DOGS BY INJECTING PERSONAL ADVANTAGE OR CONSIDERATION INTO THEIR DECISIONS OR BEHAVIOR.
  • A SPORTSMAN EXHIBITOR DOES NOT ENTER OR EXHIBIT UNDER A JUDGE WHERE THERE IS EVIDENCE THAT THE JUDGE'S PLACEMENTS MAY BE BASED ON SOMETHING OTHER THAN THE MERITS OF THE DOGS.
  • A SPORTSMAN EXHIBITOR DOES NOT COMPROMISE THE IMPARTIALITY OF A JUDGE.
  • A SPORTSMAN RESPECTS THE AKC BYLAWS, RULES, REGULATIONS AND POLICIES GOVERNING THE SPORT OF PUREBRED DOGS.
  • A SPORTSMAN FINDS THAT VIGOROUS COMPETITION AND CIVILITY ARE NOT INCONSISTENT AND IS ABLE TO APPRECIATE THE MERIT OF HIS OR HER COMPETITION AND THE EFFORT OF COMPETITORS.
  • A SPORTSMAN DOES NOT TAKE PERSONAL ADVANTAGE OF POSITIONS OFFERED OR BESTOWED UPON HIM OR HER.
  • A SPORTSMAN ALWAYS CONSIDERS AS PARAMOUNT, THE WELFARE OF HIS OR HER DOG.
  • A SPORTSMAN WILL NOT EMBARRASS THE SPORT, THE AMERICAN KENNEL CLUB, NOR HIM OR HERSELF WHILE TAKING PART IN THE SPORT.

Such a code would provide a solid basis for evaluating all conduct of persons participating in our sport. The committee realizes that concepts of sportsmanship are prevalent in many sports and organizations in our country. It also realizes that the principles stated in the code have existed in our sport since its inception. Perhaps, after 120 years and the evolution of our civil society, it would be beneficial to articulate these principles and give them the widest possible circulation.

If the Board does adopt this code, it should be aware that a potential conflict could exist in the fourth bullet. An exhibitor may be aware of a conflict of interest in the Best in Show ring. However, Chapter 3, Section 16 of the Rules Applying to Dog Shows provides that the seven group winners must compete. In that case, the exhibitor should enter the ring, but bring the matter to the attention of the steward so that the judge may be advised and the dog excused.

Recommendations

I. General

Adopt an AKC Code of Conduct for all participants in the Sport as follows:

An AKC Code of Sportsmanship

  • A SPORTSMAN RESPECTS THE HISTORY, TRADITIONS AND INTEGRITY OF THE SPORT OF PUREBRED DOGS.
  • A SPORTSMAN COMMITS HIM- OR HERSELF TO VALUES OF FAIR PLAY, HONESTY, COURTESY, VIGOROUS COMPETITION, AND LOSING WITH GRACE.
  • A SPORTSMAN JUDGE DOES NOT COMPROMISE HIS OR HER COMMITMENT TO THE SPORT OF PUREBRED DOGS BY INJECTING PERSONAL ADVANTAGE OR CONSIDERATION INTO THEIR DECISIONS OR BEHAVIOR.
  • A SPORTSMAN EXHIBITOR DOES NOT ENTER OR EXHIBIT UNDER A JUDGE WHERE THERE IS EVIDENCE THAT THE JUDGE'S PLACEMENTS MAY BE BASED ON SOMETHING OTHER THAN THE MERITS OF THE DOGS.
  • A SPORTSMAN EXHIBITOR DOES NOT COMPROMISE THE IMPARTIALITY OF A JUDGE.
  • A SPORTSMAN RESPECTS THE AKC BYLAWS, RULES, REGULATIONS AND POLICIES GOVERNING THE SPORT OF PUREBRED DOGS.
  • A SPORTSMAN FINDS THAT VIGOROUS COMPETITION AND CIVILITY ARE NOT INCONSISTENT AND IS ABLE TO APPRECIATE THE MERIT OF HIS OR HER COMPETITION AND THE EFFORT OF COMPETITORS.
  • A SPORTSMAN DOES NOT TAKE PERSONAL ADVANTAGE OF POSITIONS OFFERED OR BESTOWED UPON HIM OR HER.
  • A SPORTSMAN ALWAYS CONSIDERS AS PARAMOUNT, THE WELFARE OF HIS OR HER DOG.
  • A SPORTSMAN WILL NOT EMBARRASS THE SPORT, THE AMERICAN KENNEL CLUB, NOR HIM OR HERSELF WHILE TAKING PART IN THE SPORT.

II. Judges

A major portion of the committee's time was devoted to judges, as this is the area where most of the complaints are generated concerning conflicts and perceived conflicts.

A. Delete the threat of disciplinary actions from the inside front cover of the Guidelines for Conformation Dog Show Judges.

B. Rewrite the Guidelines, separating Board policies and regulations from guidelines, recommendations and suggestions. The whole publication must be much more positive in tone.

C. Replace the reference to "Business Relationship" with a statement of general principle: "A conflict of interest exists when a judge is influenced by any relationship or factor other than the merits of the dogs in his or her decisions."

D. Place the onus for the entry of ineligible dogs on the exhibitor, who controls the entry, rather than the judge. When AKC becomes aware of an infraction, awards should be subject to cancellation and in the case of repeat infractions, the exhibitor may be subject to a fine and/or suspension of event privileges.

E. Make Guidelines for judges of other events consistent with the Guidelines for Conformation Dog Show Judges.

F. Amend Chapter 7, Section 15 of the Rules Applying to Dog Shows to give the judge the authority to excuse a dog when he or she believes there is a conflict of interest.

III. AKC Employees

A. All employees, except those involved in the judging approval process and the executive officers, should be able to exhibit on a limited basis. Field Representatives should be able to exhibit in activities outside their areas of responsibility. This would also apply to employee household members.

B. Employees and their household members, who are approved judges before joining AKC, should be able to continue to judge, but employees may not receive original approval or additional breeds or classes while employed by AKC. A policy should be developed concerning employees showing to each other or Board members showing to employees.

C. Employees should be able to be dog club officers or Board members as long as they recuse themselves from matters that could involve AKC.

D. Employees must avoid all situations where they would publicly criticize a judge or be perceived to be doing so, e.g., speaking to the judge in the ring. Employees must also avoid any situation where they could be perceived as trying to promote a dog or influence a judge.

IV. Delegates

The committee agreed that the present laundry list of ineligibilities does not work. The committee recommends:

A. Develop a list of positive criteria, e.g., years in the sport, and club involvement.

B. Anyone who meets the positive criteria should be seated except:

  1. Current AKC employees and their household members.
  2. Employees of competing registries.
  3. Individuals known to be working contrary to AKC's best interests.
  4. Individuals involved in the trade and traffic of dogs.

C. Provide that Board members become Delegates At Large during their tenure on the Board, allowing their clubs to have Interim Delegates to represent them.

V. The AKC Board

The committee saw no need to change policies currently in place. The committee suggests that the board and delegates evaluate current rules and policies in light of an adopted AKC CODE OF SPORTSMANSHIP and change only those which are inconsistent with the code.

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