By Alan Guebert, Farm and Food File
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
To hear Fred Stokes tell it, he got carried away “a mite” in a Kansas City press conference Aug. 10 with his explanation of a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Cattlemen’s Beef Board over the management of the beef checkoff.
Noting the Humane Society of the U.S. had done the legal digging to lay the foundation for the suit, Stokes said, “Every cowboy out there owes a deep debt of gratitude to the Humane Society of the U.S.” for its efforts to help the checkoff benefit all cattlemen.
It was vintage Stokes, a founder of the Organization for Competitive Markets: Anyone or anything that made markets work better was always welcome.
By the time he returned to his native Mississippi, however, he wasn’t welcome.
On Aug. 13, Stokes, a district director for Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, was en route to a state directors meeting when MFBF President Randy Knight telephoned to say he wanted to see Stokes before the meeting.
“He made it clear that I had crossed some line when I acknowledged the checkoff lawsuit and HSUS’ role in it,” Stokes relates. “The board inferred that I had conspired with HSUS in the lawsuit and that was a ‘conflict of interest’ on my part because Farm Bureau supports checkoffs.”
The lawsuit asks USDA to run the checkoff according to its rules.
“Surely, you can’t be against something following its own rules,” Stokes said.
Little did he know how prescient that remark would become.
On Oct. 24, Mississippi Farm Bureau notified Stokes of an Oct. 29 hearing in Jackson to discuss two complaints filed by state board members over his “conflict of interest” with Farm Bureau policy. Stokes came, with two attorneys, ready for a fight.
One attorney, James Robertson, explained to Mississippi Farm Bureau board that its own bylaws did not permit it to remove Stokes from office. Then, Robertson, reinforced by J. Dudley Butler, an ag attorney from Yazoo City, Miss., explained the group’s bylaws required some “exchange of financial interest” for a conflict of interest charge to have merit.
“There’s nothing in this (checkoff) lawsuit that constitutes a transaction that Fred Stokes has with the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation,” Robertson said.
The lawyers’ better knowledge of Farm Bureau’s own bylaws carried the day. The state board, though, not having the authority to remove Stokes, allowed Stokes’ Farm Bureau future to be determined by members of the three-county district board he chaired.
On Nov. 12, state president Randy Knight chaired a meeting in Meridian, to, as he explained, “decide if they wanted Mr. Stokes to continue to represent them.”
Whoa, not so, said Butler, again present at Stokes’ request. MFBF’s bylaws require “cause” for removal of a director, and the Jackson meeting clearly showed there was none.
Another attorney, Ricky Ruffin, said “… if we are not here for some kind of cause … are we saying that we are going to kick this man off because we don’t like the way he parts his hair?”
And that’s just what happened; the locals, acting in what Stokes and Butler claim was state-controlled vote, cashiered him by a 12-3 count, with two abstentions.
Stokes expected as much. He then quit because “I had proved just how phony their charges were.”
It’s a foolish victory because, using the standard they set, any one of the them could be next for nothing more than how they part their hair.
Or, of course, what they think.
© 2012 ag comm