By Lew Freedman
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CODY — A high-tension meeting that produced a revolution within the Cody Stampede Board last week led to sweeping changes in the group’s makeup and adoption of new policies.
Five members departed, a new acting president was named, the organization embraced its relationship with longtime Cody Nite Rodeo stock contractor Mo Betta Rodeo Co. of Apache, Okla., and approved an audit of finances.
Also at the closed-door meeting, the board parted ways with its office manager, issued apologies to individuals offended by racial and sexual language directed their way, and offered a mea culpa to the Cody community that has been an ally in the success of the Buffalo Bill Cody Stampede for 100 years and the Cody Nite Rodeo for 80 years.
Plus, the board discontinued negotiations with Ty Yost of Arizona to become the 2020 Cody Nite contractor, promised a new era of openness doing business and asked for applications to fill six available seats on the board.
This was all revealed in a Friday board statement and additional interviews.
“It’s like a very dark cloud has lifted,” said one-year member Brad Thyng. “I think it will be much better for the rodeo community and the community as a whole. I would rather see the board collapse than the town collapse.”
Thyng has the least amount of service among what had been 17 members on the board and said he was not truly aligned with one side. He also attended 83 rodeos during the 2018 season, far more than anyone else.
“I love this town, and the rodeo and the town are one and the same,” he said.
President Keith Nelson, Al Schultz, Mark McCarty, Gary Hays and Paul Brock left the Stampede Board last week, though Schultz said he was pushed out after 33 years. Lance Bower resigned in late December.
Nelson confirmed that he resigned his position, but said, “I don’t think I’m going to comment on anything.”
Schultz said, “I did not resign. I was voted off.” He said it was emotional to leave the board behind after more than 30 years of involvement.
He said he might have offered additional comment, but said the recent newspaper reports about the board have been “distorted. I will leave it at that.”
The new acting president is Larry Allshouse, a five-year board member and someone who has been around Cody rodeo virtually his whole life.
“We were so divided,” Allshouse said. “We did get a few things done. It was for the community and for the board’s sake how this worked out. It’s for the community and the economy. (Rodeo) – that’s what makes Cody Cody.”
Allshouse said he may be president only for a matter of days – the board expects to elect new officers this week.
Office manager and board secretary Cherain Richmond, Schultz’s daughter, was also ousted, though it was pledged the rodeo’s downtown office will remain open Mondays-Fridays.
The board has been divided over philosophies and other matters in recent years, but this makeover and a series of intense emergency meetings beginning in December was sparked by complaints stemming from incidents at the National Finals Rodeo.
Rodeo announcer Kade Rogge and Hadley Tate, daughter of Mo Betta contractor Maury Tate, and Tate himself, filed written statements with the board complaining that last month in Las Vegas, Brett Richmond, a Cody roper who is the husband of Cherain Richmond and son-in-law of Schultz, accused the younger Tate and her mother, Nikki, of sexual misconduct and peppered his comments with the use of the “N” word applied to African-Americans.
Although Brett Richmond did not have an official Stampede role, it was stated he was considered a representative of Cody on the scene.
The complaints set off a storm of discussion, brought scrutiny to Cody rodeo from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and triggered intense internal debate over future control of the local rodeos that culminated Thursday night.
One issue raised was if the verbiage violated the PRCA’s newly adopted Safe Sport Policy protecting work environments from bullying, sexual or verbal harassment. The PRCA has scheduled discussion about the Stampede Board situation for its January meeting.
Since 2017, the Safe Sport Policy has been approved by United States Olympic Committee sport governing bodies and the PRCA, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo., approved it.
As a telling gesture of good faith, the Stampede Board adopted an expanded version of the policy at last week’s meeting,
The board added “discrimination” to the hazing, bullying, emotional misconduct and harassment items.
“The portion regarding discrimination is not formally part of the PRCA policy, but we have chosen to add it to the list of violations,” a board statement reads.
Although the board previously issued an apology to its rodeo family and the Cody community, the Friday statement again aimed the announcements of change at the public.
“We deeply regret that any individuals were targeted and harmed by racial and other inappropriate comments by a Cody resident who is not part of our organization,” the board stated.
“Our board has united and taken a firm stance against discrimination and we have made some difficult choices and changes in support of our zero tolerance approach towards discriminatory and verbal abuse against our rodeo affiliates.”
The board banned Brett Richmond for life from events at Stampede Park.
The apologies went to Rogge and Nikki and Hadley Tate. While Rogge could not be reached for comment, Nikki Tate said, “We are so happy” about the board’s actions.
“Give them some credit,” she said. “They really went as far as they could. It is as good as possible.”
Mo Betta is the stock contractor for the 2019 season, the 15th year the company has operated the Cody Nite Rodeo.
Over last summer and fall, board members announced a nationwide search for a contractor to start in 2020.
In November, the board examined five finalists, including Mo Betta, but voted to negotiate a contract with Yost, based in Wickenburg, Ariz.
No announcement was made and a gag order was placed on board members forbidding them to talk about deliberations on pain of banishment from the board.
Yost is widely known for overseeing successful, massive roping contests. Some in Cody feared the Stampede Board would redesign Cody Nite Rodeo under Yost’s management.
Jay Linderman, a member of a longtime, prominent rodeo family, and a handful of others co-signed a letter in late December asking for more board transparency and questioning why Mo Betta, which had overseen record attendance during its first 14 years of supervision and built the sponsor base, might be replaced.
Linderman, who said he will apply to the board of directors, said he was pleased by these board moves.
“It was going to turn into a team roping and wild west show,” he said of the rodeo under Yost. “And Maury’s built that thing up.”
Yost did not respond to request for comment.
“That part is over,” said Mike Darby, the board president for three years prior to Nelson’s one-year of service, of negotiations with Yost.
As for board members being prohibited from speaking publicly, Dary said, “I think those days are over.”
Filling openings on the board is a high priority, Darby said.
“That is part of our to-do list,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll find good people.”
The nonprofit Stampede, founded in 1920 to honor William F. Cody, the town’s founding father and internationally renowned Wild West figure, is not directly accountable to any civic agency or political arm and there has been no recent public review of operations.
“We will be having an audit completed to review our internal systems and overall financial status,” the board statement indicated.
Darby said it is not clear how long it will take for such an audit to be finished.
“I’m not a CPA (certified public accountant),” Darby said. “They’re going through the books.”
The Stampede Board is now turning to the Tates again for a possible three-year contract to continue running Cody Nite Rodeo for 2020-2022.
“We’re going to see if we can’t negotiate a contract for three years,” Darby said.
Thyng worried the Stampede Board has so alienated the Tates that they will cut relations off after 2019.
“I hope we haven’t offended the Tate family so they won’t come back,” Thyng said. “When they come this summer I am going to give them a great big hug.”
However, Maury Tate said, “That would be great” of the prospect of signing a new long-term deal.
In its statement, the board said it hopes Cody rodeo supporters will rally behind it.
“Our goal is to reinforce or restore the community’s confidence in our board of dedicated volunteers,” it reads.
The board’s reorganization and commitment to a fresh start is important, Darby said, but more needs to be accomplished after this period of tumult.
Mending relations with fans, residents, sponsors and contractors is required.
“We’re not done,” Darby said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do fixing relationships.”