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Stuck in bureaucratic quicksand, things are still a mess for the California State Athletic Commission; ESPN says Andy Foster finalist for Nevada job
By Zach Arnold | March 19, 2014
The video of Monday’s Los Angeles meeting is now online.
If you’re a casual fan, there’s not a lot of takeaways from Monday’s meeting other than things remain chaotic in the state. If you work in the industry or you’re a hardcore fan who has followed what has been happening in Sacramento, some very revealing things were on display at the Monday meeting.
The video a little over two hours in length. If you don’t have time to watch it, here’s our top seven takeaways from what we observed at Monday’s meeting.
1. The next three months are going to be budget hell.
CSAC budgets work in Fiscal Year timelines, meaning July 1st to June 30th is their calendar year. In an attempt to build up cash reserves for the commission, Governor Jerry Brown’s budget restricts CSAC with a spending authority of under $1.2 million USD. So, even if the commission makes more than $1.2 million dollars, they can’t spend any money over that limit. Until future Jerry Brown budgets give the Athletic Commission more spending authority, CSAC is financially handcuffed.
Andy Foster stated at the meeting that the Department of Consumer Affairs has told him that if CSAC goes over budget during this time period that operations will have to stop and whatever overage there is will come out of his paycheck. Unfortunately, this is an old disgusting threat DCA has pulled out before that is legally all bark and no bite.
2. Consumer Affairs has their grips firmly tightened on CSAC.
Any hope of there being a semblance of independence for CSAC from Consumer Affairs is completely out the window. And that is a very bad thing.
Case in point: legal fees. Right now, the Athletic Commission has two lawsuits to deal with (one in Sacramento Superior Court involving former office worker/inspector Sarah Waklee and one in LA Superior Court involving ace inspector Dwayne Woodard). Technically, there are two sets of lawyers handling each case. The AG’s office in Sacramento has Kristin M. Daily and the LA AG’s office has wine lawyer Elisabeth Frater dealing with Woodard’s case. Then there is the cadre of lawyers at Consumer Affairs who run the show for CSAC. And to throw a third head to the legal monster is fixer Martha Shen-Urquidez. We’ll talk more about her role later as a de facto third lawyer off the books.
Consumer Affairs is named as a primary party in both lawsuits. However, the court case fees had been dumped onto CSAC’s budget. With Andy’s budget in real trouble, DCA has now agreed to pay for half of the legal fees from the AG’s office for the two cases. Meaning they will pick up approximately $20,000 in fees. One of the Commissioners, lawyer Mary Lehman, asked if DCA would pick up more of the tab in the future. Andy is hoping for more help.
The AG offices did not bill CSAC for either January or February but the estimated burn rate is $4,000 a month and will certainly skyrocket if either lawsuit goes to trial. The way Sacramento is acting, they’re begging for two trials and that could cause CSAC in the future to cease regulatory operations due to budget spending restraints. Which would mean CSAC would once again be a target of getting sunsetted and all regulatory actions being moved into private (hiding) at Consumer Affairs.
3. No Martha Shen-Urquidez, no situational ethics at CSAC meetings
We’ve railed for months about behavior at past CSAC meetings that we’ve classified as sleazy on behalf of lawyer Martha Shen-Urquidez. On Monday, she wasn’t at the meeting. And wouldn’t you know it, it felt like there was a Come to Jesus moment on behalf of everyone at the meeting in regards to cleaning up behavior regarding possible Brown Act violations.
For those who don’t know what the Ralph M. Brown Act is, it’s basically a (now watered down) state law for better transparency at public meetings whether it’s a local city council or state agency. The problem is that the state legislature has now made it legally toothless. If you catch a blatant violation at a public meeting, the law states that you have to write that agency either a notice to cure or cease and desist letter in which you give said agency 30 days to agree to a surrender (known as unconditional commit). The terms of surrender involve said agency passing a symbolic resolution to pledge not to violate behavior again while not actually admitting any legal wrongdoing. And… when such resolution is passed, that action legally insulates the agency from getting sued by he person raising the violation. The only time that person can sue is if the agency is dumb enough to not pass a symbolic resolution.
Case in point: at past CSAC meetings, there have been closed sessions for DCA/AG lawyers to talk with Athletic Commission members about what to do regarding the Waklee & Woodward lawsuits. The minutes of these meetings are forever private and cannot be requested for access through the California Public Records Act.
On past CSAC meeting agendas where closed session has been cited, the open session portion of the agenda has listed Martha Shen-Urquidez running a “legal subcommittee.” And every time it was her turn to issue a subcommittee report, she would immediately say that nothing could be said publicly and that her reports had to be kept behind closed session. Essentially, she’s a defendant (as a member of CSAC) in two lawsuits and yet has been acting as a de facto third lawyer without having her name listed as a lawyer on the court documents.
Obviously, this was a case of situational ethics at its worst. With Martha gone from Monday’s meeting, John Frierson came out and said that he had the name of Martha’s sub-committee changed to “litigation strategy” committee. Frierson stated what we’ve been screaming about, which is that he did not want the Athletic Commission to get in trouble for having any of the board members who are attorneys actually representing CSAC as an attorney in court on the case because they’re defendants.
In a wily attempt to give Martha cover, dental lobbyist and political fixer John Carvelli claimed that the reason Martha’s “legal subcommittee” was developed was due in part ot the problem CSAC’s budget has with legal fees from the AG’s office and so the subcommittee was working with DCA to deal with such budget issues and ways for CSAC to avoid future litigation. That answer does not give any cover whatsoever from Brown Act violations. Besides, if the “legal subcommittee” was about budgetary issues, that is open session material. That cannot be hidden behind closed session.
It was interesting to see Mary Lehman find her voice with Martha gone from the meetng. Perhaps she is not always accurate on rules & regulations for CSAC issues but Ms. Lehman has so far proven to be a largely by-the-book lawyer on the board whereas Martha has not.
4. There are real big concerns about California losing mid-sized and major fighting events
John Carvelli trotted out the line that he was working with Governor Brown’s office and his GO-Biz project to try to attract shows and also stated communication with the state’s Franchise Tax Board to attempt to help out on the taxation front.
Let’s make something clear here: as long as cities like Los Angeles are going to install a 5% events tax and California maintains a double-digit state income tax, you’re not going to get a lot of big fights. And making promises that the Franchise Tax Board is going to give tax breaks is promising the sun and the moon. Ask Bob Arum.
5. The doctors are still fighting with each other.
Dr. Christopher Giza, one of the CSAC board members, spoke in detail about the recent CAMO Dehydration study that was performed to see what kind of impact weight-cutting by amateur fighters has on fight performance and whether or not current weigh-in procedures should be changed.
Dr. Giza stated that the study revealed no significant effect of weight-cutting on wins or losses nor did it impact the way in which fights are finished. He made sure to stress what the study did and did not represent in clear terms.
Dr. VanBuren Ross Lemons, who is now on a crusade to change California’s weigh-in policies (with an idea of weigh-ins a week before a fight actually being discussed), poked holes right away in the CAMO Dehydration study and went about his crusade from previous meetings. He focused on the fact that extreme weight-cutting can cause brain swelling and increase risk of subdural hematomas. Quickly, the back-and-forth discussion turned into white noise but if you’re a doctor and you care about the issue then you might be interested in listening the tit-for-tat between Lemons and Giza.
Dr. Giza stated that doing such a detalled study to cover Dr. Lemons’ concerns would be difficult to do and John Carvelli stated that it would be hard to get sensitive medical records from state agencies due to HIPPA.
Promoter Roy Englebrecht suggested that California should consider reducing the time limit for boxing rounds in 4, 6, and 8 round fights to two minutes a round instead of three minutes a round so that there’s a 25% decrease in the chance of a fighter suffering serious injury. Mr. Englebrecht noted his motivation for this observation is to try to get ahead of the curve before there is momentum to shut down combat sports due to health & safety concerns.
6. The bureaucratic nightmares with the neurological & boxing pension funds remain in place
There is over $5 million dollars still in the bank account for the boxer’s pension fund. There is a reported $680,000 in the neurological fund account. The money is not getting spent.
Andy Foster said the current fee policy is to collect 1 cent per ticket to put into the Neuro fund. Exasperated with an inability to change the bureaucratic mess the accounts are in, the Executive Officer sounded off about needing to actually put the money to use and started helping the fighters who need the assistance.
Andy then made a verbal blunder that created another headache for him. While pitching a new per-event fee figure to fund the Neurological Fund, Foster said the following:
“I just picked a number out of the sky, $100 per fight (show).”
Long time DCA lawyer and CSAC consigliere Spencer Walker told Andy that a sub-committee needed to be created to do research on determining a new per-event fee figure. Annoyed, Andy fired back by stating that the Bureau of State Audits report from last year made a recommendation on what to do about the Neurological Fund and the 1 cent fee already is an abritrary charge.
“This is a time-sensitive issue and we need to move on this very quickly. The regulation process does take about a year. This will be our next sunset review main item.”
Spencer fired back by stating that the administrative procedure act legislates that you can’t just a fee number out of thin air and so now there’s a brand new sub-committee on what to do next for a fee.
6. CSAC is delegating regulation of amateur kickboxing & muay thai
Andy Foster said such events are money losers for California. He pointed out that the last amateur kickboxing event CSAC regulated, the commission took in $1,200 and spent $1,900 to regulate it. He stated that such shows take the front office the same kind of time commitment to prepare for as a Golden Boy event. He also claimed that regulating such shows is a money loser because athletic inspectors are considered state employees and get paid more to work shows than inspectors in other states.
As a result, a three-month delegation has been issued by CSAC to Steve Fossum’s IKF to regulate amateur kickboxing & muay thai events. Citing cost savings and Fossum’s ability to oversee a list of fighter suspensions, Andy stated that the new delegation can be revisited in July when the new Fiscal Year starts.
What makes the IKF delegation interesting is that Steve Fossum loves official Dan Stell. Unlike the current Sacramento administration, people are not going to be able to push Steve around in terms of what officials he books for shows. Stell was the subject of recent controversy when he published an alleged e-mail to CSAC that involved a promoter telling Andy Foster not to book Stell for his event because fighters, trainers, and officials hated him. Stell was furious at what went down. With IKF now getting a delegation, expect to see a lot of Dan Stell and for promoters to face a choice of biting their tongue or creating a real conflict with the Sacramento front office over IKF using Stell.
7. There are so many moving parts and agendas, it’s impossible right now for a unified front.
Watching Monday’s meeting, you got a real sense of the frustration level with Andy Foster trying to herd the cats and finding himself dealing with road block after road block — some created on his own accord but most created by Consumer Affairs. He’s been in the job for a year and a half and the stress level is very real. Rather than everyone being on the same page, there is real division and political feuds that are no longer being kept hidden behind closed doors.
After this article was posted, news broke that Andy Foster is one of the finalists for the Executive Director job at the Nevada State Athletic Commission. If you think his seat is hot right now in Sacramento, it just got a lot warmer.
Will UFC & Sig Rogich throw Andy the lifeline to get him out of Sacramento?