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ANA gets black eye from bickering

Numismatic News editor offers his view of the Ostromecki-ANA board controversy.

I don?t really want to write this column. However, even editors have to do some things they don?t like to do. My professional judgment tells me I must.

By now you have had a week to digest the point and counterpoint arguments put before you in the March 28 issue by former American Numismatic Association Gov. Walter Ostromecki and ANA President William Horton.

I did not seek out a column from Ostromecki because my readers basically felt enough had been done on the topic last fall. However, because he wrote such a piece for another paper and because the ANA president asked me to run the point and counterpoint presentation, I felt it my duty to the readers and to ANA (I am a life member) to provide the space.

Personally, I don?t think there has been much added to where I had left it last autumn. Any new facts presented by both sides don?t seem to fundamentally alter the conclusion my reporting arrived at last year that Ostromecki was thrown off the board for having the temerity to write a letter to Cliff Mishler, a man who had been co-chairman with Chet Krause of a formal effort to raise money to pay for the ANA museum construction project of five years ago.

I can certainly sympathize with the president and the board?s apparent exasperation at Ostromecki?s conduct. However, as I wrote last year, I don?t think Ostromecki?s offense(s) rose to such a serious point that the board would overturn an election result for the first time in its history. But the board did so. It is in the past. Neither side now benefits from the ongoing bickering.

I certainly agree with Ostromecki that the ANA members? feelings can be registered formally in their votes in the 2007 election. If Ostromecki runs and wins, that should send a message to the current board. However, with the precedent now established, the board could once again throw Ostromecki off it even if he returns, unless he subscribes to its excessive and counterproductive secrecy rules.

The only conclusion that I can draw is that the current board, like many of its predecessors, has too many unprofessional, unworldly and naive members. They don?t know how the world works. They don?t know how to behave professionally in it. They are simply afraid, afraid of being found out that the great Oz is merely the man behind the curtain.

Why would it be a big deal for Ostromecki to write a letter to Mishler? The board feared a lawsuit. Mishler wanted the ANA museum named for Edward C. Rochette against the board?s apparent wishes. Only the discovery of an old press release prevented this foolish and unprofessional confrontation from escalating. The museum now is named for Rochette.

There is great irony in this. Rochette once saved the ANA board the disgrace of having formally censured Chet Krause. It did so over an advertisement this paper ran for a losing candidate for ANA president in 1973. The ANA board wanted to know who paid for the ad. Chet wouldn?t tell. The board censured him. Rochette had this travesty expunged from the official record when he was executive director.

The ANA board has good reason to fear lawsuits. Often they are brought on by its own foolish conduct. The record shows the board is more likely to lash out with punitive actions and lawsuits than its imagined enemies.

I was asked in January by an ANA staff member why I didn?t think a 7-0 vote was pretty conclusive evidence of a good reason for the Ostromecki removal. I replied that my belief was based on the fact that the ANA board in 1996 voted 8-1 to sue Numismatic News and Rochette over a story. I was editor at the time. Cooler heads eventually prevailed, as was the case last year, but the board needlessly provokes and punishes its friends, supporters and potential donors. The world is different; we don?t know all the facts, its members reply.

The ANA board culture is like Stalin?s Soviet purges of the 1930s ? only without Stalin. There seems to be periodic outbursts of vindictive, petty and unprofessional people. It is sad.