The ousted president of the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair board said Tuesday that the sudden election held to replace her Monday night was "a hostile takeover."
Sarah Coxe Lange, voted off the Devon Horse Show & Country Fair Inc. board of directors in a private meeting, said she would continue to work to preserve the event. Her family was among those who founded the show in 1896.
"I don't give up on anything," she said.
Coxe Lange was replaced by Richard O'Donnell, the treasurer, who ran for president and lost to her in last year's election.
"After 40 years of being involved in the administration of this horse show, it's a delightful experience to finally be at the top," O'Donnell said Tuesday. "I know that I can . . . attempt to move this horse show forward in a very positive way."
Chairman Henry Lafayette Collins III was also ousted, replaced by Wayne Grafton, a board member.
O'Donnell and Grafton called meetings with about 60 horse show volunteers Tuesday and said they would continue to hold talks over the next several days.
Collins and Coxe Lange were to be up for reelection at the board's annual meeting on Jan. 15. Both wondered why Monday's meeting was called when the other meeting was already scheduled.
O'Donnell and Grafton declined to talk about the reason for the emergency meeting and said they were focusing on organizing for the 2015 show.
"We have a show that's going to go off here in five months. It seems like a long time away, but it's a lot of moving parts," Grafton said.
According to Grafton, the new leaders do not plan big changes and had "yet to hear a single complaint." Devon personnel in 2015 will essentially remain the same as in 2014, he said.
"It's the same old Devon. If the wheel ain't broke, you don't fix it," he said.
However, one board member said it looked as if there would be sweeping changes.
Monday's election was surrounded by mystery and murky rumors that flew after the meeting announcement, including concern that one faction might want to sell the site and move the horse show to a different location - which all parties denied.
Neither Coxe Lange nor Collins attended Monday's meeting. Coxe Lange was in Maryland setting up the estate of her recently deceased mother-in-law. Collins had long-standing plans in New York with his wife and mother, he said.
"How they went about it is so inappropriate, and I wanted it to be a public meeting. You open up to the world what you have against me," Coxe Lange said.
She said she and Collins were effectively "not allowed" to defend themselves because they could not make it to the meeting, for which they and the rest of the board members were given five days' notice.
Collins said Tuesday that he hoped "nothing is done that blemishes" Devon.
"Time will tell whether this decision is the right one," he said.
The ouster reflected a power struggle and long-standing tension between the country fair and horse show factions of the board. Monday's meeting was called by nine country fair-affiliated board members. According to Coxe Lange, some of the people on the horse show side are exhibitors and competitors who travel frequently, which made it more difficult for them to attend the meeting.
"They had this meeting so people couldn't make it on the horse-show side. That is somewhat inexcusable," she said.
Seventeen of the 22 board members were in attendance, Grafton said. Some attended by telephone.
"There was no attempt to keep anybody legitimately authorized to be in the meeting out of the meeting," Grafton said.
Grafton said the particulars of the meeting and what O'Donnell called the "nonsense that's been happening" were board matters.
"We've been through a very unfortunate period here, where there's been a number of misstatements and rumors circulating that are factually incorrect and not true," Grafton said.
He said he and O'Donnell were "meeting with enthusiastic support at all levels" from show volunteers, management, and sponsors.
Coxe Lange said letters written in her support "were pouring in" to Devon Tuesday.
Coxe Lange is still the CEO and president of the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair Foundation. She said she would "demand to be heard" and call for a public meeting if the Devon Horse Show & Country Fair Inc. board tries to remove her from the foundation board.
Coxe Lange said her family would continue to attend the springtime event.
"We will be at every Devon Horse Show in the future. We're not going anywhere, and I'll be watching," she said.