Internal communications between members of the Comic Cowboys reveal infighting over the future of Mobile’s most controversial parading society.
The Cowboys have been a staple of Fat Tuesday parades for more than a century, known for their floats adorned with satirical cartoons and political commentary and its longtime slogan, “Without Malice.”
Internally, however, certain members have recently been waging a campaign to bring about what they say is a“peaceful, but necessary, change” in the organization’s leadership in hopes of returning the Cowboys to “a level of respect and enjoyment that has been in steady decline.”
On April 25, attorney Richard Corrigan sent a letter to Tony Marsal, who represents the legal interests of the organization. In the letter, Corrigan lays out a number of issues the members he represents have raised.
The letter makes the case that current leadership has not held elections for officers in a number of years and has routinely kept other members from accessing information about the organization’s membership and finances that, as a nonprofit, the members claim they are entitled to review.
“It is my understanding that several members have requested certain information from those in charge over the past few years but that these requests have been denied,” Corrigan wrote. “For instance, one member requested a membership roll. This was declined. Another asked to see ‘the books,’ and was shown some sort of balance sheet.”
While the Comic Cowboys earned their fame skewering public officials and current events and have done so since 1884, the group created a firestorm of criticism in 2017 after some of its floats were deemed racist and offensive.
In the ensuing controversy, Mayor Sandy Stimpson and City Councilman Joel Daves publicly resigned from the group, which has historically included a number of public officials and other influential Mobilians among its membership.
In his correspondence, Corrigan seemed to acknowledge the controversy, writing that the Cowboys had “suffered a significant decline in public respect in recent years.”
“Politicians that formerly were members have all left, save for one that I can think of. One,” Corrigan’s letter reads. “This decline is directly and solely due to the poor decision making of a few people that deem themselves above the rules.”
Also mentioned in the letter are concerns that escalating fines — ones that, according to Corrigan, aren’t mentioned in the organization’s bylaws — could affect the Cowboys’ ability to attract and retain new members.
It also claims some members have been excluded from participating in the Cowboys annual parade based on “the personal grievances of those in charge” among other complaints.
“Apparently, those in charge believe that they have rights in things which belong to the organization, to-wit: packing cases of beer and bottles of whiskey off to college with their children,” the letter reads. “If an ordinary member was caught doing that, they would be kicked out, arrested or both. This is also a violation of the statutory prohibition against individuals profiting from their membership in a nonprofit corporation.”
Interestingly, Corrigan makes reference to an undisclosed issue that he called a “Damoclean sword hanging over the head of the organization” that he would only discuss in person.
For those unfamiliar with ancient Sicilian parables, the “Sword of Damocles” is a story of a common man allowed to sit on a king’s throne under the condition that a sword be hung over his head by a single strand of hair to signify the “imminent and ever-present peril faced by those in positions of power.”
Reached for comment, Corrigan declined to elaborate on exactly what that “Damoclean” concern might be or to speak to the internal discussions within the organization. He also said that neither he nor the clients he represents ever intended his correspondence to be publicized.
Marsal did not immediately respond to requests to comment on this story.
More recently, a group of “Concerned Cowboys” seeking to make changes within the organization penned a separate letter to all members on June 12 detailing their recent discussions with the current leadership. Their tone was not positive.
“Needless to say, this effort to put bylaws in place and properly enforce them was met with strenuous opposition and stonewalling by the present regime,” the letter reads. “It was only when the group was pushed to the point of hiring an attorney that the stonewallers agreed to discuss the objectives of the group.”
The letter also details a plan to push for new officer elections at the Cowboys’ annual meeting later this year and included a mail-in ballot for several positions within the organization. The “Concerned Cowboys” said they expect those ballots to be rejected, though they still plan to submit those elected officers for a floor vote at the meeting.
Because the communications that made this reporting possible were intended to be private, Lagniappe did not publish any names contained within them other than those of the paid attorneys representing the parties involved.
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