Ads Responding To Conversion Attempt Prompt Feedback

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"Thank heaven for the powerful full-page ad in the Nov. 7 Press pointing out the disaster that awaits the members of Lake Michigan Credit Union . . ." stated Michael Johnston, a teacher and LMCU member, in his letter published in the Grand Rapids Press.

Johnston's letter was one of several that have begun appearing in local media here after the Michigan league launched advertising offering another point of view in the attempt by Lake Michigan Credit Union to convert to a mutual savings bank.

Johnston's letter also called LMCU's CEO "clueless" in her attempt at "destroying the most successful credit union in West Michigan history."

Since it began running the newspaper ads, the Michigan league said it has received several phone calls and e-mails in support of its efforts, and at least four letters-to-the-editor have appeared in the Grand Rapids Press, according to MCUL spokesperson Mary Davis.

MCUL President Dave Adams said he felt the ads are serving their purpose.

"I would just like to reinforce that those ads were considered to be more of a public service," he said. "They were not meant to tell people how to vote but to help them make a more informed vote."

In earlier interviews, Adams said league officials were concerned about the methods used by LMCU to lure support. Among them, disclosures that only cast the change in a positive light and offers of cash and prizes for votes received. A banner ad on the credit union's website offers a chance at a three-year lease on a 2005 Cadillac CTS or SRX or one of five $1,000 cash prizes for ballots cast.

What Callers Are Saying

"We received a number of calls from members, several of whom were quick to point out that they appreciated the extra information our ads provided," Adams said, noting that all of the callers said they were inclined to vote "no" on the proposal.

The ads appeared in three local newspapers over several weeks starting on Nov. 7, one day before voting commenced. Titled "Before You Let Them Turn Your Credit Union Into A Bank, Know What You're Giving Up," the full-page ads touted better rates, superior customer service, and equal voting power for CU members.

One letter writer called the promotional material "hype" because it failed to use the word bank, "fearing that the use of the word would cause members to reject the idea."

He said he would cast a "no" vote and look for another credit union to join.

Another wrote, "I cannot convince myself that one less CU and one more bank will benefit anyone but the new bank's officers and board. Two 'no' votes from this household."

In his letter, Johnston said hundreds of teacher members of LMCU are willing to work with another area credit union should "Lake Michigan go the way of Old Kent, Enron and WorldCom."

He further stated, "This effort is not a bottom-up member driven effort! We members don't want a bank. If we did, we would join one!"

With the voting period to run just one more week, Adams said the league had no plans to run any more ads.

"This was not a full-scale advertising campaign," he said. "It was just a public service effort to get some ads out and encourage people to become better informed. I think we were able to do that."

In fairness, not all of the responses criticized the CU's attempts.

In a letter that appeared in the Grand Rapids Press on Nov. 25, one 34-year member supported the proposed change from a "local member-owned credit union to a local member-owned savings institution," calling it "necessary due to the credit union's success."

LMCU members have until Dec. 8 to cast their ballots on the proposed conversion to a for-profit mutual savings bank from its current non-profit status. In order to make the controversial change, LMCU, with $1 billion in assets and about 105,000 members, needs the support of 66% of voting members.

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