Bid To Oust Board At Senate FCU Heads Toward A Showdown Vote

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A bid to oust the majority of the U.S. Senate FCU appeared last week to be headed for a high-profile showdown, as irate credit union members presented petitions requesting a special meeting of the membership.

The petition drive was started by members angered over the board's special session March 27, just 15 minutes prior to the regularly scheduled annual meeting, at which it voted to expand by two seats, to 13, to accommodate two incumbents who had lost their bids for reelection.

The unusual petition initiative was rapidly spreading through the halls of Congress, where thousands of credit union members, including some two dozen U.S. senators, work.

A special board meeting last week aimed at discussing a potential resolution of the growing crisis broke up in recriminations with Chris Schunk, the only director to vote against the controversial March 27 expansion, storming out after being accused of being a "partner in crime" with the petitioners.

Board Chairman Donnee Gray said after last week's meeting the board had not yet received the petitions so could not even discuss the matter during the extraordinary session. "I have not received the petitions at this time. I have not even seen the petitions," he said.

But after the meeting the petitions, which were delivered to the credit union the day before, were presented to the board.

Petitioners claimed they had more than the necessary 200 signatures to force a special meeting, where they hope to recall the seven incumbents who voted for the controversial expansion. "We have more than enough," said Cathy Nagel, a staffer in the office of Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), who is leading the petition drive.

While the rebelling membership is seeking to rescind the controversial board expansion, a previous offer to drop the initiative if the two incumbents added to the panel resign is no longer a viable option, because of the completion of the petition drive. Now, if the petitions are legally validated, then the special meeting must go forward within 30 days.

Dissident members of the board, also angry over the expansion, said if the seven incumbents are removed then new elections could not be held until next March, so they may appoint at least one additional member to make a total of seven directors, as an uneven number is required.

Last week's special board meeting involved veiled attacks on new board members who are allied with the petitioners. The new board members won the right to get on the ballot, the credit union's first in four years, only after waging their own petition drive when they were denied access to the ballot by the board's nominating committee. When it became apparent that the newcomers had won their battle for election, defeating at least two long-time incumbents, the board called a special meeting at credit union offices outside of Washington, where most directors and members work, to expand the panel.

"This was an election to choose five slots and the action by the board nullified the election," said Schunk, who has announced his retirement from the board after serving 12 years.

Gray said the decision to expand the board was not undertaken precipitously but had been under discussion for several years. "We've been talking about expanding the board for over three years," he said. "The board can easily justify it."

He said the closeness of the election results, in which four candidates were separated by fewer than 100 votes, made the expansion viable for this year.

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