CEO Is Also Town's Fiscal Officer

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AUSTINTOWN, Ohio — A simple philosophy guides Mike Kurish in his work both as CEO of Associated School Employees CU-22,000 members and $150 million in assets-and as fiscal officer for Austintown, Ohio.

"You work with people, try to find out what their wants and desires are, and then try to find a way to deliver those services," he said.

Kurish has been with ASECU since the mid-1980s, he said, when it was run out of the basement of the treasurer's home. "I took it out of the basement, brought it into the schools, and we just kept listening to members and providing the services they were interested in having."

In 1996 he was approached about submitting his name to fill the vacant position of fiscal officer for the township, which resides between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Now in his fourth term, Kurish has run unopposed in the last three election cycles.

Despite the stress, extra work and re-election campaigns every four years, Kurish said that he has remained in government because he feels it is important to be involved with his community.

"Credit union leaders need to advocate for credit unions both politically and civically, and I think that by staying involved in your community you can bring awareness of the credit union alternative to individuals at different levels, and every bit of that helps," Kurish said.

The Sense of Community

As a credit union CEO, he also tries to instill that sense of community spirit in ASECU's eight branch locations, encouraging branch managers to be involved in different civic functions, including sponsoring ball teams for kids, promoting financial education in schools, or helping out at hospitals,

Kurish said that kind of outreach "builds greater awareness of credit unions as an alternative to other financial institutions."

In his position as Austintown's fiscal officer, part of his work has been focused on increasing credit unions' visibility throughout the state.

"One of the things in Ohio that the credit union movement is trying to secure is the ability to accept public funds," he said. "As an individual in charge of public funds, I have a desire to see that happen, and I hope to lobby that initiative" to make it so.

The gist of that lobbying, he explained, lies in convincing state policymakers of the need to have more choices at the local level. "By having choices, that means more competition, and thus we can bring more value to the taxpayers," he said.

Though the process has already taken about four years, he said that the credit union community is making progress on the issue.

Kurish noted that because he works strictly at the local level, his position has been immune from some of the vitriol that has characterized American political discourse over the last few years. While he — along with the township's administrator and three elected trustees — doesn't get involved much with the big issues impacting state and federal government, he hazarded a guess as to what has driven some of the high-tension political discussions of recent years.

"Sometimes people look at political leaders as having an agenda that's somewhat suspicious," noted Kurish. "When you get right down to it, these are people who live and work in our communities and have an interest in seeing our communities succeed. Sometimes when decisions are made that don't agree with what we do, it doesn't necessarily mean that their decision-making process wasn't sound."

While he said that there are only a few people from the credit union community currently holding elected office in Ohio, he stressed the importance of community involvement.

"It's important that we represent our communities in advocating the credit union message as much as possible and in as many different types of forums as possible," said Kurish. "We need to be involved in chambers, local governments and civic organizations so that we have the opportunity to spread the word."

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