Conversion Foes Square Off In Newspaper

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The two sides in the fight over Columbia Credit Union's attempted conversion to a mutual savings bank squared off with separate opinion pieces in The Columbian newspaper last week. Below are excerpts from spokespersons for the two sides: Karen Martel, chairman of CCU, and Steve Straub, former CEO of Columbia CU and member of Save Columbia Credit Union.

By Karen Martel

Recently, Columbia's board asked members to vote on changing the institution from a credit union to a mutual bank. A few extremists from outside our community (Check out the Oregon Conservancy Foundation) and a handful of bitter ex-employees maliciously painted this request as board greed. This just isn't true.

Controversy has arisen over our members' vote to become a member-owned mutual bank. We have been relatively quiet, taking the high road, but now the regulatory review is complete and we can freely present our point of view.

Federal regulators-the National Credit Union Administration-felt the voting process was unfair...Taking a good, hard look at ourselves after their report, we determined we could have done better and will in the future. For example, future mail ballots will be sent directly to a firm selected to tabulate ballots.

In other areas our regulators were just plain wrong. There was never any pre-established plan to make Columbia Credit Union a stock-issuing issuing bank. As this rumor spread it was repeated often. making Columbia Credit Union a stock-issuing institution requires a member vote, and that was never on the table...After investigating all the options, the Columbia board's intent has always been to remain a member-owned institution.

The original reason behind asking our members to vote on a charter change boils down to money. Yep, we said it...and it's not what the activists would have you think. The mutual bank charter would have allowed earnings from expanded business lending to benefit every Columbia member. Now we're excited about new possibilities offered by our state regulator that provide us, as a credit union, similar access to money.

Unlike what detractors would have you believe, this vote has never been about money for board compensation, but money to provide services, conveniences and products that benefit every Columbia member

Many members signed a petition to rescind the conversion vote. What some signers didn't realize is that this petition also intended to overthrow the entire board.

The state director who oversees all Washington state-chartered credit unions said the negotiated settlement was in the best interest of all members. The 2004 annual meeting was changed to April and we extended the timeline for interested parties to apply for nomination.

With the agreement signed "in the best interests of all members," we hope that the most recent attempt by Steve straub, Robert Tice, John Bucholtz, Lloyd Marbet, Cathryn Chudy and their activist organizations-Save Columbia Credit Union Committee and the Oregon Conservancy Foundation-will be put to rest.

Columbia's board is committed to putting our members interests first. This is how it always has been and how it always will be.

By Steve Straub

You probably saw the ad that ran in the Columbian a few days ago. Columbia Credit Union's directors are worried that someone is trying to make off with their baby, trying to "hijack the voting rights" of members.

Isn't that interesting! They are referring, of course, to an ever-growing group of their very own members who are trying, quite desperately against rather significant odds, to prevent Columbia's officials from doing that very thing.

Reportedly, they've spent $750,000 to pull this off. And tried to make it happen with only 16% of the membership involved and with such a tight vote margin as to suggest anything but enthusiastic support of the idea. And yet they spend our money on ads that say our effort "reeks of hypocrisy." Isn't it crazy, sometimes, how things get so twisted around?

The good news is CCU is not about to become a bank. not in the near future, anyway. Even though the directors, specifically entrusted to "avoid and resist influences and practices" that are detrimental to credit unions, seem to want nothing more than to see this happen. Convert a top-rate credit union into a bank? What could possibly be more detrimental than that!

So now, if we in the Save Columbia Credit Union group got what we want-the assurance that our credit union won't become a bank-why are we still battling with the directors? it's simple. Our goal from the start was to keep CCU going as one of the best credit unions in the country.

We thought we were achieving this all along. We trusted our directors with the responsibility for doing that. But they had something else in mind. Something involving corporate ambition, grand schemes of beating the competition, expanding throughout the Pacific Northwest. it involved visions of empire building, of buying or merging, maybe eventually selling out to other banking institutions. It involved hardball promotional tactics (and more recently, some rough, name-calling advertising). And for some, visions of significant personal gain.

So where are we? We're only part way there. The conversion is off for now. But the challenge ahead is to regain control of the credit union and build it back into one of the most "high-performing," member-focused, cooperative operations in the country. Yes, we are activists for that purpose!

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