Events Turn Negative as Meeting to Recall CCU Board Gets Closer

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The campaign over the future of Columbia Credit Union's board of directors-and ultimately, the credit union itself-took an abrupt turn to the negative last week as members seeking to recall the board and the embattled credit union sought advantage in the run-up to next week's special meeting, at which members will vote on the board's recall.

The recall initiative was launched following plans by the credit union to convert to a mutual savings bank charter. CCU's members narrowly approved the move, but a group of members has successfully gathered enough petitions to revote the matter.

The group of members calling itself Save Columbia CU filed a new lawsuit claiming that five of the incumbent directors were ineligible to run because they have exceeded their self-imposed nine-year term limits on the board. The suit also claims that the credit union was playing unfair in the election by refusing to share member lists and other information needed to tell their side of the story with membership prior to the meeting.

Meanwhile, police called by Columbia officials to enforce a credit union-imposed ban on on-site electioneering, refused to arrest Save CCU members on-site at various branches, deciding that as member/owners of the credit union they could not be charged with trespassing.

The suit was filed with the Clark County Superior Court, the same court that ruled last month the credit union must enforce a petition signed by 3,600 credit union members supporting the recall initiative.

The suit came just days after an unnamed person or group posted a vituperative website called retainourboard.org, which included attacks on individual members of Save CCU, while providing glowing testimonials to the endangered board members.

Columbia officials disavowed any connection to the website and insisted they did not even know who was responsible, despite its similarity to material the credit union has posted on its own site. "This is not endorsed by Columbia Credit Union," said Colleen Broccia, spokesperson for Columbia Credit Union. "This is not somebody we know. This is truly an independent party."

The site, which was posted on the web march 13, two weeks before the special meeting, says it is "dedicated to the wonderful volunteer Directors of Columbia Credit Union," and includes full-color biographies of the directors targeted for recall.

What's On Site

In also attacks leaders of Save CCU, arguing that Steve Straub was fired as the credit union's CEO in 1992 and posting a newspaper story related to a subsequent lawsuit; by featuring a photo of Lloyd Marbet, a liberal activist who initiated the petition drive, being arrested for an earlier, unrelated protest; and by quoting Robert Tice, a Green party member, as referring to local municipal officials as "fascists."

But the site has no contact number and no one claiming authorship. Broccia said the credit union does know who is responsible.

"They won't tell us who it is," she reiterated. Acknowledging that the site has the same perspective as the credit union's board, she said CCU has no plans to ask the sponsors of the site to pull it down.

The lawsuit filed by Save CCU, meanwhile, contains a number of puzzling accusations.

It includes allegations that five board members have exceeded the nine-year term limits approved by the panel in 1999, including Connie Jones (20 years), Robert Byrd (12 years), Dennis McLachlan (12 years), William Byrd (nine years), and Mark Ail (nine years).

The action also requests a court order requiring the credit union to provide them with equal access to members to allow them to campaign for the special election, something CCU has steadfastly refused to do.

But the suit also makes several claims about CCU's failed attempt to date to convert to a mutual savings bank, claims that appear to be moot. It claims that the conversion attempt was illegal because state law does not specifically allow for such a conversion, and the effort to certify the conversion vote under federal law was also illegal.

Doug Schafer, an attorney for Save CCU, said the conversion issue is not dead, because the Columbia board has agreed to table it but not end it indefinitely.

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