Group Wants Recall Of Wash. CU Board

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A group of Columbia Credit Union members has begun a campaign to reverse the credit union's planned conversion to a mutual savings bank.

The group, calling itself Save Columbia Credit Union, has begun a petition drive aimed at forcing the $600-million credit union-cum-bank to call a special members meeting where they would oust the board of directors and force a re-vote of the controversial conversion.

The group, which would need 2,000 of the credit union's 59,000 members to sign on to the petition, is running ads in local newspapers and on the Internet in hopes of gathering supporters.

At the same time, the Washington Department of Financial Institutions and NCUA were continuing a review last week of complaints lodged by dissident members over last month's narrow conversion vote, when just 52% of the voting members approved the switch to a bank.

NCUA officials said they were working with the state regulators to determine whether to certify the close vote or to force the credit union to hold a second ballot. "There were issues involved in the voting procedures about the actual conduct of the election," said NCUA Chairman Dennis Dollar, who added the agency has held off on certifying the ballot until completion of the review.

Several sources familiar with the review say the regulators are grappling with the credit union's invocation of federal rules, under the state's wildcard provision, and whether all the provisions of the federal requirements have been satisfied. Federal rules on the voting, which require a simple majority, are less stringent than state rules, which require a two-thirds vote.

Linda Jekel, director of the Division of Credit Unions in the DFI, said last week they had not made a final determination on the conversion. "We're wrapping up our examination and we should have a decision over the next few days," she said.

Because of the credit union's invocation of the wildcard provision, NCUA will have final authority whether to certify the conversion vote, but the DFI will continue to have authority as regulator of the new state-chartered bank, according to Jekel. "The first decision has to be made by NCUA," she stated.

Brian Witt, a Portland attorney representing Columbia CU, said last week he is confident the credit union complied with all of the necessary requirements for the conversion. "We expect that they will certify the vote," he said.

"All of this stems from five members filing complaints with the DFI," said Witt. "There were never any factual allegations of impropriety or wrongdoing. The credit union has complied with all of the aspects of the rules."

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