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A group of Columbia Credit Union members who helped defeat a bid to convert the credit union to a mutual savings bank last year is poised to win control of the credit union's board of directors in next month's elections.

The so-called dissident members won four of the board's nine seats in last year's elections, just weeks after narrowly failing to recall the board in an unprecedented special election for the board's effort to change to a bank.

Now the group, ostensibly called Save Columbia CU, could win as many as three more seats, giving opponents of the controversial conversion control of the $650-million credit union.

The group was organized to try to reverse the credit union's attempts to convert to a mutual savings bank and organized a member petition drive that ultimately forced the credit union to hold a special meeting where members were asked to recall eight (of the nine) board members who voted for the conversion. But even before the meeting was held, NCUA invalidated the successful member vote to convert charters based on finding voting irregularities and attempts to manipulate the ballot by management. Still, the group proceeded with the recall effort in an attempt to hold the directors accountable for what some felt was a betrayal of credit union principles.

Regardless of next month's election results, one thing is clear, the old guard that engineered what turned out to be an unpopular initiative to switch to a bank is on its way out. That includes president and CEO David Doss, chief architect of the conversion attempt, who left Columbia CU earlier this year for a job in Arizona; Karen Martel, then-chairman of the board, who has opted to retire from the board this year; director Connie Jones, a mainstay on the board for two decades, who is also retiring; and three other incumbents who were turned out by disgruntled members in last year's elections.

Despite the new regime controlling the credit union, opponents of the conversion have still been unable to shed light on the bitter fight over credit union, for which then-directors and management are believed to have spent well over $1 million to maintain control and to conceal their roles.

Local activist Lloyd Marbet, one of the leaders of Save Columbia CU who was elected chairman of the credit union's supervisory committee after the unsuccessful recall initiative, said his group is still fighting in the courts to reveal the costs and details to credit union members. "The issues raised are member access to documents. That's the legal dispute going on," said Marbet, who, in an unusual legal predicament has been prevented from making public the information because credit union lawyers insist his dual roles as lead plaintiff in the case and chairman of the supervisory committee creates a conflict.

The legal dispute has created a rift in members of Save Columbia CU, with one of its founders Steve Straub, elected last year to the board, leaving the group because he wants to see the controversy die down. Straub, the former CEO of Columbia CU, said his main desire is to rebuild comity on the board and to move forward, and he is unhappy Save Columbia CU is continuing to press the legal dispute.

But Marbet insisted the precedent involved in the suit is every bit as important as the details of the ugly battle over the failed conversion. He said it is important that credit union members have routine access to important information about their credit union and how their money is being spent.

"We're not talking about member access to personal information, but about the operations of the credit union. I just think that it needs to be resolved," he said.

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