The Long Road Between Civic, Credit Union Duty

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IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Think your commute is tough? Try making Casey Wheeler's monthly trek.

Wheeler, currently is serving as the interim president and CEO of Members Preferred Credit Union in Idaho Falls in the eastern part of Idaho near the Wyoming state line. His hometown, however, is some 700 miles to the west in Columbia City, Ore., northwest from Portland. Wheeler is on the city council of Columbia City.

"I commute back home once a month to Columbia City, and my wife-the most important thing-to attend one of the two city council meetings in person," he told Credit Union Journal. "I fly back for the first city council meeting of the month, at my own expense, and use Skype for the second meeting each month along with committee meetings and work sessions."

For the Columbia City Council, Wheeler chairs the Budget and Streets Committees and serves on the Audit Committee. He serves as the city's representative to the County Economic Team, where he is on the Executive Committee.

Since he has so much free time among all these duties, he also is on the United Way board and is active in Rotary.

Prior to being elected to the Columbia City Council he served as chairman of the Budget and Audit Committees and served on the City Planning Commission. He has been active in politics in four different states (New York, Idaho, Oregon and Washington), and is also a previous president of the Idaho CU League.

Credit Union Journal: Politics has become a more volatile arena. How do you answer when asked, "What is life like in politics?"
Wheeler: As with most things in life, it is what you make of it. It can tie you up in knots or you can relish the opportunity to build community. It is rewarding, enlightening, challenging and at times entertaining.

CUJ: How did you come to be involved in politics?
Wheeler: I have a family history of giving back to the community. My grandfather was a justice of the peace, a cousin was the county court clerk, an uncle was a town supervisor, my best friend was a county legislator and another cousin is a deputy district attorney.

I originally became involved working for three different credit union trade associations and reached the point where I had the opportunity to be actively involved at the local level. I started by being involved on committees and then decided to run for City Council.

CUJ: Is there a particular issue or set of issues you are championing?
Wheeler: I do not have a particular issue or set of issues per se. I campaigned on maintaining the quality of life in our community. It is challenging in these times with unfunded mandates, unexpected emergency expenses and reduced income.

CUJ: There has been considerable talk of the lack of civility in politics today. Do you think things have become less civil? If so, why?
Wheeler: From a historical perspective we must remember that the founding fathers attacked one another with slanderous statements in the press using aliases and this continued well into the 1800s, so this is not something new. Remember that one member of Congress caned another during the 1800s on the floor of Congress. Two world wars caused the rhetoric to tone down some until the advent of the Vietnam War.

The difference today is that with 24-hour media coverage on multiple channels and the development of social media, more people are exposed to the derogatory comments and insinuations than in the past. People by nature are emotional and will react emotionally when they have strong beliefs. I am hopeful that someday we can reach the point where we can "agree to disagree" without it becoming a shouting match.

CUJ: Many people, including in credit unions, say it is just not worth getting involved. Do you ever find yourself thinking that? Why should people get involved?
Wheeler: I have never found myself thinking that. My beliefs are, "If you don't vote, don't complain about the outcome," and "If you don't get involved, don't complain about the outcome."

It's easy to Monday morning quarterback and many people, including the political pundits, love to do it because it is easy. The hard part is getting involved. If you want to see something happen, the only way it has a chance is if you are involved.

CUJ: What is the most difficult part of holding office?
Wheeler: No different than in credit unions, you cannot make all of the people happy all of the time. When decisions are made, there is always someone who disagrees for their own reasons. I may not agree with their reasons, but I try my best to understand them and explain my position.

CUJ: What is there about politics and holding office that you think many people don't know or understand?
Wheeler: The rules that must be followed concerning a large number of items from how funds can be spent or not spent, to the number of steps necessary for local ordinances to become effective, or legislation to become law to the open meeting process required by a democracy.

CUJ: Where do credit unions fit in politics? Are they understood? What should CUs do more/less of?
Wheeler: Credit unions need to be involved in politics, because if they are not some other group will determine their future legislative direction. While credit unions are better understood today than at any time during the past, there is still much ongoing education that has to take place on a continual basis.

Wearing the white hat is not going to cut it any longer. Credit unions need to start educating politicians at the local level as they often move on to higher office. They need to get more involved in campaigns by volunteering to work for the candidate and serve on campaign related committees. They need to not only attend town hall meetings, but speak out on issues of importance to credit unions and their communities. Active engagement will build a strong lasting relationship.

CUJ: What is your general view of Congress and national politics?
Wheeler: While at times is can be very frustrating, at others it can be very uplifting. While it may not be perfect in the eyes of some people, it is a democracy and as a democracy it can be very messy. It is also the single best form of government in the world and I would not trade it for any other.

CUJ: How much of a time commitment does your office require? How often do you meet? What does it pay?
Wheeler: I spend about 20 hours a month reviewing material and attending meetings. The city council meets twice a month. The audit committee meets on a quarterly basis. The other committees meet on an as-needed basis. I use Skype to attend meetings that I cannot attend in person.

Just like credit union boards of directors and committees, I receive no pay to be on the city council or chair committees or serve on committees.

CUJ: Anything you want to add?
Wheeler: I am a firm believer in John Kennedy's inaugural address statement: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country." This statement applies to all levels-local, state and national.

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