Wanted: Reasons To Write Controversial Headlines Here
Get ready for an avalanche of accolades, platitudes for his attitude, a nation of admiration and congratulations. Last week NCUA Chairman Dennis Dollar (finally) stepped down. "An outstanding job of administering the federal credit union regulator," the trade groups will say. "An honor to have worked with him," fellow board members will say.
Well, good riddance, I say. From a news columnist's and newspaper editor's point of view, Dollar's departure is long overdue. Enough already with the credit union successes, the overall health of the industry, and especially the smooth relations between credit unions and their regulator. It's time to get back to some good ol' tension and agitation. Speaking from a purely selfish point of view, what this industry needs isn't just more of ex-Chairman Norm D'Amours' notion of an "arm's length regulator." Nosiree. We need much more than that. What's at the end of that arm? A hand. And what's in the middle of those digits extending from the hand? Exactly the kind of regulator we need!
And speaking of Mr. D'Amours, excuse me while I step away from the keyboard to wipe away a nostalgic tear...Whoa, that took longer than I thought. OK, I've pulled myself together and am back. It's hard not to get choked up when reflecting back on the previous chairman. While much of the credit union movement might have chipped in to have a limo gassed up and waiting in Alexandria, Va., on D'Amours' last day, some of you may not be aware that a core group of grizzled, hardened news veterans could hardly staunch the tears over his departure. D'Amours had been a gift from the Trade Press God, Fourthestateus, and we had looked upon it and seen that it was good. Heck, better than good, great! Six years of insulting professionals and volunteers and trade groups-and in public! Six years of arguing the good works credit unions were doing weren't working good. Six years of internal squabbles among a board that were far better than anything the Middle East could serve up. The underserved? It sure wasn't us.
Remember when Norm D'Amours left office? While there were cheers and beers among the trade group executive staffs, their PR folks had to toil long into the night and dig deep into the thesaurus searching for just the right double-edged euphemisms and adjectives. I believe CUNA released a statement saying that while it had had differences with D'Amours, it managed to find a positive in something to the effect that the chairman "had never actually set anyone on fire during his tenure."
NAFCU, as I recall, was the first to credit him with a number of firsts at the agency, such as being the first chairman named Norm.
Of course, there was a price to pay and the price we in the credit union trade press paid for those glorious D'Amours years was Dennis Dollar. He was not only not an outsider, he had run a credit union. He didn't want to pile another layer of regulation on the industry, he wanted to peel it back. He didn't tell credit unions what he wanted them to hear, he listened to what they had to say. And then had the gall to act on it. Over the past few years credit union assets soared even as the economy sputtered, yet the overall delinquency ratio has declined. Credit union trade groups and leagues went from feeling "obligated" to inviting the NCUA chairman to their events, to falling over one another to be first. And in a development we wonder how many have noticed, Dollar managed to accomplish much of D'Amours' agenda for expanding service into low-income communities not by forcing them to, but by letting credit unions lead the way.
For the past few years NCUA has essentially been a news-free zone. Reporters have taken to interviewing one another and/or asking to be transferred to the 4-H Club beat. Well, no more, I say. The Bush Administration is supposedly willing to do anything to court votes for this November, so it's time to throw a bone to the credit union industry press. The administration needs to nominate someone who can take the bored out of the board. If it wants to get even with former terrorism czar Richard Clark for his tell-all book, why not involuntarily name him to the NCUA board? If the FCC has its way Howard Stern will be looking for work. He rose to prominence in DC, so he already knows the area, and he only works five hours a day, so he's perfect for a government job. What about one of the cast-offs from Survivor? Some deviously sneaky, behind-the-back alliances could be just the kind of stuff we're looking for.
I don't know what Vice Chair Joann Johnson plans to bring to the job of chairman, but here's hoping there's a little less emphasis on the chair and a whole lot more on the vice.
To be sure, I'll certainly miss at least one thing about Mr. Dollar. His last name is a headline and pun writer's dream. Q: Why did the NCUA chairman serve so long beyond the end of his term? A: Once a dollar goes to Washington, it doesn't come back. Or, Q: Why did the NCUA chairman appear smaller during recent remarks at a WOCCU event at the Canadian embassy? A: Because the dollar is smaller in Canada. Still, just the fact we've been forced to amuse ourselves this way shows just how truly desperate we've become.
CUNA's CEO, Dan Mica, noted last week that Dollar "is indeed a hard act to follow." Here's hoping he's right.
Frank J. Diekmann is Editor of The Credit Union Journal. He can be reached at fdiekmann