Whirlwinds & Hurricanes-Ensweiler Passes CUNA Gavel

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An obviously weary Texas CU League President Dick Ensweiler, worn out from a month of combating hurricanes, officially passed the gavel as CUNA Chairman last week during the group's Annual General Meeting here.

During those weeks, when credit unions throughout the country-especially in Ensweiler's home state of Texas-poured out financial and other assistance for hurricane victims, "credit unions showed their true nature, that is, 'People Helping People,' "Ensweiler exclaimed, as he passed the gavel to new CUNA Chairman Juri Valdov, president of Northwest FCU, in Herndon, Va.

Ensweiler was still watchful last week over the effects Hurricane Rita had on Gulf Coast credit unions in Texas, where dozens of credit unions were shut down from flooding and wind damage. Many of the state's CUs had already been stretched to the limit by an estimated 250,000 people evacuated to Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and other Lone Star cities after Hurricane Katrina. They were providing emergency financing, volunteers and other forms of assistance to the Katrina victims as the latest storm hit the Texas shores.

In his testimonial, Ensweiler focused first on the progress credit unions have made during his two years as CUNA chairman in reaching out to Hispanics, especially in Texas, and other immigrants. "On the grassroots level, credit unions are building outreach to Hispanics and other immigrant communities. Credit unions have made terrific progress in reaching out to new Americans," said Ensweiler. He noted the resources CUNA has added during his tenure, including a library for outreach and a Spanish-language version of its website.

The outgoing CUNA chair also expressed his concerns over the conversions of credit unions to mutual savings banks. "None of us here on stage or at CUNA wants to preclude a credit union from converting to a bank," said Ensweiler, who fought recent efforts by two Texas credit union giants, Community CU and OmniAmerican CU, to switch to bank charters. "Our concerns are driven by an insider gold rush and that members do not adequately understand the effects of the conversion."

Ensweiler insisted that any public disclosures mailed to members on conversions clearly and prominently mention the word "bank."

"I was stunned and outraged," he said, "that the word (bank) was not used in the two Texas cases. Instead, they used words like 'savings institution'," which downplayed the switch to for-profit banks, he stated.

But Ensweiler insisted that the concerns cited by executives of converting CUs, such as capital issues and limits on business lending, will be resolved if Congress passes regulatory relief for credit unions, as proposed in CURIA-the CU Regulatory Improvements Act. "The answer is to make the (credit union) charter better. This will take the conversion issue right off the table," he said.

CUNA Board Gets New Chairman, Members

Meanwhile, the new CUNA officers are: Valdov, chairman of the board; Allan McMorris, president of Oakland County CU, Waterford, Mich., is vice chairman; Don Larsen, president of Community CU, Tacoma, Wash., will continue as secretary; Tom Dorety, president of Suncoast Schools FCU, Tampa, Fla., treasurer; and Richard Ghysels, president of First Financial CU, West Covina, Calif., member at large.

Also, several new members were officially added to the CUNA Board at the AGM. They are: John Graham, president of Kentucky Employees CU, Frankfort, Ky.; Paul Mercer, president of the Ohio CU System; Mike Mercer, president of the Georgia CU Affiliates; and Brett Thompson, president of the Wisconsin CU League.

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