A meeting of the Federal Reserve Board's Consumer Advisory Council can have all the warmth and good feeling of a professional wrestling match as bankers, regulators, and community groups press their often-conflicting points of view.
Katharine W. McKee, the council's new chairman, has the job of bringing the differing opinions of the 30-person committee together, or at least keeping its members from reaching the boiling point too often.
"It's not always easy," said Ms. McKee, an associate director at the Center for Community Self-Help in Durham, N.C. "Still, it's a good mix of people because we get to see played out a lot of political debates and balancing of interests."
Ms. McKee brings a long career as a community activist to the council, which meets three times a year to weigh in on a wide range of Fed regulatory policies. The council next meets June 2.
While she admits to opposing banks during her nine years at the North Carolina center, an $80 million-asset nonprofit lender to people with low and moderate incomes, she also empathizes with bankers who worry about bad loans.
"We started out thinking that banks were usually stubborn and wrong," Ms. McKee said. "Then we lost our first three loans. It turns out that when banks are determining underwriting standards and things like that, they are usually right, to a point."
Her views, however, don't surface too often in her Fed post, which she assumed on March 28 at the start of her third and final year on the council. As chairman, she makes sure all opinions are heard, but generally keeps her own thoughts to herself.
In an interview, Ms. McKee said she's an avid supporter of the Community Reinvestment Act, which she said has sparked inner-city renewals. She also supports the recent rule revisions, saying the reduction of the regulatory burden should spur more lending.
The consumer activist in her questions the current consumer leasing disclosures. She advocates extensive consumer education and translating the disclosures into plain English.
That said, Ms. McKee said the government has to be careful not to squelch innovation by overregulating new technologies, such as smart cards.
While the council's votes are not binding on the Fed, the group does have the ear of several Fed governors, including Lawrence B. Lindsey.
Mr. Lindsey said Ms. McKee's experiences with the Center for Community Self-Help make her an asset to the Fed.
"She's very creative," Mr. Lindsey said. "She's had to be. The whole community development lending industry is just getting off the ground. And she definitely has worthwhile opinions."
But her chief duty now is achieving a balance of opinions, and keeping discussions constructive.
Julia M. Seward, vice chairman of the council, said Ms. McKee's career of negotiating on behalf of the North Carolina group primed her to handle the council's highly charged debates.
"She's a real consensus builder," said Ms. Seward, corporate community development officer at Richmond, Va.-based Signet Banking Corp. "She has a talent and ability for bridging the issues."
That power was evident at the council's March meeting, when a member read a long, awkwardly worded consumer leasing disclosure that drew snickers from the crowd. Before other members could respond to the not-so- subtle attack on leasing disclosures, Ms. McKee chimed in to defuse what appeared to be an impending clash.
"So," she said calmly, "are you suggesting that some lease buyers may not understand that?"
Laughter rose from the crowd and the debate continued - still lively, but less tense.