Stilwell Group again seeks board seat at Wayne Savings in Ohio

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Wayne Savings Bancshares in Wooster, Ohio, faces another battle with an activist investor intent on gaining a board seat.

Stilwell Group in New York disclosed in a recent regulatory filing that it nominated Corissa Briglia, its director of research, to run for the $447 million-asset company's board. Briglia is a director at Sunshine Financial and Delanco Bancorp; both companies agreed to be sold last year.

Still Group, led by veteran activist investor Joseph Stilwell, said it owns a 9.6% stake in Wayne.

Stilwell Group unsuccessfully pursued a board seat at Wayne last year. At that time, the firm pressed Wayne to find a buyer, claiming that the company suffered from poor performance.

Wayne sent a letter to shareholders Tuesday arguing that Stilwell Group is only seeking representation to "satisfy its own limited agenda of forcing" the company's sale. The letter was signed by Peggy Schmitz, Wayne's chairman, and David Lehman, a director who retired as the company's president in 2016.

“We believe Stilwell’s campaign to replace our qualified nominee could derail the significant progress we’ve made,” Schmitz and Lehman said in their letter. “We are excited about the opportunities in our market and will continue with our plan to transform Wayne Savings and create long-term value for all our shareholders.”

In November, Wayne added Brian Hopkins, a co-founder and principal at Ancora Advisors in Cleveland, as a director. Ancora, like Stilwell, has a history of shareholder activism, including calling for some banks to consider selling.

The letter to shareholders highlighted Wayne’s improved earnings and return on equity. It touted the company's stock repurchase program and an increased dividend.

Wayne hired James VanSickle II as president and CEO last year. Its previous CEO, Stewart Fitz Gibbon, resigned in December 2016.

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