America's Community Bankers is holding a board meeting today to vote on whether it should spend up to $500,000 to hire a consulting firm that would help the thrift group merge with the American Bankers Association.

A vote is necessary because one board member -- Daniel P. Digby, president of the Community Bankers of Louisiana -- objected to a motion to approve the contract without calling a special meeting.

"It is just premature to sign a contract," Mr. Digby said in an interview this week. An opponent of the merger plan unveiled July 19, he said the ABA must first agree to protect the thrift charter, support commercial ownership of thrifts and keeping the Office of Thrift Supervision, and meet other policy demands. Only then should Towers Perrin be hired to recommend governance and staffing decisions.

Acknowledging that he will probably lose, Mr. Digby accused other ACB board members of abstaining from votes to avoid making tough calls.

"Enough board members have to be willing to stand up and speak their mind," said Mr. Digby, whose group represents 30 thrifts and 77 commercial banks, which merged their own separate state trade groups last year.

Some ACB members also have questioned whether the price tag on the Towers Perrin contract, which would be split fifty-fifty with the ABA, could exceed initial estimates.

ACB chairman E. Lee Beard has said the contract could cost as much as $850,000 depending on how far negotiations proceed but added this week that the consultant's expenses could push the total bill above $1 million. Nevertheless, she predicted that the contract would be approved easily. The ABA board approved the contract in July.

Meanwhile, the eight-member committee negotiating the merger for the ACB and ABA met Thursday in Chicago and has tentatively planned two meetings for September, Ms. Beard said. She declined to give details.

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Washingtonian magazine's September issue ranks the top 50 trade association executives with "real clout," and not a single banking group chief made the cut.

High-tech, entertainment, food, and transportation groups dominate the list. The only financial services lobbyist included is No. 31, Carroll Campbell, the president and chief executive of the American Council of Life Insurance. Even the "spaghetti lady," Jula Kinnaird, president of the National Pasta Association, made the list, ranked No. 42.

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