Both the NCUA and the Credit Union Times' Editor/Publisher Paul Gentile are missing the point about credit union bylaw disputes. Who enforces the FCU bylaws, the courts or NCUA, is secondary to the core question of why does NCUA empower a mere handful of disruptive dissidents to petition for a special membership meeting in the first place? If NCUA's standard bylaws allowed federal credit unions to require a responsible 10% of members to petition for these special membership meetings like so many state statutes and bylaws do, then governance-threatening disputes requiring enforcement would become extremely rare.
Although a handful of states have special membership meeting petition requirements worse than NCUA's 750-signature cap, the vast majority requires many more members to call a special meeting. If DFCU Financial were a Michigan-chartered credit union, over 16,000 member signatures would have been required. If Maryland-chartered, Lafayette FCU would require over twice as many member signatures as the FCU bylaws.
By far the most common state chartered credit union requirement is 10% of the entire membership. There are other states where credit union leaders can select their own requirements to include in the bylaws. The Illinois statutes, among others, don't even contemplate members being able to call special meetings. A state like California with a significant number of really large credit unions requires at least 3% of the entire membership. Even that relatively low 3% number assures that it would take over 20,000 member signatures to disrupt California-chartered The Golden 1 CU's governance structure.
NCUA may be looking at FCU bylaw enforcement as yet another way to interfere in a credit union's business decision to convert its charter to that of a mutual savings bank, but the application of NCUA's decision will almost assuredly be to every type of bylaw dispute. Who will be more fair and balanced--NCUA or the courts? If NCUA intervenes in these high stakes disputes, won't it end up in court anyway?
If Credit Union Times really wants to do a service for the credit union industry, it will drop the bylaws enforcement issue and instead use its bully pulpit to encourage NCUA to replace the 750-cap for membership meeting petitions with something more responsible. Such a move will reassure the industry and Congressional policymakers that this country's largest federally chartered credit unions are not so vulnerable to governance disruption that credit unions' reputations are at risk and the share insurance fund is unnecessarily exposed. Marvin C. Umholtz President/CEO Umholtz Strategic Planning & Consulting Services Castlerock, Colo. (Editor's Note: Mr. Umholtz is affiliated with the Coalition for Credit Union Charter Options, a group that advocates for credit unions converting to mutual savings banks.)