Del Norte Dispute Remains Unsettled
LOS ALAMOS, N.M. -- The $302 million Del Norte Credit Union held its annual meeting on May 7 but failed to ease an ongoing credit union controversy, according to attending members.
Members have taken issue with the direction of the credit union's leadership ever since the board and supervisory committee began a dispute over supervisory committee investigations of alleged impropriety on the parts of some board members along with election irregularities in the 2007 balloting.
Neither investigation was completed, according to supervisory committee members, because the board acted to prevent the committee from hiring outside counsel to assist in the investigation and destroyed the ballots from the disputed election.
The dispute led to the eventual expulsion of both the former supervisory committee chairman, Joe Gutierrez, and his wife Bertha, from the credit union. The board also passed a bylaw change that transformed the supervisory committee from an elected committee to an appointed one.
The recent controversy hung over the May 7 annual meeting where members said the board refused to let any of the members speak or to raise any of the issues. More than 200 of the CUs 42,000 members signed a petition seeking to have the board rescind its decision to change the supervisory committee makeup from elected to appointed.
Neither the board nor the credit union have returned calls seeking comment on the controversy, but more members have begun speaking out about both it and the way the credit union has decided to go forward with elections.
Some of the heat has arisen not only from what the board has done in regard to the committee, but the way it has been done. For example, the board put forward the bylaw change making the supervisory committee an appointed one even though the elections had already started. Further, it only completed the process two days after the balloting for the supervisory committee had ended.
Charles Monta??o, one of the two incumbent members of the supervisory committee who was running to retain his seat called the changes a blatant attempt to disenfranchise members.
"These are moves to try to stifle member involvement in the direction and control of the credit union," Monta??o said, "as well as an important member check on how well the CU is doing and what it is doing."
Monta??o, a four-year member of the supervisory committee and 30-year member of the credit union, has the credentials to back up his observations. When not serving on the supervisory committee, Monta??o is the director of Fraud and Special Audits for New Mexico's Office of State Auditor. He and the other supervisory committee member running for their supervisory committee seats effectively lost their positions when the CU's board made the bylaw change, even though the balloting of their election closed two days before the new policy was finalized.
Monta??o spoke against the change at the annual meeting and later explained his opposition particularly in the light of Del Norte's audit history.
"It's a question of where you are practically accountable," he said. "A supervisory committee which is elected is practically accountable to the members who have to vote to put them into office each time they run, but an appointed committee is practically and primarily accountable to the board which appoints them," he argued.
This distinction is particularly important in Del Norte's case where, he said, the CU had a history of not reporting its audit results in a standardized way when the results might embarrass management or leadership. Monta??o said that when he came onto the supervisory committee, the committee had been merely ratifying non-standard audit reports prepared by management.
These reports often lacked a crucial element which was a citation of the cause for whatever problem the audit had found, Monta??o explained, contending that the cause was often dropped because it embarrassed CU leadership. "A report without a cause is really crippled because without a stated cause for the problem, how do you evaluate the recommendations for how to fix it," he asked.
Monta??o said that over his four years with the committee, the CU had both standardized its own audit procedures and made sure that outside audit firms the CU hired adopted a standardized format for Del Norte's reports. That progress will be endangered if the supervisory committee loses its independence, he contended.
Other members strongly objected to the way Del Norte conducted its latest round of elections. Members who spoke on background said that Del Norte had switched over to using primarily electronic balloting for board elections, even though most of the CU's rural New Mexico membership had no access to a computer.
Members who wanted a paper ballot were notified via a message on the front of their statements letting them know they had to call a number to request one, but the members also said that the CU only allowed five days from when the statements were mailed for members to make the call.
"If you were in an area with slower mail delivery or if you only got to the statement late, you might have only one or two days to make the call, if you even saw the notice on the statement," complained one member who declined to give their name as they may be a candidate for the board later.
Members noticed that member participation in the most recent election after the change dropped by roughly 66%. Over 1,300 members participated in balloting in 2007, whereas only roughly 400 members cast ballots this year, members said.
Finally, Monta??o and other members expressed a high degree of dissatisfaction with Bill Verant, the director of financial institutions division of the state's Regulation and Licensing Department. Verant had been present at the board meeting where the head of the supervisory committee was expelled and he was also present at the annual meeting where he reassured members that Del Norte was financially sound.