Declining the nominate the two men continued the saga that began in April 2008 when the CU's board ejected the then head of the its elected supervisory committee and his wife from the credit union, allegedly because the committee was investigating board members for inappropriate lending. A New Mexico regulator attended the meeting for the ejection. The board then changed the supervisory committee from an elected body to one appointed by the board; the credit union declined a petition to rescind the decision.
Charles Montano was one of the members of the elected supervisory committee who objected strongly to the board's action and appealed it further up the chain of command at the state's Regulation and Licensing Department until he was finally urged to run for the board to change things.
In August, Montano received an e-mail from Kelly O'Donnell, superintendent of Regulatory and Licensing, which read, "You strike me as a very conscientious, capable and well-intentioned person who could contribute greatly if elected to the credit union's board of directors."
Montano said he pondered O'Donnell's advice and decided to run for the board but soon found that, unlike previous years, simply being a member in good standing at Del Norte was no longer enough to be a candidate. Gary Lee, one of the members of the nominations committee, wrote, "We regret to inform you that you were not nominated as a candidate for the ballot for election to the board of directors."
Montano said that he was more than qualified to serve on the board, having been a former federal bank examiner and current director of fraud and special audits for the New Mexico Office of the State Auditor.
"They manipulated the board's rules to expel Joe Gutierrez, they manipulated board procedures to be able to do away with the elected supervisory committee after current balloting had already begun, and now they are manipulating the election process to get only the people they want as candidates," Montano said. "They are essentially taking away the power of credit union members to vote for the board they want."
Eliud Vigil, a current member of the CU's board and former chairman, echoed Montano's comments when he revealed that, even though he had served on the board for 12 years, he had also been told his candidacy was rejected.
"Every election we [sitting board members] have to fill out an application and submit it just like everyone else," Vigil said. "But unless you have done something wrong and if you are member in good standing, you have been able to run."
Montano said not approving of Vigil's candidacy was payback for the board member's objecting to the way Gutierrez had been removed and the elected supervisory committee replaced. But the soft-spoken Vigil laid responsibility at the feet of Board Chairman Douglas Fraser.
"I think he just wants to have the people on the board who are going to go along with what he wants to do," Vigil said, "its really about control of the board."
Vigil said that a similar tactic had been employed a few years ago, when the CU went through a difficult and controversy ridden merger with another CU. During board struggles at that time, Vigil said he had to resort to a petition to become a board candidate after a candidacy had been declined by the nominating committee. It was a tactic he said he expected he would use again.
Montano pointed out that all credit union members have is their credit unions' commitment to the democratic process and to remaining member owned-and run-financial institutions.
"If the board of a credit union is able to simply preclude anyone from getting on the board based solely on their whims, credit union members have effectively lost control of an institution they are supposed to run," Montano pointed out.
Neither the CU nor Chairman Fraser have returned calls or e-mail for comment. A spokeswoman for the New Mexico's Regulation and Licensing Department said the agency could not comment, citing confidentiality requirements.