In a reported first in the nation for a credit union, the $346 million Vermont Federal Credit Union of Burlington finds itself with an Occupy activist on its board.
Eric Davis, a research assistant in ecological economics at the University of Vermont, was elected last Thursday at Vermont Federal’s annual meeting, capping off a month of public dialogue in the Burlington media, both print and online, about credit union governance and the democratic process.
Davis’ victory also figured in lengthy phone discussions with NCUA staff about credit union voting procedures leading up to the election in which three incumbents also were re-elected.
“We strongly support the democratic process and we welcome Eric Davis on our board and look forward to working with him,” said Bernie Isabelle, the credit union’s president/CEO.
Isabelle acknowledged a series of phone calls between him and the credit union's legal counsel and the NCUA to resolve complicated technical and timing issues following the death of Joan Wilson, an incumbent director who was on the original recommended Vermont Federal slate.
Isabelle said he has met Davis and expects that he would abide by all of the credit union’s code of ethics and professional standards governing directors. Davis, named to a two-year term, was slated to go through orientation in the next few days prior to a regular Monday board meeting.
“I care deeply about both Vermont Federal and the larger credit union movement and I’m hopeful that we can move past the election and work together to improve our cooperative,” said Davis, who said he has participated in monthly meetings of Occupy Burlington.
Isabelle said it is important that Davis in serving Vermont Federal understands he represents all 33,000 members rather than the reported 30 drawn from the ad hoc Vermont Federal Credit Union Members Assembly, a group Davis helped found.
Davis was not alone in seeking a director slot as an activist. He was joined by Matt Cropp, a computer literacy specialist employed at a Burlington non-profit aiding the homeless. Cropp was on the ballot but was not elected.
A five-year member of Vermont Federal, Cropp told Credit Union Times he has great admiration for the work and philosophy of credit unions but has questioned how management treats members on overall governance.
Both Davis and Cropp, who has done research work on credit union history for the Association of Vermont Credit Unions, said the Vermont Federal Credit Union Members Assembly is an offshoot of Occupy Burlington but is a separate entity. The group plans to meet next week to discuss the election results, they said.
The group has its own Facebook page and blog and has been actively challenging Vermont Federal’s voting procedures. It charged last week prior to the election that “the democratic process is in peril” at the credit union.
In a two-page press release, the group accused Vermont Federal’s directors of “undermining democratic governance by intending to bypass a vote of the full membership in filling a newly vacant board seat.”
In the actual balloting reported by Vermont Federal, Davis garnered 51 votes with incumbent director Jeffrey McDonough receiving 132, Francis Broughton, 130 and Jean Isham, 130. Cropp got 38 votes. There were 162 ballots cast.
Both Davis and Cropp have said that a goal in gaining a board seat was to give credit union members a larger voice in credit union involvement in community projects and in charitable giving.
Cropp said another major goal also is to allow Vermont Federal members to attend board meetings and to get access to board minutes.
“I think the model for a credit union should be the same as the food bank co-op I belong to which posts its minutes online,” he said.
Cropp has suggested the credit union might devise a procedure where credit union members could select favorite charities, presenting it to management.
Citing trademark concerns, Isabelle said he is troubled by the assembly’s use of the Vermont Federal name and has requested the group discontinue it. Davis has said the Isabelle plea would be taken up at its next meeting, planned next week.