Wauna CEO Claims 'PR Nightmare' at St. Helens
With a proposed Oregon merger deal scrapped over the weekend, the president/CEO of the $134 million Wauna FCU of Clatskanie, Ore., Robert Blumberg, said Monday his credit union has lost interest in pursuing any future consolidation with the $162 million St. Helens Community CU “considering they have a PR nightmare over there.”
Blumberg was referring to the sudden collapse of talks following the signing of a letter of intent last month between the two northwest Oregon credit unions to strike a merger deal.
Going on its own, the board of St. Helens, now the target of a member petition drive to oust five directors over past management decisions, said it has hired Brooke Van Vleet, a former top exec at First Tech FCU in Palo Alto, Calif., as its new president/CEO.
Van Vleet’s hiring was accompanied by an announcement from St. Helens Community CU that it was terminating the letter of intent.
“I think they need to get their house in order first and so this is not a good time to explore a merger,” said Blumberg, who earlier had said the merger would benefit both credit unions by enabling them to offer more products and achieve new economies.
Diana Ruff, assistant vice president of marketing at St. Helens, acknowledged the public angst and the petition drive that ensued following the May firing of Jeff Schwarz, the former CEO. She said despite the management turnover, the credit union has performed well during difficult times in the area economy.
Sources said the member group objecting to the firing and to the merger had expressed puzzlement as to why Schwarz had been let go when the credit union was in good financial shape. There has been no formal comment from the St. Helens board on Schwarz’s dismissal.
Ruff said the member bloc seeking the petition must obtain 500 signatures to get clearance for a special meeting to elect new members. Two new members to the board elected at the June 26 annual meeting were not being challenged, said Ruff.
The five board members targeted include the chairman, Lea Chitwood, along with Michael Hafeman, Marty Borrevik, Richard Louie and David Graham. Not being challenged are Tom Tussing, vice chair, and Michael Ismert.
Blumberg of Wauna said St. Helens “has some local issues that have to be dealt with and we have no interest in getting drawn into that situation.”