I have been following the progression of the St. Helens Community Federal Credit Union recall vote with great interest and now that the issue seems to be resolved I have a few observations.
The first thing to catch my attention was the characterization of the recall effort by SHFCU President/CEO Brooke Van Vleet as “disappointing, baseless, and disruptive.” I believe I can understand Van Vleet’s perspective, but I have a slightly different view.
First, on the issue of whether it’s baseless or not, I honestly cannot comment. The extent of my knowledge of the issues go no further than the stories I’ve read in the trade press, so I will respectfully pass on that subject. Whether the board recall effort is disruptive, however, I can most certainly agree with. The amount of time and resources that go into sending out ballots, tallying and verifying the votes, and making the arrangements for the special meeting likely diverted from other initiatives the credit union was or could have been working on.
Where I differ with Van Vleet is on the point of it being disappointing. I can understand this perspective: SHFCU had recently gone through a significant staffing change and the collapse of the merger with Wauna FCU. I think anyone could be forgiven for not wanting the added headache of a member-generated recall campaign. But rather than finding this to be disappointing I find it encouraging.
The actions of the SHFCU members, no matter what the cause, show that the democratic spirit of member participation is alive in the credit union. They saw actions taken by their credit union that they did not like, and beyond just writing or calling in complaints actually took the initiative to organize a campaign. I would also like to commend the SHFCU board for moving forward with the special member meeting even though it appears the members came up a few votes short of the necessary 500.
What I do find disappointing, however, is that only about 9% of the total membership voted. Thomas Jefferson famously said, “We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.” It’s no different with credit unions. There are very real dangers when you have a vocal minority campaigning for things and Van Vleet astutely recognized that in Jim Rubenstein’s Aug. 27 article when she commented on the need for the entire membership to have a say in the matter.
From a completely different angle I think the result of the voting is positive news for the credit union and the board. The membership has rightly had their say and they reaffirmed their confidence in the board’s decision-making abilities and policies. Without knowing what the final vote count was, it’s hard to say that the board has a “mandate” from this, but it certainly leaves them in a stronger position in answering any questions on whether or not they speak for the membership.
While circumstances like this are rarely pleasant and likely disruptive, if handled correctly they can be a learning and growth experience. I commend the members for their interest in the direction of their credit union as well as the leadership of SHFCU for how they handled the recall effort and wish them luck as they move forward.