Lafayette FCU Members File Board Petitions
Two members of the $370 million Lafayette Federal Credit Union filed board candidacy petitions seeking, among other things, to stop the credit union from conducting board elections at a country club.
Tuesday morning, members David Zuckerman and Chris Bohner delivered petitions with the signatures of 214 other Lafayette members that support their addition to the 2014 ballot for two previously uncontested board seats.
Under the Kensington, Md.-based credit union's bylaws, candidates are chosen by a nominating committee selected by the existing board chairman, but may also be nominated with the signatures of 1% of the credit union's membership, or 140 members..
This year, the nominating committee nominated only two incumbents for the two available seats: Director Eric Benderson, an attorney with the Small Business Administration, and Treasurer Richard Ginsburg, a senior international trade specialist for the SBA.
Zuckerman and Bohner said they chose the petition route after the nominating committee never responded to their inquiry about becoming candidates.
“As a supporter of cooperative financial institutions, I asked Lafayette about volunteer opportunities, and was told by management to find another credit union,” Zuckerman said. “I think Lafayette should see the membership as an asset rather than a liability, and that’s one reason I am running.”
Allison Basile, a Lafayette member who collected signatures for the petition, said the credit union needs fresh ideas.
“This is an opportunity to create a more democratic, transparent and innovative credit union that is responsive to the needs of its membership and owners,” she said.
The future of the Washington-area credit union was the subject of a bruising battle in 2006 over whether it would convert to a mutual bank. The contest ended with charges about ballot procedures and alleged ballot irregularities, and in the end, the credit union did not change its charter. Members opposed to conversion failed to recall board members who had supported it.
“Like many people, I moved my money to Lafayette because I was tired of the Wall
Street mentality of big, for-profit banks,” Bohner said. “I was shocked to learn that Lafayette tried to convert to a bank, and several of the current members were on the board during the attempted conversion.”
Both Zuckerman and Bohner work for organizations that support non-profit and grass roots sorts of organizations. Zuckerman is a research associate at the Democracy
Collaborative, an organization the petition announcement described as a “University of Maryland research center focused on promoting strategies for inclusive economic development.”
Bohner is a partner at Radish LLP, a private consulting firm the petition described as providing research to non-profit organizations and labor unions.
Bohner and Zuckerman told CU Times the credit union has not welcomed their candidacy, but expressed optimism about the support they have received so far.
“It was a bit discouraging that they called security at some branches to tell us that we couldn't collect signatures there,” said Bohner, noting that in one case, credit union staff directed building security to remove him from a public sidewalk in front a branch.
“But we don't just represent ourselves; there have been a couple dozen people who have been giving up their Saturdays, their lunch hours and working hard to collect the signatures,” he added.
Bohner and Zuckerman cited the location and time of the annual meeting as a reason why they want to run for the board. Lafayette elects board members at the annual meeting, which will be held at the Washington Golf and Country Club in Arlington, Va., on May 17, according to an announcement from the credit union.
“Not only is the site remote and hard to reach, not on a Metro line,” Bohner said, “meeting attendees will have to conform to the club's dress code: jacket and tie for men, no tee-shirts, no jeans. Part of our platform is that the credit union should take steps to encourage the involvement of member-owners in the credit union such as providing other ways to vote and participate.”
Other parts of their platform include making the credit union more transparent in its decision making, providing more loan options to its low income members and making more loans to worker owned and other cooperative enterprises, according to a website for a group of supporters Zuckerman and Bohner established.
No one from the credit union was immediately able to comment on the annual meeting or the petitions, but the Washington Golf and Country Club's website verified the credit union's description of the country club requirements.
“The Club requires all members and their guests to be dressed appropriately,” the credit union wrote in a flyer announcing the meeting. “NO JEANS or tee shirts are allowed. Dress slacks, polo shirts or military uniforms are acceptable. LFCU kindly requests that members who choose to attend the Annual Meeting please respect the Club's policy.”