Country Club Venue Sparks Board Petition Bid
Some members of a Maryland credit union are trying to join the board and protesting a management decision to hold the May 17 annual meeting at a Virginia country club.
The board secretary of the $370 million Lafayette Federal Credit Union declined to comment on the propriety of holding the Kensington, Md., credit union's annual meeting at the Washington Golf and Country Club, in Arlington, Va.
However, Thomas Harmon IV did tell CU Times that Lafayette's rules stipulate the annual meeting must be held within 100 miles of a branch, and that country club qualifies. Harmon said he has served on the board for 23 years.
Two members, who petitioned the credit union for inclusion on this year's board ballot, criticized the choice of the country club for its dress code and what they called a remote location that would prevent some from attending.
Harmon said Lafayette has had the annual meeting at other venues but chose the country club this year because it had space available on the annual meeting date. He said members might get to the meeting didn't enter into the decision.
“We just make sure it's according to the bylaws, which you can read on the website,” he said. Roughly 200 people attend the annual meeting each year, Harmon said. He also said some years feature more than one candidate for each open board seat and some years do not.
He declined to comment on the possibility that the country club's dress code might prevent some members from attending the meeting. “Everyone in this day and age has something they can wear to church, for example,” he added.
On April 1, 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.
The credit union's bylaws says candidates are to be 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, an SBA senior trade specialist.
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.”
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 irregularities.
“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.”
Zuckerman is a research associate at the Democracy Collaborative, 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 nonprofit organizations and labor unions.
“Not only is the site remote and hard to reach, not on a Metro line,” Bohner said of the May meeting, “attendees will have to conform to the club's dress code: jacket and tie for men, no T-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.