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The events of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, shook our nation to its very core, challenging us to reach within and examine what it is we truly believe, what is truly important to us. While the credit union community was blessed, particularly in comparison with other sectors of the financial services industry, to have all employees of credit unions housed in and around the World Trade Center and Pentagon safely evacuated, we join the nation in mourning the senseless loss of so many parents, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands and friends. NAFCU has chosen to cancel its Congressional Caucus, originally scheduled for Sept. 23 – 26, at the Washington Grand Hyatt in light of this tragedy. It was a decision made with both head and heart. The NAFCU Board met in a special session, conducted by telephone on Sept. 14, and the correct decision emerged with absolute clarity. Caucus provides an unmatched opportunity for direct dialogue between the credit union community and lawmakers. It is an event we plan for all year and has been called one of the most effective trade association government affairs conferences in Washington. It is an important event. But, after Sept. 11, everything has changed. The Board decided it could not send our members to the Hill when Congress and the administration must now be focused on issues of national security. We could not be sure if our delegates would even be able to see their members of Congress or gain ready access to the Capitol. Transportation was an issue, given the indefinite closure of Reagan National Airport and the backups, delays and cancelled flights at the rest of our nation’s airports. Perhaps most importantly, the Board felt that our credit union leaders would be most effective in helping the nation heal in their own communities, rather than here in Washington. It was with a heavy heart that we voted to cancel this year’s Congressional Caucus, but we are proud of a decision that shows both respect for Congress’s priorities and concern for our members’ welfare. We have heard from numerous members since announcing our decision, and the response has been overwhelmingly supportive. At NAFCU headquarters, we are working hard, extending support to our member-credit unions, and returning to association business. We have all paid our respects in different ways, from a staff flag raising ceremony at NAFCU headquarters, to the visits many of us have made to the Pentagon crash site less than five minutes away. The NAFCU Board has also begun to solicit aid from credit unions and supporters for the American Red Cross’s disaster relief efforts. At the same time, we now look ahead with new eyes. The NAFCU Board, staff and myself have been taking stock, revaluating priorities, and reassessing our plans given what is certain to be a radical change in this fall’s legislative agenda. While there are issues vital to our community that will unfold in the coming months, in the near-term nothing can compare to the obligation our community has to support the nation and its leaders as they do what is necessary to secure our continued freedom. As the nation reflects on what it means to be an American, NAFCU too must reconsider its own core values. NAFCU member credit unions are a varied lot; they run large and small and serve individuals from all walks of life. But we are in line on central credit union issues. We are all believers in the value of community decision-making. At NAFCU conferences, board meetings and in one-on-one discussions, we come together to decide what we believe as a community. We have distilled these beliefs down to a set of commonly held truths and goals. During this time of uncertainty, it is vital to reaffirm those principles. NAFCU believes that credit unions are made unique by their foundations of service, cooperation, common purpose and self-governance. Our duty to serve our fellow members means we must continue to seek relief from regulations and statutes that hinder that service. As a community we have separated the wheat from the chaff, pinpointing those actions we deem essential but realistic, progressive but measured. This vision is a road map for how NAFCU members plan to steer their credit unions in the coming years, whether the fuel is legislative or regulatory reform, and it is a timely reminder of our community’s focus. In NAFCU’s guiding vision, we see credit unions enjoying more flexibility in defining their fields of membership (FOMs). Congress should remove functionally obsolete definitions of “community” which exclude the many non-geographical ways in which Americans are now linked, it should authorize healthy credit unions to merge voluntarily and it should ease the ability of federal credit unions to add low-income groups to their FOM. A “once a potential member, always a potential member” rule should be promulgated by NCUA with respect to community-based FCUs whose field of membership is changed due to rezoning or redistricting. We also see credit unions enjoying the freedom to serve the businesses of members who are often not served by banks. Our member business owners deserve access to credit union funds to assist their ventures. Like those of us who got their financial start because of a credit union, we must ensure that those who want to enter into business today are given the same opportunity. We see FCUs continuing to be overseen by a strong and autonomous federal regulator. The independence and integrity of the National Credit Union Administration and its three-member board is paramount for the continued strength of the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund. We will continue to express strong concern to those who suggest splitting the NCUA from NCUSIF or allowing credit unions to substitute private insurance for federal share insurance. And, most significantly, we see credit unions preserving their defining characteristics, both as a protection against challenges to our tax-exempt status, and out of a belief that credit unions are indeed unique financial institutions with services similar to banks and thrifts, but goals and principals that are wholly different. The subtext of all these issues is cooperation and democracy. And so, behind each of these goals is the unspoken necessity to preserve this nation’s security and democratic spirit. While NAFCU continues to pursue issues important to credit unions, know that our current priority will be helping those hit hardest by the Sept. 11 tragedy.

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