HIGHTSTOWN, N.J. – There's been a changing of the guard at Credit Union Affiliates of New Jersey, and credit unions in the state-especially the larger ones-are taking a wait-and-see attitude on whether the change in leadership will spell what many describe as much-needed, overdue change in direction for CUANJ. The 15-member board of Credit Union Affiliates of New Jersey has named Chief Operating Officer Tom Shaughnessy interim president effective Feb. 1 following its decision not to renew the contract of its president/CEO Russell Clark. CUANJ spokesman Evan Childs said Clark's contract was up for renewal, and the board decided not to renew Clark's contract because "there was a difference of opinion on which direction CUANJ should go. The board wanted to take it in a different direction and felt there was better leadership to take it in that direction other than Mr. Clark." CUANJ Chairman John DiNofrio said "Clark had a good rapport on the national level with NCUA, but the board members want to place more emphasis on the credit unions in the state of New Jersey. They want more intrastate emphasis, rather than interstate." Clark had served as president/CEO since Jan. 13, 1997 after former CUANJ President Barry Wood retired. Before coming to CUANJ, Clark worked as the executive assistant to NCUA Board Member Bob Swan. In a statement to Credit Union Times, Clark said, "The board decided for some reason to move in a different direction. I was not told what their reasons were, nor do I know what direction they want to go in. They decided to not renew my contract, and this is their prerogative." He added that, "I appreciate the opportunity I had to help build the credit union movement in New Jersey. Despite some very difficult times while at the New Jersey League, I enjoyed building the organization and bringing much needed change." Clark said he was proud of what CUANJ was able to accomplish under his presidency. "I left the League in a very financially strong position. Many long-standing and difficult problems were resolved, positioning the League to move forward. Our relationships with Congress and state legislators were built to an unprecedented level. We had an outstanding relationship with NCUA, from the board down to the field staff. Our education and training programs were strengthened. By all measures, the League was successful as a credit union trade association.I hope the board becomes committed to providing these services to the membership, building on what was accomplished during my tenure, and not going backwards. The credit unions of New Jersey deserve this." In November 1998, under his presidency, then-Gov. Christine Todd Whitman signed the state's Credit Union Parity bill in to law. Among the provisions of the bill, it redefined the parameters of `common bond' fields-of-membership. But beyond Clark's accomplishments with CUANJ was a "growing dissatisfaction" among many large credit unions in the state with, as one CEO put it, "too much politicking that was going on." "The leagues and trade associations are there to serve credit unions, not the other way around," said John Fenton, president/CEO of the largest credit union in New Jersey, the $1.24-billion Affinity FCU in Bedminster. Fenton said the growing dissatisfaction among the large credit unions was evident in the numbers that disaffiliated from CUANJ over the past few years including Affinity which disaffiliated, reaffiliated, and disaffiliated again; Paragon FCU, $317.4 million in assets; Financial Resources FCU, $285.8 million in assets; and United Teletech FCU, $267.5 million in assets. There are about 265 credit unions in New Jersey – only about 9% are SCCUs. Childs admitted that "there have been a number of disaffiliations over the past few years," but he said just looking at raw numbers "doesn't provide an accurate assessment of the situation because there have also been a number of mergers and acquisitions among affiliated credit unions." Fenton said Affinity reaffiliated in the mid-1990′s "because I believed credit unions need to stick together. But then I realized the politicking had reached new levels, so Affinity disaffiliated again" in 1997. Richard Rays, president/CEO, Paragon FCU, the fourth largest CU in the state, said his credit union disaffiliated from CUANJ for the same reason. "They were great when it came to politics, but we would have preferred them to focus more attention on in-state issues such as the growth of small credit unions," he said, adding that, "The League was forced to make a change at the top before it lost any more large credit unions." Fenton said he would consider reaffiliating with CUANJ "depending on who is named president and how things change." Rays said he would "always entertain reaffiliating." At press time, Fenton said he'd already spoken with Shaughnessy and the two planned to meet the week of Feb. 17. Fenton is guardedly optimistic. "I told him he needs to get out, talk with credit unions and find out what they need and consider important issues," said Fenton. Childs agreed that Shaughnessy has been traveling and meeting with credit unions around the state. "If there are credit unions out there sitting on the fence, Tom wants to bring them in and have them renew their faith in the League," Childs said. Shaughnessy was named COO for CUANJ in January. Prior to that he was its controller. In addition, he's been the COO for CUANJ's two for-profit service organizations. Childs said Shaughnessy will retain the title COO of CUANJ while he conducts the duties of president. -

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