SALT LAKE CITY – There were plenty of “spins” -both local and national-on the significance and impact of the Nov. 25 resignation of Scott Earl, president/CEO of the Utah League of Credit Unions. “I was completely taken aback by the notification of Scott’s resignation and my first thought was that this is just one more stepping stone the bankers have to divide us,” declared Kris Mecham, president/CEO of the $300 million Deseret First FCU of Salt Lake City. Earl “was a figurehead for us, a good spokesman and his leaving just falls in the banker camp,” said Mecham adding, however, that there have been recent signs in the legislature that perhaps the environment for CUs may be improving “and turning against the banks.” He pointed to Utah lawmakers being hoodwinked last spring by banker groups implying that battered state-chartered CUs would be unable and unwilling to flock to the federal charter. On the contrary, a number of large CUs including Deseret First have converted with blessings from NCUA. In another local perspective, Earl’s “burnout” resignation reflects a dispirited corps of CU leaders in Utah demonstrating “unfortunately that the bankers are winning by hammering away at us” on a strategy that effectively “blends together the two issues of taxation and field of membership,” argued Robert Howell, president of the $161 million Utah Power & Light Employees CU. But other CU executives have strongly dismissed the notion that the resignation represents a deep League division. “There are many of us who simply don’t buy it,” said Lynn Kuehne, the League’s former EVP, a former CU president and now Earl’s interim successor. In a reflection of support, it was noted that a 20% dues package was approved on a 38-2 vote the same day that Earl submitted his resignation. The added funds, said Kuehne will go, in part, toward hiring salaries for new lobbying staff to prevent “bankers from pushing us into the corner” in 2004. “When Scott and I got into this game, this constant pressure” was not part of their mission, he said. Supporting CU education and growth were their goals, but political advocacy on a massive scale “has created a distracting environment,” said Kuehne. Meanwhile, the Utah Bankers Association had its own-some say predictable “spin”-on Earl’s departure, calling it a fallout from the policies of “mega credit unions” and their alleged controlling influence over the League. “This is not about Scott Earl but about mega credit unions and their willingness to spend the League’s money,” observed Howard Headlee, president of the UBA and longtime a nemesis of Earl. Headlee, who has engaged in countless debates with the ex-Utah League president before legislative panels and on radio talk shows, forecast the trade group will “miss Scott, a very talented man and a man of integrity.” “I think Scott Earl was carrying water for the big credit unions here and carrying it got a little heavy,” charged Headlee referring to the split between large and small CUs on how to confront the banker challenge. The state’s top financial regulator, Ed Leary, commissioner of the Utah Department of Financial Institutions, acknowledged that Earl was working “in a very difficult job” but had done a “very good job representing” the industry. Leary said he was “disappointed to hear he’s resigning.” Susan Newton, executive director of the American Association of Credit Union Leagues, called Earl “the leading face on the credit union front” in challenging bankers, and thus “we will sorely miss him.” Earl had been AACUL chairman before he resigned. “He was absolutely great,” said Newton noting he represented “grace under fire.” But she added that the lobbying team at the Utah League apparently is in place, with thanks due to Earl. “Remember that is a ferocious climate out there and running a state league in a place like Utah is very tough,” said Newton noting also CUNA “stands ready to do what we can” to help out Utah or other states with similar problems. On a personal note, Paul Mercer, president of the Ohio Credit Union League and interim successor to Earl as AACUL chairman, said he has long been indebted to the ex-Utah League president on a career level. “I am lucky for the job I have and for that I credit Scott’s mentoring,” he declared. Mercer expressed his disappointment and sadness at Earl’s resignation. Mercer said he knows little about the “speculation” or reasoning behind his departure but that Earl’s record stands as an example of how to run a successful trade association. Meanwhile, John Franklin, the former president/CEO of the South Carolina Credit Union, said he sympathizes with difficulties of his Utah counterpart in experiencing job burnout. “I think I can use the analogy of a head coach who wins season after season and then makes a bad call and then everyone is on him,” declared Franklin who resigned the South Carolina job Nov. 13 to pursue yet-to-revealed “new opportunities.” Board members with the South Carolina League have heaped praise on Franklin for his lobbying stewardship and among other milestones achieving 100% affiliation. However, South Carolina CEOs also expressed surprise at Franklin’s sudden decision to quit, but Franklin said there are personal considerations adding that he could not say what they are. “I simply do not want to mess up my future plans.” A three-man search committee of the South Carolina League headed by Lee Gardner of Family Trust FCU, Rock Hill, is heading up recruitment efforts. -

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