Columbia CU Case Starts its Legal Journey as State Superior Judge Set to Decide Whether Special Meeting Will Happen or Not
VANCOUVER, Wash. - The ongoing fight between the $619 million Columbia Credit Union and Save CCU, a group of Columbia members who opposed changing its charter to that of a mutual thrift, is starting to work its way through the courts. As of press time, a Washington State Superior judge...
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VANCOUVER, Wash. – The ongoing fight between the $619 million Columbia Credit Union and Save CCU, a group of Columbia members who opposed changing its charter to that of a mutual thrift, is starting to work its way through the courts. As of press time, a Washington State Superior judge had just adjourned for the day after hearing arguments from both sides on whether the credit union would have to hold a special meeting that among other things could potentially dismiss the CU’s board. The judge was planning to consider the arguments and was expected to rule within the next few days (Feb. 26, or 27). Some close to the case believe the judge might ask the credit union and Save CCU to reappear to present further arguments. Save CCU filed suit against the credit union and its board in an attempt to force a special meeting after the Washington Department of Financial Institutions compromised with the credit union rather than enforce the petition which Save CCU had garnered the required number of signatures to call the special meeting. Save CCU presented petitions from almost 3,600 Columbia members on January 14. “We want our special meeting,” says Steve Straub, a spokesperson for Save CCU and former Columbia CEO. “We deserve it. We’ll do everything we legally can to get it.” “We followed the rules. We did exactly what we were supposed to do, as members, to regain control of the credit union, but the management and directors of CCU have totally ignored our legal petition. They have come up with their own plan for maintaining complete control of the credit union. That’s just not good enough. In fact, it’s actually against the law, and we’re asking the judge to review the situation and force them to give us our special meeting.” Lloyd Marbet, Executive Director of the Oregon Conservancy Foundation and who helped organize Save CCU, has been very critical of the Washington DFI for not enforcing the special meeting, especially given that DFI Director of Credit Unions Linda Jekel said that the petitions were legally valid. “We find this [compromise] to be an abdication of DFI’s responsibility to uphold the law, and in order to ensure that our rights as CCU members are enforced, without anything less than what we as CCU members have lawfully asked for, we are seeking to protect our individual interests and are joining in protecting the rights of those 3,593 CCU members who have signed this petition.” The credit union however believes that it should not be forced to hold a special meeting because doing so would violate the members’ right to vote by mail. “These requests are contrary to CCU’s bylaws, Washington law and the essence of democracy because they seek to deprive CCU’s nearly 60,000 members of their right to cast votes by mail ballot,” the credit union argued in its court filing. The credit union also argued that the regulator agreed with its position since it did not enforce the special meeting. But Jekel said that DFI did not enforce the special meeting because it believed the disgruntled credit union members would have a better chance at achieving their goals through the courts than through the DFI’s administrative procedures. Meanwhile the fight has continued in the press as well. The credit union ran a full page advertisement in the Sunday editions of the local paper, alleging that the Save CCU organizers were attempting a “hostile takeover” of the credit union. After naming some of the Save CCU organizers, the notice declared in part that “they want the Special Meeting vote to represent `the will of the full membership.’ Yet, according to their legal filing, only `members in attendance’ may vote to recall the entire Columbia board and replace them with an unnamed interim board.” “Their ad is just ridiculous,” said Straub, who was one of people named in the advertisement. “By their logic, no large credit unions anywhere should hold special meetings – even though special meetings are the one way credit union members can really control their institutions.” Columbia referred requests for information to its attorney who did not return phone calls in time for this report. -
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