Even when things are running smoothly, as they have throughout the tenure of about-to-be former NCUA Chairman Dennis Dollar, the NCUA Board has been in the news a lot on a regular basis. It is not just because Dollar’s aggressive and forward thinking agenda made him a newsmaker, but also because under any circumstances decisions made (and not made) by the NCUA Board have a major effect on how credit unions conduct their business. And because none of the three current board members has treated their posts as merely ceremonial as have some of their predecessors in recent memory. Now that the NCUA Board will be forced to operate for who knows how long with only two out of three members, Chairman JoAnn Johnson and Board Member Debbie Matz, it will be in the news for several added reasons. Most obvious of course is the fact that the pared down board will be under many microscopes, while waiting for the Bush Administration to make a move to get it back up to full strength, to see if it can continue the momentum fueled by Dollar initiatives. The credit union industry’s general consensus is that keeping NCUA on track is extremely important at a time when banker attacks on credit unions have reached what can only be described as a fever pitch. The speculation surrounding the question of who will be appointed to occupy the Republican seat on the board vacated by Dollar will also generate headlines. It already has. Now that the board is short handed, the hope is that the White House will possibly see a need to act sooner rather than later, although, in reality the Bush Administration has a lot more urgent matters on its plate than an agency that is unfortunately still regarded as being pretty far down the pecking order of important government entities. Both remaining board members came out of nowhere as far as credit unions are concerned. Fortunately for CUs, both have proven to be dedicated, hard working, conscientious, and well aware that job number one for the NCUA is safety and soundness. All the rest, the many individual pet projects each has undertaken, has been frosting on the cake. It is extremely important that a third board member be selected who can fit this pattern. Unfortunately, as is always the case when there is an opening on the NCUA Board, there is almost nothing credit unions can do to get “their person” appointed to the board. In fact, in years past when CUNA, NAFCU, NASCUS, and some of the larger and more powerful state leagues and individual credit unions thought they could wield their considerable influence by endorsing a candidate for the position, it proved to be the kiss of death for that person. When thinking about it, endorsing an individual, no matter how qualified and credit union oriented, is a no win situation. When they don’t make the cut, that person’s supporters start off with at least two strikes against them in the mind of the newest board member. Credit unions have finally learned that when it comes down to the final decision, that decision will be based strictly on politics. Think back. Would the credit union leadership have picked very many (any?) of those individuals who finally ended up as members of the NCUA Board? Very doubtful. The good news is that most (not all) unknowns who landed an appointment on the most powerful board in the credit union industry were good people, were willing to learn, and were trainable. I am reminded of one board member with whom I had a conversation shortly after their appointment. In the middle of our discussion about major credit union issues, that individual said to me, “Mike, I really don’t know anything about credit unions.” To which I immediately replied, “Don’t ever say that again; credit unions will find out soon enough on their own.” Back to speculation. There are some very qualified and well-known people supposedly in the running for the vacant board seat. Long time credit union CEO and past CUNA chairman Buck Levins comes to mind. This Southern gentleman is immediately available and is eager for the post. He would be an excellent choice. Better than a bright, young league staffer from current CUNA Chairman Dick Ensweiler’s Texas League? Or would the well respected league president from Missouri, which would make the NCUA Board the first all female board be a better choice? Point is, it doesn’t matter. The actual appointment, if it will even be made during this contentious election year time frame let alone approved, will probably follow past patterns and be someone whose name has yet to reach the rumor mills. And if the vacancy still exists in November and Bush loses, all bets are off. As all in credit union land wait for this next chapter in NCUA to play out, let’s hope that the current two-person board doesn’t shift into idle and end up merely going through the motions. They shouldn’t. JoAnn Johnson admittedly is no Dennis Dollar, but she has what it takes to be an effective NCUA Chairman. It is no secret that she is not the dynamic speaker that Dollar proved to be. But working quietly in her own way and building on the positive direction NCUA has been heading the last several years, she can get the job done. Debbie Matz, after a politically influenced shaky start, has proven to be one of the more effective persons to ever wear an NCUA Board Member hat. She is her own person to be sure, but she never stops looking for ways to make credit unions stronger and better nevertheless. And she works very hard at it. And let’s further hope that most votes on important matters are not 1-1, but 2-0 and keep the NCUA’s current momentum in full swing. Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected].

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Peter Westerman


Credit Union Times

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