VANCOUVER, Wash. – With a sweep of the board election, Save Columbia Credit Union seems to have prevailed in its fight to keep the credit union from converting to a mutual savings bank. Members of the $660 million Columbia Community Credit Union who were upset by the board’s attempt to change the credit union’s charter to that of a mutual bank, swept all four incumbent board members and three incumbent supervisory board members out of their seats in favor of a reform-minded slate of candidates. The move is a sharp reversal of the results in March 2004 when, at a special election forced by a long-contested petition, board candidates from the members’ group Save CCU had been very narrowly defeated by the incumbent board members. That election saw extensive print advertising as well as a directed telephone campaign on the part of the board incumbents by the credit union, and parts of that campaign are still the subject of cases before the courts. By comparison this campaign saw relatively little advertising. But there have been some allegations of Internet dirty tricks and parts of this campaign have been taken to the courts as well. This election also saw lower turnout than the previous contest as 7,232 of the credit union’s 60,000 members, or just over 12%, cast votes. Among the winners were Steve Straub, an organizer of the Save CCU members group and former CEO of the credit union. He received 4,036 votes. Other board candidates from the Save CCU slate were Duane Bequette (3,983), a former board member of a Wisconsin credit union; Emmy Winterburn (3,752), a former office, payroll and benefits manager; and Ralph Erdmann, (4,041), an economist with the U.S. Department of Energy. Community activist and Save CCU organizer Lloyd Marbet also won a seat on the supervisory board with 3,844 votes. The four incumbent board members who lost were Ed Bell (2,346), Bill Byrd (2,617), Dennis McLachlan (2,236) and Bruce Davidson (2,308). “The results of this election demonstrate how a small group of concerned people can make a big difference for something they and others have long believed in,” Save CCU said of the results. “From the very beginning, members of Save CCU struggled against great odds, but their persistence paid off.” “Now, hopefully instead of management by public relations and expensive law firms, Columbia Credit Union will use this opportunity to establish accountability for the actions of its Board as well as reestablishing the Supervisory Committee’s role in providing a check and balance to the Board,” Save CCU added. The credit union had not yet issued any statements about the vote as of press time. This latest phase in the fight over control of the credit union had been building gradually for some weeks and picked up steam after the four incumbent board members broke their silence and gave an exclusive interview to the Vancouver Business Journal. The board members suggested that their attempt to change the credit union charter to that of a bank had served to raise the issues pressing credit unions to a higher focus. But members of Save CCU wrote a letter to the Journal, suggesting that the board members had only revealed part of the story. They pointed out that one of the board members told the paper that the credit union had only been given permission to increase its commercial lending cap from 15% to 20% in 2004, when the NCUA’s report on the failed election found that permission had been granted in September 2003, months before the conversion vote. The letter writers also pointed out that, contrary to the board members’ assertions, Judge Bennett has not dismissed Save CCU’s claim that the credit union has been harmed by the board’s breach of its fiduciary duty. They noted as well that the board had persisted in pressing the conversion question until the NCUA finally issued an eight-page report sharply rebuking the credit union’s conduct of the conversion election. Fighting Web Sites And Back To Court This skirmish in the press led, in turn, to yet more sparring on the Internet as the anonymous board supporters who started, suggested Lloyd Marbet, was an “incarcerated political activist,” as a full time job, a charge Marbet said was “blatantly false.” Marbet also charged that the organizers of Retain Our Board had pointed to his Web site to back up their allegations and then hacked into it, removing data so that only certain material which appeared to lend credence to their charges had been left. “I happen to believe, that as an activist and a candidate for the Columbia Credit Union Supervisory Board, you have the right to examine my background,” Marbet said in paid advertisement he ran in the Columbian, the local Vancouver paper, adding: “So imagine my surprise when I hit the link to my own Web site only to discover that someone had hacked into it and removed all of my information except for two links, one of which rather conveniently was a description of my arrest in 2002, for petitioning in a public park on Fourth of July.” Marbet pointed out that the RetainOurBoard site had not mentioned that the charges had been dropped both times when he had been arrested in some community protest activity. “With considerable effort, I have taken the time to restore my Web site and while I do not know for certain who has done this, I am sorry if it was done by people who would rather manipulate the outcome of elections through deception, than allow both sides to be fairly heard on the issues affecting Columbia Credit Union and the financial well being of its members,” Marbet added in the advertisement. The matter is headed to court as well since Marbet has filed suit for defamation and libel against the site’s originators, whom he named as John Doe since their identities remained anonymous. Marbet said he looked forward to finding out who was behind the site as part of the suit and said he would subpoena board members and other credit union staff as part of the discovery process, if necessary, to find out who was responsible. Hours after his advertisement ran in the Columbian, the anonymous publishers pulled the site down and it has not appeared since. “We have them on the run,” Marbet said before the annual meeting. “Eventually, we will find out who has been responsible for a lot of this.” This task maybe a good deal easier, now that Save CCU members sit on the Columbia Credit Union Board of Directors. -

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