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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Members are starting to react to all the newfound information surrounding the $1.1 billion Lake Michigan Credit Union’s attempt to covert to a mutual bank. In the Nov. 17 issue, Credit Union Times reported about informational ads the Michigan CU League was running to try and educate members about the implications of the charter change. The ads in the Grand Rapids Press point readers to www.memberinform.org, a site set up by the league where members can get more information about the pending conversion, about which, the league maintains the credit union has neglected to tell members. At the same time the credit union has been promoting a contest where members can win prizes (even a Cadillac) just for voting in the conversion as it attempts to get the necessary number of members to vote. The response to all this has been LMCU member calls to the league and increased visits to the Web site. “We’re receiving a steady flow of phone calls into our office from Lake Michigan CU members,” said David Adams, CEO of the MCUL. “We don’t share any specifics relative to Lake Michigan CU. We refer them to the memberinform.org Web site and to the regulator.” Typical of calls received was one from a woman, age 80, who wanted to know about the process of getting such a vote to the membership. She also inquired about joining a new CU. League staff pointed her to the memberinform.org site. She’s just certain, she said, that all this hype the CU is making over the conversion speaks to them “hiding something.” Another typical call came from a woman who described herself as a health care worker. She too was unhappy with the direction of the CU and wishes for a new CU in the event LMCU converts, the league reported. Callers have reported seeing television ads from the credit union in addition to the Cadillac cars in the branches and getting phone calls from people in support of the conversion. The fight has broken out in the local media as well. A November 11 story in the Grand Rapids Press discussed the fight, quoting Sandy Jelinksi, CEO of the credit union supporting the conversion move and Dave Adams, CEO of the Michigan Credit Union League about why members need more information about the move than the credit union has provided. Our posture is, we are not trying to stop conversions from happening and we’re not saying it’s a bad thing for credit union members to be able to vote to convert. The key is, it’s the members – not the board, not the management – who decide,” Adams told the paper. “Lake Michigan Credit Union returns more to our members and has fewer fees than any other bank or credit union in the area. Actually we were fourth out of 9,400 in the nation last year,” Jelinksi told the paper. Lake Michigan members have also begun to show up on the Grand Rapids Press letters pages. On November 13, Michael Johnston, a teacher at a local high school wrote the Press to call the impending change a “disaster” for the credit union and Lake Michigan’s CEO “clueless.” “I’ve talked to hundreds of teacher members of the LMCU. They’ve told me that they would leave the credit union and work with another area credit union to create a new teacher’s credit union should Lake Michigan go the way of Old Kent, Enron and WorldCom,” Johnston wrote. “Keep the dream alive and don’t give into the personal ambitions of a few at the expense of thousands,” he added. Interviewed later, Johnston explained that Old Kent was a name for a local bank where he had had an account until the bank was purchased by Fifth Third, a move that, he said, threw many local residents out of work and brought only higher fees and poorer service. “That was when I went back to the credit union for all my financial services,” Johnston said, adding that he had most of his financial business with the credit union for almost 30 years. “I am not sure they are going to be able to win the vote,” he added. “There are a lot of people I know who are just dead set against it. They just don’t see the reason for it.” Willis Dixon of East Grand Rapids wrote in a letter published November 17 that he and his wife would vote no, adding: “All members of the Lake Michigan Credit Union should think carefully before giving away their credit union. It is clear that a change to bank rules would enable bank directors to award bank officers and themselves benefits not now available. It is unfortunate that CU directors can not receive compensation but that is the nature of CUs and not a cogent reason for change. I cannot convince myself that one less CU and one more bank (a tiny one) will benefit anyone but the new bank’s officers and board,” he wrote. -

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