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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – With small state leagues facing shrinking credit union numbers and pressure to trim costs, this was supposed to be the year of league mergers with a national focus on the joining of the North and South Dakota Credit Union Leagues on Jan. 1, 2005. But in September there turned out to be a stunner: the so-called consolidation of the two leagues into the newly minted Mid-America Credit Union League collapsed. The much-discussed and researched “marriage” – seven years in the making – was over. The breakup was apparently the result of the South Dakota League Board having second thoughts about newly-revised financial terms which would have diminished their investment coupled with a dispute over representation on the joint Mid America board. “It was indeed a disappointment,” decried the chairman of the South Dakota League, Floyd Rummel III. To the outsider it was the South Dakota League that appeared more interested in consolidation than its North Dakota counterpart, but at yearend it said it was prepared to go it alone in 2005 and would not seek a management agreement with North Dakota or any neighbor league. This month the South Dakota League, whose leadership argued that small leagues for economic reasons and to serve members more efficiently need partners, began a CEO search. It said it expected to have a new CEO replacing the retired Donald Couch, 64, on board “within a few months.” The North Dakota League, also going it alone, hired a new CEO, Kermit Larson in October and said it had no plans to seek a merger partner either. The board contends that while prior management first approved the plan with South Dakota, it found the contract faulty without spelling out what was wrong. As part of the consolidation and cost cutting, the South Dakota League put its building up for sale and had planned to relocate its smaller staff to Bismarck, the proposed home of Mid America. Though there have been no serious buyers for the Sioux Falls headquarters property, the South Dakota League said it would continue a search for smaller office space. Though in years past, the two leagues shared co-op advertising and marketing as well as operational/compliance seminars it’s unclear how much sharing would continue “considering the hard feelings,” as one insider put it, left over from the end of the merger. Paul Mercer, chairman of the American Association of Credit Union Leagues and CEO of the Ohio League, said although the Dakota consolidation was set out to be a “state league model,” the trend remains for small league sharing. “There will be more partnerships, collaborations and joint ventures in the future but certainly CEOs in small state leagues will be charting the course on what direction they want to take their organizations based on individual choices,” he observed. -

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