PALM DESERT, Calif. — For Paula Edwards, the former president/CEO of Nationwide Federal Credit Union, the conversion and merger into Nationwide Bank last November turned out to be a valuable learning experience “with wisdom gained and lessons learned” about respecting the moral rights of CU members.

In what was described as a compelling narrative presented to senior managers of state leagues meeting at the American Association of Credit Union Leagues’ Annual Meeting, Edwards called the role of her board in setting favorable payout terms for members “incredible” and also expressed appreciation to NCUA Board members for their guidance.

“We did our best for members,” said Edwards in detailing the $79 million pro-rated payout culminating a two-year scenario in which the parent insurance firm moved to merge and convert the Columbus, Ohio CU into Nationwide Bank.

Edwards left the CU Dec. 31. She is mulling job prospects and wants to stay in the credit union industry if possible.

“I love credit unions and my heart has been there for 30 years,” said Edwards, who was replaced by the new Nationwide Bank ownership with the appointment of Anne L. Arvia, president of a $1.8 billion Chicago community development bank.

In contrast to other conversions where members have been in the dark on board actions, the Nationwide case was clearly handled with transparency and due diligence and on that Edwards expressed gratitude to regulators, her staff and board.

The manner in which the payout transaction was carried out can be a “hopeful” blueprint for the rest of the industry “in understanding the real way to return equity,” she said.

An AACUL spokesman said Edwards’ appearance at the Palm Desert conference was part of a session devoted to conversion discussion that was “closed” to the press.

Also at the conference, league executives heard presentations on member outreach projects including the successful Juntos Avanzamos program aimed at Hispanics run by the Texas League and one to the underserved by the Iowa League.

In the area of outreach, Tom Sargent, president/CEO of First Tech Credit Union in Beaverton, Ore., discussed the growing role of CUs in Children’s Miracle Network and it was noted that he is now the first CU chairman of the CMN Board of Trustees, based in Salt Lake City.

On another topic, two more state leagues, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, also announced they have signed up with CUNA for education and training agreements in which CUNA does speaker and program coordination.

In a separate session, two Washington political consultants, Stuart Rosenberg and Ed Brookover, gave their read on the 2007 Congress and the outlook for legislation in such areas as health care, immigration, retirement and global warming. Rosenberg is president of the New Democrat Network and Brookover is chairman of political science at Greener & Hook in Arlington, Va.

Brookover told the AACUL conference that “overall the country is still center-right,” which puts Republicans in a strong position going into the 2008 elections. –