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Credit union boards need to use a common sense approach to keep extravagant or excessive travel expense by volunteers under control, particularly during economic distress and with financial junkets undergoing media scrutiny. That was the view last week by a sampling of CU chairmen queried on a whistle-blower suit filed by the former CEO of a New Jersey CU who complained to examiners this spring that her board had abused internal travel policies by going on CU-related, overseas educational cruises during 2006-2007. “I can only speak for my own credit union, which has very committed, responsible people on board who are encouraged to attend political or educational conferences like Hike the Hill or the GAC, germane to the business, but never to go hog wild on some kind of cruise,” said Howard Spencer, chairman of the National Association of Credit Union Chairmen. Spencer, chairman of the $225 million Northland Area FCU in Oscoda, Mich., said director travel expenses should be carefully reviewed and evaluated by CU board members before trips are approved with an eye toward ensuring “they all support the bottom line.” Even where CU conferences are held in what might be considered playground locations, like Las Vegas, Reno or Atlantic City, directors are encouraged, he said, to look for hotel or airline bargains. “You know you can get a $49 hotel in those cities,” said Spencer, stressing the need for volunteers to participate in their CU education but remain thrifty. “We’re not about to cancel out on a conference just because it is held in one of those cities.” Echoing Spencer were Wesley Bone, chairman of the Maryland/DC Credit Union Association, and David Gilbert, former secretary of NAFCU and chairman of Aberdeen Proving Ground FCU in Maryland, both of whom condemned the First Jersey CU Board actions as reprehensible. “That is simply wrong,” said Gilbert in commenting on the First Jersey cruises, as alleged in a December 2008 suit filed in a New Jersey state court by Joann Lazzara, the fired CEO of First Jersey. Gilbert said there are any number of CU conferences that have real value for CU volunteers and CU management must be realistic about board members “spending $2,000-$2,500″ for travel, hotels, registration and meals. He said the exotic cruises represent abhorrent practices. Bone, the chairman of First Financial CU of Lutherville, Md., said CU boards need to be careful about giving carte blanche to any director seeking reimbursement to attend educational meetings. “You simply have to look at what is appropriate and within budget,” advised Bone. The problem “at some of those conferences is an hour is spent in class,” and the remainder can be spent frolicking, said Bone. –[email protected]

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