Senate Credit Union Seat Up for Vote

Posted March 16, 2004 at 2:05pm

Four candidates are vying for a spot on the board of directors this year in the U.S. Senate Federal Credit Union’s elections.

The lone director spot up for grabs is that of board Chairman Denis O’Donovan. His opponents include a Wall Street financial manager and two former board members, one of whom has actually endorsed O’Donovan in the election.

Mail-in ballots, sent out to all credit union members at the beginning of the month, must be returned no later than midnight on March 26 to be counted for the election. The new board member will be announced March 31 at the credit union’s annual meeting.

The credit union’s seven-member board volunteers its time to guide and set the policies for the more than 30,000 members of the $327 million credit union. All candidates for the board must be members in good standing in the credit union, must not have been convicted of a crime involving dishonesty or breach of trust, be at least 18 years old, and have a financial or legal background or have served for two years on a credit union committee. They also must wait a year before they run if they were an employee of the credit union.

This year’s candidates include O’Donovan, a six-year veteran of the board who works as chief clerk for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; Anthony Zagami, a former board chairman and general counsel in the Government Printing Office; former board member and Washington, D.C., accountant Gregory Holloway; and Jeffrey Berman, who works in investment strategy at the New York-based Black Rock Financial Management Inc.

The current seven-member board was instituted after the board lost five members due to controversy surrounding the 2002 elections. After that election, the directors decided to expand their membership from 11 to 13 in an attempt to retain two incumbents who had been defeated. The action incited an uproar from credit union members as well as a recall effort that brought about several resignations, decreasing the board membership to six. A seventh member was later added as required by credit union bylaws.

Zagami was one of the members who benefited from the board expansion and later stepped down. He served three full terms and part of a fourth on the board.

Zagami said one of the most pressing concerns for the Senate credit union is increasing the size of the board.

“There’s no credit union in the entire country that has that much in assets and that few board members,” he said, noting that he thinks the current board should be expanded to nine or 11 members. He said the way to fix the board size would be to take the top three votegetters in this year’s election and expand the board to nine.

In a single-member election, however, Zagami said O’Donovan would be the best choice for the board.

“I think Denis is the man. He’s the man I voted for, and beyond that, they should expand to nine and should pick the next two people,” Zagami said.

O’Donovan said the board is currently deliberating a change from seven to nine members to give the current board “a little more help,” but he said there’s also a lot the board needs to do before that can happen.

“We have to make sure it’s done in a proper way,” he said. “It would not be done in the way it was done in 2002 and it would be done with the full knowledge of all our [credit union] members.”

Berman said he is in favor of expanding the board from seven to nine members. “I think a larger board offers greater transparency, which is always a plus. It also allows for two more diverse points of view to be brought to the decision-making process.”

Holloway said he is “kind of indifferent” to a board increase. “You work within the structure, however it’s decided,” he said.

Credit union President and CEO Susan Enis said she thinks any action the board takes in terms of an expansion would be made in the full view of all the credit union members.

“I think they learned from 2002,” Enis said of the board. “This board is very, very attuned to what the membership wants and will do everything in a manner in front of the membership.”

She noted that since the 2002 controversy, the board election process has changed so that the independent auditing firm Schreiner, Legge & Co. now verifies and validates the balloting process. Credit union staff “have nothing to do with it. It goes to a third party and then we will all be in one room and hear the results together,” she said.

O’Donovan, who has said he would seek another term as board chairman if he wins the director spot, said his vision for the future of the credit union includes continuing the strong growth he has seen in his six years on the board and developing better service to members through Internet access.

Holloway said he wants to make sure the credit union continues to serve its members first.

“I’m big on customer service,” Holloway said. “I think a credit union serves a special service. It gets to a market that commercial banks and savings and loans don’t get to.”

Zagami, who also was a candidate in last year’s election, thinks the current directors could do more to include new voices and ideas.

“I’ve been a part of the credit union movement for many years,” said Zagami, who this week began serving as a board member of the Government Printing Office’s credit union. “I’m a credit union person.”

Berman said he hopes to bring a fresh perspective to the board by bringing a Wall Street skill set rather than a Beltway perspective.

“This is important at a time when large one-day fluctuations in Treasury rates has gone from being noteworthy to commonplace,” he said in an e-mail statement.

The March 31 meeting will take place at 6 p.m. in Room 902 of the Hart Senate Office Building.