From Blowing Smoke To White Smoke At GAC

Some stuff found while rummaging around the bottom of my GAC attendee bag:

* In one of the most absurd requests at GAC, Terry McAuliffe, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee who was a speaker as part of a point/counterpart presentation with former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour, asked that the session be closed to the press.

It was a ridiculous request. First, how does someone who had made a living in democratic government make a demand that is completely counter to the U.S. Constitution that is on display just a 15-minute walk from the convention center? Second, what is the "press?" There were 4,000 people in the room with smartphones, any number of whom could have recorded the session or live-tweeted its content or added it to their blogs. And finally, what riveting, national secrets or strategies could either McAuliffe or Barbour have shared in a canned, pick-up-a-paycheck convention session such as theirs?

I'm guessing the only reason for "secrecy" here was to keep a lid on remarks that McAuliffe and Barbour planned to give the next week. And the week after that. And...


* Rick Craig, the former CEO of America First Credit Union who was honored by the National CU Foundation with a Herb Wegner Award for Lifetime Achievement, may also have won the award for largest accompanying entourage to ever come to the Wegner dinner in the 25 years it has been held.

In all, Craig brought 51 people, so many that they chartered a bus to bring all the folks from Utah. That group included Craig's 10 children and 31 grandchildren, numbers Craig juxtaposed in his acceptance speech before having a bit of fun with the mistake.

Craig thanked his "31 children," before realizing what he said and adding, "Well, being from Utah, you never know."

Craig, whose 38 years at America First meant he was there for more than half its existence, joined the credit union as EVP before being named CEO. That led him to note that despite the long career, "You have to remember I only got one promotion."

Speaking of the Wegners, for a moment I thought I had mistakenly sat down at a dinner for the Old White Guys Hall of Fame. I'm not saying the winners over the past 25 years haven't been a diverse lot, but watching a video of the winners to date was like looking at the membership list at Augusta National Golf Club. This year's winners did include one African-American, Hubert Hoosman, but there remains a real shortage of women and minorities as award-winners. Let's hope that changes over the next 25 years.


* At a breakout session on the broader world of cooperatives, Adam Schwartz, who spent many years at the National Cooperative Business Association before heading out to lead his own firm, the Cooperative Way, asked a room of several hundred people, "How many of you ever took a course in cooperatives in any of your schooling?" Not a hand was raised. "And yet all of us work in the cooperative industry. That's the story."

Schwartz's larger point was that even though there are 29,000 co-ops in the U.S., awareness remains surprisingly low.


* Mark Cummins, the president of the Minnesota CU Network who chairs CUNA's Cooperative Alliance Committee, said CUs have no one to blame but themselves if their members don't know about the "M" word.

"Your members don't know they're member unless you tell them," said Cummins. "And tell them and tell them. And you have to believe it. A lot of us have changed our names and diminished the credit union part of the name."


* I heard this second-hand, so I can't verify whether it's true, but I was told that at the Small CU Roundtable at GAC one credit union with assets of more than $300 million was on hand. When asked why they were there they allegedly responded, "We're looking for merger partners."


* Chip Filson, the president of Callahan & Associates who is leading a White House petition drive aimed at making the practice of the "cooperative principles" a consideration for all future NCUA board members (CU Journal, March 4), said that part of his goal is to shine a light on talk that typically takes place in the shadows when it comes to NCUA board candidates.

"It opens up an opportunity for people who want to be candidates for the board to present their cases and throw their names in the hat," said Filson. "Now people can talk about it openly, and you don't have this kind of behind-the-scenes phone calls about 'who have you talked to?'

"Now we can open up a discussion about the kind of leadership I hope the public process is to encourage vetting," he continued. "I hope that people would say 'who's that. Why is she interested?'"

How people come to be nominated for the NCUA board is, frankly, no secret. They were active in politics, and their candidate/party won (unless they are the minority candidate), but weren't such high-profile supporters that they got the plum job at an embassy or a major department.

Still, Filson added-and fittingly, given events in the Vatican-"people don't know how it works. A puff of white smoke comes out and we presume we know the process was good."

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann@cujournal.com.


Virginia Credit Union League Annual Meeting, Hotel Roanoke, Roanoke. For info: www.vacul.org.