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Agency believes credit union risking litigation with handling of recall meeting

Reporters barred from attending Sept. 4 ‘members only’ recall meeting


The federal agency that charters and supervises American credit unions believes the St. Helens Community Federal Credit Union is setting itself up for litigation with the way it’s handling a vote that could recall a majority of its board of directors.

The St. Helens credit union, which currently holds nearly $166 million in assets, fell under federal scrutiny after the National Credit Union Association was informed by credit union members that the financial institution has sent out absentee ballots, allowing members who were unable to attend a special meeting Sept. 4, to cast their vote to remove or retain five of the credit unions seven directors by mail.

Newly hired CEO Brooke Van Vleet did not directly respond to calls for comment. In an email to The Spotlight she said she was busy preparing for the special meeting, but would be happy to recap the results and the credit union’s plans to move forward following the meeting.

The Spotlight had planned to cover the meeting, but was informed by credit union staff Sept. 4 its reporters would not be allowed access. That’s because the newspaper’s reporters are not members of the credit union, the only people who will be allowed entry.

The Spotlight then planned to open an account to gain access, but according to Barbara Harris of the credit union, only those who were members before Aug. 7 could attend, the date the special meeting petition was received.

“These are the rules,” Harris said.

The petition to recall the five directors was circulated throughout Columbia County in July, following an annual meeting on June 26.

The members and credit union employees behind the petition cited concerns about how the board was guiding the credit union, specifically in potential merger discussions with Wauna Federal Credit Union and in its dismissal of former CEO Jeff Schwarz earlier this year.

When Van Vleet stepped aboard in August on a six-month contract, she advised the board to cancel a letter of intent it had signed with Wauna to explore merging.

— Stover E. Harger III contributed to this report.