While the demographics in Orange County have drastically changed in the past several years, the Board of Directors of Schools First Federal Credit Union, the largest financial institution in the county has not. The Board of Directors have created an exclusive private club atmosphere making it nearly impossible for anyone to serve.

For forty years I have been a member of Schools First. With assets over $19 billion and branches throughout Southern California, Schools First has come a long way since its beginning in 1934 operating out of a small office on Main Street in Santa Ana with $1200 in assets. Today it’s the fifth largest credit union in the country.

Every year Schools First produces a colorful annual report. The report informs members of the credit union’s yearly milestones and includes catchy phrases like “your community is our community”. Pictures throughout each report represent its nearly one million members and show readers the credit union’s commitment to diversity. The last page of each report includes a photo of the Board of Directors, but it just doesn’t seem to fit.

This first caught my eye when I got to the last page of the 2019 annual report. The photo seemed to contradict everything that appears before it. Believing it was an anomaly, I reviewed annual reports each year back to 2004. The board photos from 2004 to the most recent one in 2019 (below) are nearly identical. In some years the board didn’t even take a new photo and in most years the only difference is where the directors are positioned.

Eric Padget, Matthew Schulenberg, Adam O’Connor, Andy Plumley, Marc Ecker, Greg Marchant, John Didion (top row, left to right) Marc Gowdy, Lynn April Hartline, Renee Hendrick, Kristine Wetzel (bottom row, left to right)

Seven of the directors who are in the 2019 photo appear yearly back to 2004.

If asked, each would probably explain that anyone can serve on the Board of Directors and that is true. A nomination requires a petition signed by 500 credit union members; a completed application packet (with materials only available on request for a short period of time) and the approval by a “Nominating Committee” whose names cannot be disclosed.

The details and application packet are only posted once a year in January and are removed from the Schools First website in May. The materials must be submitted to the nominating committee 90 days prior to the annual election which is scheduled in May. This gives the applicant just weeks to prepare for a nomination. The nominating committee then determines the names to put “in nomination”. For years only one name per open seat has been recommended avoiding any elections. From 2004 through 2018 there were only three open seats.

By creating a path riddled with obstacles with no term limits, the Schools First Board of Directors have created a culture of exclusion that ensures these same seven individuals will be able to continue sitting as directors for their lifetime while controlling the process for those who may serve alongside them.

I’m certain the seven directors would also be happy to tell you that the  2400 Schools First team members are a group of diverse, talented individuals focused on serving their members and community…and they would be absolutely correct.

The seven, however have failed to realize they no longer represent the team members or the communities served by Schools First. Demographics in the three counties predominantly served by Schools First, Orange, Riverside and Los Angeles have drastically changed just in the past decade.

Not one of the seven board members resides in Santa Ana, the most populous city in Orange County where Schools First began and a significant presence remains with its headquarters. Instead they call cities like Corona del Mar and Newport Coast their homes.

It’s time for this Board to realize their photo on the last page of each annual report does not reflect Schools First. The privileged, private country club culture of admission to the Board must end. The photo on the last page of future annual reports should be reflective of the credit union’s membership, team members and communities served. Volunteering for a board seat must be open, inclusive and certainly not for a lifetime.

I urge the seven directors listed below to step down so a new and diverse board can begin to create a culture of inclusion providing an opportunity for any Schools First member wishing to serve.

John Didion

Marc Ecker

Marcy Gowdy

Lynn April Hartline

Greg Marchant

Adam O’Connor

Kristine Wetzel

Dr. Barry Resnick, a professor of counseling, completed his 40th year as a faculty member in the Rancho Santiago CCD. He has resided with his family in the city of Orange for 33 years.

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