A July 2020 editorial, SchoolsFirst…Diversity Last described how the board of directors of Orange County’s largest financial institution, SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union did not represent the demographics it served. The fact that there was not a person of color serving or the absence of board elections was not an anomaly, but the board’s way of doing business for years.

Following an article in the national publication, American Banker and calls from the NAACP the SchoolsFirst board appointed without an election two persons of color to newly created associate positions initially without voting rights.

The Façade of Democracy

Regrettably, the steps the board has taken regarding their own diversity is still not what a federal credit union should strive to be – an institution responsive to its member-owners with the directors elected by its members.

Instead, the SchoolsFirst board continues to operate like a private club. The board keeps information from members while making it nearly impossible for anyone other than themselves or those they appoint to serve on the board. One would think they would at least conduct an election “for show” like the governments of Belarus and Hungary.

Failing to conduct elections negates member involvement and more importantly democratic governance which is a process essential for the safety and soundness of an institution with over $25 billion in assets.

Benefits of Serving

The SchoolsFirst board hides behind their bylaws as an excuse why they can continue to operate without transparency, accountability or respect for inquiring member-owners. The board could easily make serving as a board member more inclusive, but as previously written it “pays” to be a board member so why would any board member give up those benefits?

A board member’s conference trip to Poland, a stay at the exclusive Torrey Pines resort, Christmas gifts, reimbursement for attending meetings and home internet service were just some of the benefits reported.

Not previously reported was the Vienna, Austria conference trip by three SchoolsFirst board members – Marcy Gowdy, Greg Marchant and Kristine Wetzel who were listed as having attended courtesy of SchoolsFirst.

Shelly Berryman who serves as a liaison to the SchoolsFirst board did not respond to emails requesting the names of board members who may have traveled to Glasgow, Scotland for the most recent credit union conference in July. This follows the pattern of suppressing any bit of information that would shed light on the activities of the board members.

In addition to Austria and Scotland, recent conferences have been held in Australia, Singapore and Northern Ireland.

Like their other benefits, the board keeps the details of their worldwide travel from its member-owners. Only through outside sources can this information be obtained.

Movement For Change

There has been some movement for change within the board of directors and the SchoolsFirst leadership.

Lynn April Hartline who served almost 30 years as a board member has stepped down. Her departure should be an example for John Didion, Marcy Gowdy and Kristine Wetzel who have all served over 20 years to reassess their continued tenures and open the board to a new generation of leaders.

In March Jose Lara was promoted to president of SchoolsFirst. This represents a transition period to new corporate leadership.

Jose Lara

Whatever other vacancies or retirements occur there must be more accountability and transparency from the SchoolsFirst board to its 1.2 million member-owners.

Dr. Barry Resnick has been a member of SchoolsFirst for five decades. He retired as a professor of counseling from the Rancho Santiago CCD after serving 42 years and has resided in Orange with his family for 35 years.

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