March 16, 2012
Carla Decker has withdrawn her name for confirmation to the board of the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA).
It's a shame.
A shame for Ms. Decker, who had to go through a lot of public pain, largely unwarranted.
It's a shame for our political system, in which a routine confirmation process for an agency that -- let's face it -- is not one of the highest-profile government entities (notwithstanding how crucial it is for our credit union movement) gets tied up in political wrangling.
But most of all, it is a shame for the credit union movement.
I, and the Federation, have known and valued Ms. Decker for years, for her willingness to expand the envelope to serve the underserved as well as her important contributions to the Development Education movement here in the U.S. and in the Caribbean, where she especially distinguished herself through her innovative leadership.
We were stunned and, frankly, disgusted at the treatment her nomination received within the credit union movement. Among the lowlights were anonymous attacks shared with and repeated by the credit union press, and even worse, unlawful disclosure of examination findings and recommendations - an action that presumably is still under investigation by NCUA.
While not as scurrilous, the attacks on Ms. Decker for allegedly not understanding the issues of large credit unions, since she "only ran a small credit union" with assets of $45 million or so were, in their way, equally disturbing. Despite the relentless wave of consolidations and mergers, a large portion of the credit union movement remains under $50 million - and many, a lot smaller than that. There is widespread feeling among smaller credit unions that their larger colleagues would be delighted to see them vanish tomorrow - notwithstanding the political benefits these small credit unions conveniently provide on Capitol Hill.
The piling-on of charges directed against Ms. Decker did not stop there. The financial performance of her credit union during the worst recession of more than a half-century gave her critics an opening to attack her qualifications - this though her credit union remained "well-capitalized" by NCUA and statutory standards, even while serving an employment sector ravaged by government downsizing and simultaneously attempting to expand services to the underserved through a branch in a low-income Washington, DC neighborhood. It is, frankly, hard for us to believe that all of those who threw stones were without financial sin.
For good measure, there were snipes at her credit union for allegedly making an $80,000 vehicle loan. To paraphrase, we read in a credit union column, "We're shocked, shocked that a 'low-income credit union' would make such a loan." Reality check: low-income credit unions by regulation and good business practice serve at least a majority of low-income members. In fact, for many low-income credit unions, it is vitally important to have a mix of middle-income or other members - often, we tell our members that an 80/20 rule - 80% low- and moderate-income, 20% other - helps sustain the business. Attacking this loan, which presumably was legal, was a cheap shot.
As I officially depart the credit union movement after more than 30 years leading the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, I have seen a long parade of NCUA board members. Their qualifications have at best been, well, varied. (Disclosure: I am most explicitly NOT referring to the current NCUA board, who I regard as thoroughly qualified, whatever your views of their policies.) I have not the slightest doubt that Ms. Carla Decker was better qualified than a good many of the people who have ascended to the NCUA board position throughout my tenure in the movement.
Carla Decker carried out her campaign for the NCUA board with dignity and grace throughout. Rules prohibited her from speaking out in her own defense - a fact that was not at first recognized in the credit union press, which imputed her lack of comment to a lack of defense to the charges, anonymous and otherwise. We, her allies and friends, did not fully engage in a public back-and-forth because we did not wish to elevate an unseemly dialogue or complicate the confirmation process.
Many of the attacks on her candidacy did no credit to the movement that so many of us have dedicated our careers to. We can only hope that this spectacle will not be repeated.
Clifford N. Rosenthal
National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions
© 2012 National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions.