Since it was established in 1979, Coast Central Credit Union has grown into the largest member-owned financial institution in the region, with over 76,000 members and 11 branches in Del Norte, Humboldt and Trinity Counties. | File photo by Andrew Goff.




Press release from Carrie Peyton-Dahlberg:

In the wake of a complaint to state regulators, Coast Central Credit Union recently posted on its website the vote counts from the last two annual elections for its board of directors.

“This is a huge step, coming after months of refusing to disclose these numbers, and I commend the credit union and its board for releasing the vote tallies,” said Carrie Peyton-Dahlberg, who brought the complaint to the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation.

According to the Coast Central website, January 2023 vote tallies for the board of directors were:

  • Kelly Walsh: 1,545 votes (54.5%), elected to a 3-year term
  • Rees Hughes: 1,359 votes (47.9%), elected to a 3-year term
  • John Gladding: 1,271 votes (44.8%), elected to a 3-year term
  • James Kloor: 1,141 votes (40.2%), not elected
  • Maricela Aceves Wexler: 1,103 votes (38.9%), not elected
  • Kassidy Banducci:1,010 votes (35.6%), not elected
  • Dane Valadao: 848 votes (29.9%), not elected

According to Coast Central’s website, January 2024 vote tallies were:

Volunteer Board of Directors

  • Matt Wakefield: 1,641 votes (73.1%), elected to a 3-year term
  • Terry Anne Meierding: 1,600 votes (71.3%), elected to a 3-year term
  • Ron Rudebock: 1,520 votes (67.7%), elected to a 3-year term
  • Dane Valadao: 1,346 votes (60.0%), elected to a 1-year term for the remainder of a 2023 retiree’s term
  • Carrie Peyton-Dahlberg: 1,174 votes (52.3%), not elected

Volunteer Supervisory Committee

  • Paula Mushrush: 1,881 votes (83.8%), elected to a 3-year term

Ron Rudebock, chair of Coast Central’s board of directors, explained the credit union’s change of heart in a formal response to the state, which was addressed to Peyton-Dahlberg but emailed to the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation.

“In response to members requests at the annual meeting and in the spirit of enhanced transparency and goodwill, we have taken the additional step of posting the vote totals from the previous year on our website,” Rudebock wrote. “We hope this action demonstrates our commitment to transparency and our dedication to addressing the concerns of our members.”

For more than a year, James Sessa, president/CEO of the member-owned credit union, declined multiple requests from past candidates, their supporters and members of the media to release the 2023 numbers. Among those who asked, and were turned down, were James Kloor, who ran for the credit union board of directors on the “Members Voice” ticket in January 2023, and Peyton-Dahlberg, who ran for the board of directors in January 2024.

In addition, during a question period after the Coast Central Credit Union annual meeting in February 2024, several member-owners asked for more detailed election results, including listing the actual votes received by each candidate, rather than just providing the names of winners. However, Sessa countered that Coast Central does not release vote tallies because it wants all elected board members to be seen as being on equal footing, no matter how many votes they received.

The day after that meeting, on Feb. 23, Peyton-Dahlberg filed her complaint with the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation, asking the state to require that the vote totals be released.

The state notified Peyton-Dahlberg on March 15 via Rudebock’s letter that the vote counts are now released.

The vote totals themselves, rather than just the names of winners, were important for several reasons, Peyton-Dahlberg wrote in her complaint to the state. First, if the tally had been very close, it would have raised questions about how Coast Central handled its procedures for disqualifying votes based on signature discrepancies. Second, the board of directors needed that hard data on how member-owners viewed different candidates and their ideas.

A subcommittee of the board considered both Wexler and Valadao, among others, for appointment to several board vacancies that arose later in 2023. They appointed Valadao even though he received 255 fewer votes than Wexler, who ran on the “Members Voice” slate. They also appointed Wakefield and Meierding, passing up two other opportunities to appoint Wexler.

In her complaint to the state, Peyton-Dahlberg argued that making these appointments without knowing the vote totals of all applicants violated the board’s duty to act in the best interests of its member-owners. That issue was not addressed by the state. In his letter, Rudebock wrote that the appointment subcommittee relies on “a comprehensive understanding of the qualifications and contributions of each candidate and the talent gaps within the board to make informed decisions, rather than solely on the number of votes they received.”

With Coast Central’s written response, the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation has now closed the file on Peyton-Dahlberg’s complaint. It explained: “Please understand that this does not mean your concerns do not have merit. The DFPI provides a service by requiring its licensees to respond to consumer complaints in writing. But, in general, the DFPI cannot intervene on behalf of individual consumers in any particular case. The Department brings consumer protection actions when we find patterns of deception, misrepresentation or unfair business practices of statewide interest.”

The department regulates credit unions and other financial service providers, and Peyton-Dahlberg encouraged anyone having consumer issues with their bank or credit union to turn to it as a possible resource.

She also urged Coast Central member-owners to use their comment cards to ask for further progress, such as publicly announcing board vacancies, revising board election rules so they don’t hinder election outreach, and changing the board appointment process so that future vacancies can be filled in a way that is more representative of community demographics.

“Coast Central is moving in a good direction, including releasing these numbers, putting 2024 election reminders in each branch and making sure that its ballots were sent in clearly labeled envelopes,” Peyton-Dahlberg said. “All of these are big improvements over the January 2023 election, and I hope this is starting a new trend.

 “Bit by bit, if member-owners stay involved, we can encourage Coast Central to move further down this path of listening to the people who own it,” she said.