Thursday, July 6, 2023

SECU Board Of Directors - Individual Accountability - Jo Anne Sanford

Jo Anne Sanford

   Jo Anne Sanford
Jo Anne Sanford has been a member of the SECU Board of Directors since 2005.  After 20 years with the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office, she was appointed to the North Carolina Utilities Commission  For most of her tenure at the Commission she served as Chair.A graduate of NC State University and the School of Law at UNC-CH, she has extensive experience in regulated utility industries. She practices law in Sanford Law Office, PLLC 
At SECU I worked with only three of the current 11 SECU Board members, Mr. Bob Brinson [see 7/4/23 post], Mr. McKinley Wooten, Jr. [see 7/5/23 post], and the third person was Ms. Jo Anne Sanford. Ms. Sanford had a distinguished legal career with the N.C. Attorney General's Office and was well-known for the depth of her expertise across a broad range of governmental affairs. An exceptional "networker", Ms. Sanford excelled in building strong relationships - long before digital calendars, alerts and LinkedIn made that a simple process. Ms. Sanford was also a "top table" political player in her party, as proved by her appointment to the N.C. Utilities Commission - one of the ripest and richest plum positions in State Government. At the Utilities Commission from 1995-2007, she served as chair and became a nationally recognized expert in the regulated utilities field.
Since 2007 and for most of her tenure on the SECU Board, Ms. Sanford has practiced law, consulted with and lobbied on behalf of the most prominent regulated utilities in the State - the type of transition from being the chief regulator of an industry to being a highly paid consultant and lobbyist for that same industry, which often gives ordinary citizens pause. Ms. Sanford's decades long work as a lobbyist is notably absent from her SECU published bio blip. I never found any concerns with that work, nor transition. SECU after all was not in the utilities business, had no political agenda with the State Legislature, took no sides in politics, didn't even employ a lobbyist - but that was over 7 years ago. Things have changed at SECU.
SECU knew its purpose and mission - improving the financial stature of member-consumers in North Carolina - which was, and remains, a never-ending challenge, a full-time Sisyphean struggle for progress, against the odds. But things have changed at SECU.
After 2007, Ms. Sanford's clients and associates were of course not your typical N.C. teacher, highway patrolman, healthcare employee, prison guard, or highway worker. Lobbying and consulting for companies such as Carolina Power and Light, Duke Power, and Piedmont Natural Gas was far more corporate. Ms Sanford became a player in winner-take-all merger and takeover brawls, high stakes regulatory influence hawking, and play-for-keeps political machinations. For reference check out the CP&L/Duke Power merger disaster in 2012. Enough to make even Machiavelli blush!
Definitely the fast lane! Master-of-the-universe power-seeking, which has been known to intoxicate even the most rational of egos. Folks caught up in such a "separate universe", often times, tend to reflect the company they keep, come to believe that their experiences are the norm, and that their world is the real world. It isn't - at least not for most SECU members.
Ms. Sanford became the chief proponent of business/commercial services at SECU, which seemed to reflect the interests of her corporate associates and clients more than the traditional members of SECU. The topic was well-researched and presented to the full Board on several occaisions. Impartial, arm's-length analyses found that SECU could not provide business/commercial services of higher quality, nor at lower costs than the banking industry. When surveyed, business operaters indicated they needed far more than just a checking account or occasional loan; they needed payment processing, payroll and tax help, cash and coin, and accounting support. There was little interest in business/commercial services from SECU and none if the service offered no financial advantage to the business owner. Why "switch banks" if there was no advantage? There was clear evidence - still is ! - that the North Carolina banking industry would be enraged, and would oppose, the commercialization of SECU. The Board as a whole was convinced, but not all seemed bothered by the facts. "Off the table, behind the scenes" maneuvering began to blossom - always dangerous for transparency and open discussion in a member-owned cooperative, but not unusual in the corporate world 
❗The New Election Procedures, however, are the most unsettling legacy which Ms. Sanford has sponsored for the SECU membership. Don't even need to dust the file for fingerprints. As the best, most experienced "corporate" attorney on the Board, her imprimatur is clear.  More on that shortly. Spoiler alert: It's not a pretty picture.
✅  The definition of a lobbyist or "special interest" in the political sense is a group that tries to influence government or business decisions to benefit itself. Perhaps it is naive to believe that an organization like SECU can remain above the fray of politics, pressure groups, and special interests. But, it did so for 85 years.
✅ Events of the last two years all smack of a new "corporate consciousness" at SECU. The "new/new" has quickly undermined the long track record of financial success and fair dealing at SECU. Bad ideas based on pet peeves, personal agendas, and special interests - without fact-based, honest data and research - will always lead to bad results. Why is this happening at SECU?
... a "new/new" corporate consciousness of "special interests" at SECU? - unconscionable!