As a rule, the annual meetings of mutual savings and loan associations are rather cut and dried affairs. Not so last week's 50th annual meeting of Interstate Federal.
It was not the announcement of a $5.5 million loss last year--making 1981 the worst year in many for Interstate, as it was for countless other S&Ls--that disturbed the tranquility of the setting. In fact, depositors took solace in President Robert A. Barton's statement that the institution had $36 million in reserves, or 9.6 percent of savings --triple the level required by federal banking authorities.
No, it was a small number of dissident depositors who provided unaccustomed fireworks, much to the discomfort of management and other members. The dissidents, calling themselves the Interstate Depositors Association, tried unsuccessfully to introduce three resolutions dealing with conflict of interest, remuneration of officers and directors, and community advisory boards. The parliamentarian ruled them out of order.
A spokesman for the group, Jeffrey Fiedler, did, however, manage to bring up the substance of the resolutions for discussion. He demanded to know if there was not a conflict of interest when eight top officials of Interstate also hold positions at or are connected to Weaver Bros., a competitor in the mortgage banking field.
A Weaver brother founded Interstate a half century ago. Martin F. West Jr., chairman of the board of Interstate and president of Weaver Bros., replied, "There is no conflict of interest; we've followed every regulation."
In addition to interlocks, Fiedler asked Interstate to disclose salaries and fees for services directors provided the association. He questioned how West could be the full-time president of Weaver Bros. and still tell the Federal Home Loan Bank Board that 50 percent of his time is devoted to Interstate. West declined to make the disclosures, saying they were filed with the bank board but that the regulatory agency disapproved of making them public.
The request for community advisory boards--which was also not allowed to be put to a vote--related to the IDA's charge that Interstate engages in red-lining, the practice of not making mortgage loans in certain geographical areas deemed undesirable. President Barton responded that, while he did not have figures available, the association served a wide base of customers, was closely involved in community organizations and did take care of low-income loan applicants. "I have worked very hard to turn Anacostia around from rental to home ownership," he said.
When questioned later, Barton provided the following figures for 1981: Of the 403 loans totaling $33 million made by Interstate, 73 totaling $5.8 million, or 18.1 percent, were in the District. Forty of the 73 loans, amounting to $2.7 million (46.5 percent), were made on properties "east of Rock Creek Park," he added. (This expression is a common euphemism for low-income, overwhelmingly black neighborhoods.) Barton said he did not have a further breakdown.
The IDA, working on 1980 loans, contends the figures are misleading. Using Interstate's own data and that of Rufus S. Lusk & Son, Andy Kahn calculated that of the $4.9 million in loans Interstate made in the District, $2.3 million (46.9 percent) was placed east of the park. But, Kahn insisted, that designation also includes Capitol Hill, site of many expensive homes bought mainly by whites, and neighborhoods like Adams Morgan, where rehabilitation by white owners is taking place.
By excluding the $1.35 million in mortgages made in Northwest Washington east of the park and the $379,000 made in the Capitol Hill area, Kahn comes up with just $585,000 for the rest of Northeast, Southeast and Southwest. That amounts to 11.8 percent of loans made in 1980. (Were the same ratio applied to 1981 figures, the total would be $682,000.) Forty-nine percent of the District's population lives in communities other than Northwest and Capitol Hill.
The IDA made no attempt to find out how many mortgage applications were made in the low income areas, or how many were denied. Neither did it find out what percentage of Interstate's deposits came from Northwest and Capitol Hill.