About 250 angry depositors met in Gaithersburg last night both to vent their frustration over the protracted savings and loan crisis and to lay the groundwork for a rally at the State House next week.
David Lange, cochairman of the Maryland Savings and Loan Depositors' Committee, said, "We have set a deadline for Nov. 15 for a depositor plan to end withdrawal limits to be announced. If on the 16th a depositor plan is set, we're going to celebrate. If on the 16th there is no plan, then we're going to protest."
Last night's meeting at Gaithersburg Senior High School was one of seven being held around the state this week to plan for the rally, which organizers hope will draw a substantial portion of the thousands of depositors with money still frozen in one of the state's three crippled savings and loans.
The meeting was also attended by two top officials of the administration of Gov. Harry Hughes. They were heckled, jeered and repeatedly interrupted during the two-hour meeting as they tried to explain the chronology of the crisis and defend Hughes' role in solving it.
"We're in this together. We must solve this problem and it's one hell of a problem," said Benjamin Bialek, Hughes' top legislative aide, who attended the meeting along with Melville S. Brown, director of the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund.
Bialek added, "Let me say at the outset that Gov. Hughes is painfully aware of the inconvenience and hardship . . . ."
But he was quickly interrupted by shouts of "I don't believe that, Mr. Bialek. I don't believe that." The shouts came from John Turano, a Gaithersburg resident who said he had "a good bit of money" tied up in Community Savings and Loan, one of three thrifts where deposits remain frozen. Turano's comments were echoed with shouts from the audience of "Whose fault is it? Where was the attorney general in all of this?" And "What time frame are you talking about?"
Later Bialek and Brown responded to tough questions raised by people who sometimes leaped to their feet and shook their fists to challenge answers they considered inadequate. Said one man who later refused to give his name, "Is it fair that I have to petition the governor for my money?"
Depositors, many of whom have waited up to six months for access to funds frozen in the savings and loans and faced creditors demanding mortgage, tuition and other payments, said they were particularly incensed that the state appears to them to be moving more quickly to solve industry-wide problems than to address the depositors' needs. They said the hardship plan announced by Hughes last month to release money for the most extreme needs was inadequate and unfair. One Community customer from Gaithersburg, Judy Neal, said she and her husband almost lost the house they were buying when their money was frozen. "This hardship withdrawal plan basically stinks," she said. "Why should you have to let your credit rating go down to zero in order to get your money."
After the meeting, Bialek and Brown fielded more questions personally from the audience, and both were sanguine about the hostility they had encountered. "We're being subjected to more and more frustration," said Brown, who spoke last month to a crowd of 600 in Greenbelt. "I'm still the bearer of information that some people don't want to hear. It's a very difficult situation. I certainly understand that."