In 15 years as a customer of Old Court Savings & Loan Association, Miriam Hawtof found the branch office in her Baltimore County neighborhood "a wonderful place to bank -- always reliable and honest."
Hawtof, who met with Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes today to talk about depositors' problems, said that she sympathizes with the Randallstown branch manager and tellers whose money also was frozen when the financial underpinnings of Old Court collapsed last May.
But Hawtof, a nurse, turned bitter as she described how the debacle cast a cloud over her personal finances, how her life is "consumed" by the 7 a.m. telephone calls from elderly friends and fellow depositors who wonder whether they will live to see their money again.
In a special hour-long meeting today with representatives of depositors at two troubled institutions, Hawtof urged Hughes to widen his plan for hardship withdrawals from Old Court to allow more generous reimbursements to retired and aged depositors.
Hughes, who has been dogged for months by depositors such as Hawtof, also met with two other Old Court customers and two from Community Savings and Loan Association, a large Bethesda institution that also collapsed last year.
The two sides emerged from the meeting with smiles and warm words, but there was no instant satisfaction for the depositors -- who want their money now -- or for Hughes, a probable U.S. Senate candidate who is eager to dig out of the nine-month savings and loan crisis as quickly as he can.
"The tone of this meeting we had today was a long time coming," said Marge Hoban of Gaithersburg, a Community depositor. Hoban described the Hughes administration's recent reception of depositors as "a hell of a lot better than it's been over the past few months."
Hughes, who generally has maintained a low public profile during the S&L crisis, met with representatives of a depositor group on Oct. 10 and again on Nov. 16. Today, he reiterated his belief that state government is doing what it can to free deposits at frozen thrifts while reducing the state's cost of that pay-back.
Hughes pointed to the administration's hardship withdrawal plan, which has freed more than $21 million for 5,802 customers of Old Court, Community and two other crippled thrifts. Nearly 6,500 depositors have requested emergency withdrawals totaling $45 million.
At a brief news conference, Hawtof criticized the governor's plan to pay back Old Court depositors during the next four years, saying the gradual repayment penalized customers by whittling down their principal deposit without paying interest.
"This was a positive meeting, but it should have taken place in the beginning of the crisis," said Hawtof, who said she had to cancel plans to buy a house last spring after Old Court collapsed. "We've been effectively shut out," she added. "What's been forgotten is that the depositors are taxpayers, too."