CU professionals vie for political office, share CU message

Lisa Brown and Mike Mercer

Lisa Brown, CEO of Tallahassee-Leon Federal Credit Union, is running for County Commission. LSCU CEO Mike Mercer recently stopped by a campaign rally for the candidate.

When Floridians go to the polls in 2020, they’ll have two local candidates with strong ties to credit unions on the ballot. The campaigns of both are driven by a commitment to make a difference in their communities and are drawing attention to the credit union difference.

In Leon County, Lisa Brown, CEO of Tallahassee-Leon Federal Credit Union, is running for County Commission in a bid to make a difference in her corner of the state. Further south, Nancy Millan, board chair of Florida West Coast Credit Union, is running for Hillsborough (Tampa) County Tax Collector.

Lisa’s call to serve emerged when she became a development educator in 2014.

“That really set the table for me,” she said. “We had just come out of what, at least to this point, had been the worst economic crisis I’ve ever seen. I had spent the previous years working at credit unions and getting them back up to where they needed to be. When I came to Tallahassee-Leon, we were in deep trouble.”

Lisa buckled down and set about getting capital back into the credit union.

“When you’re worried about your employees and the future existence of your shop, you know you have to make it work,” Lisa said. “I spent six years worrying about the big picture of the credit union and not necessarily the community and how we helped them. I knew that, and it never went away, but I was working on all these other things.”

With the pressure of potential disaster alleviated by the credit union’s turnaround, Lisa went through certification for the CUDE program.

“That re-inspired me about what I do for credit unions and what we do for our members,” she said. “It lit the fire.”

The burn continued when Lisa took part in a development program in Kenya, seeing firsthand the work credit unions undertake in developing countries.

“You see how credit unions solve these community issues like housing and hunger and transportation,” Lisa says. “When you see these problems and think of skills you have that can make a difference, it really opens your mind.”

Since that time, Lisa has traveled to the Ukraine, the Philippines, Costa Rica, Ireland and other countries, experiencing the difference a cooperative can make in lives across the globe.

“It was incredible to have the opportunity to witness the power of credit unions at work in these places,” Lisa said. “I went into a community in the suburbs of Nairobi that was rocked by violence and poverty we can’t imagined. They had established a boys and girls club sort of set up. These kids were saving together and lending together. One man went to school and got a biomedical degree and came up with a way to recycle kitchen and animal waste to cook with and heat the homes of his neighbors. That young man was employed and solving problems in his community. The perpetuality of what we can accomplish is just incredible.”

That kind of example went beyond anecdotal. It became the inspiration that drove Lisa to public service.

“I was looking for ways to make a difference at my credit union and ways to make a difference in the community, and through that, began making relationships,” Lisa said. “Folks started saying it would make a lot of sense if I used that expertise in local government. I’m so passionate about that – about what I can do to really make a difference.”

Serving the credit union as CEO and working the campaign trail is demanding, but it also gives Lisa the perfect platform to deliver the credit union message.

“I get to talk about how the board of directors is elected and about the operating principles of a credit union,” she said. “I feel like I’m really spreading the credit union message, and hopefully inspiring the lending community, the real estate community and other organizations here in the community to start spreading the word.”

Lisa says who better to understand the county commission, city commission or a state house seat than a credit union professional who sees the struggles of an individual member to make ends meet.

“That gives us a unique perspective on our decision at the government level and on our economy,” she said. “We manage a multi-million budget and understand the bond market. Marry that with the idea you are helping individual member buy a house or have transportation to and from work, and you know you’re making a difference.”

This is Lisa’s second shot to earn a seat at the area government table. In the previous election round, she ran for Tallahassee City Commission and lost by only 311 votes in a campaign where she was outspent two to one.

Lisa hopes other credit union CEOs will contribute when they see a colleague running for public office.

“I don’t think last time I ran that credit unions understood they could send a $250 campaign contribution, not just for me but to set a precedent for other people.”

Lisa said it’s important to support credit union professionals making a run for office and that even small amounts make a significant difference.

“It’s not just the dollars raised, it’s also the number of people you can demonstrate are showing you support,” Lisa said.

Millan makes run for Hillsborough (Tampa) County Tax Collector

Mary Ott Wood and Nancy Millan

Nancy Millan, left, chair of Florida West Coast Credit Union, is supported in her campaign by Mary Ott Wood, Florida West Coast CU CEO.

Nancy Millan, chair of Florida West Coast Credit Union’s board of directors, has been employed with the Hillsborough County Tax Collector for 30 years, working her way from accounting clerk to director of community relations. Now, she’s ready for another move within the organization – she’s vying for the office of Hillsborough (Tampa) County Tax Collector.

“I have a passion for what I do,” Nancy said. “Doug Beldon, our current tax collector, has been amazing. When he decided he wasn’t going to run, I knew I wanted the position. I have a very vested interest in the organization, and I want to keep what way have and fight to be sure we maintain these high standards.”

In 2008, the office became the first Tax Collector in the state to receive the Governor’s Sterling Award for Performance Excellence. In 2011, it was the first to receive the Sterling Sustained Excellence Award.

“The Governor’s Award is a very prestigious honor,” Nancy said. “We don’t just say we’re great. We have proof we’re great. I’m no career politician, but I feel it’s important to run to represent all of us. Fundamentally, it’s the right thing to do to keep going everything we’ve worked so hard for over the years.”

Nancy says by putting herself in the public eye for an election, she’s also drawing attention to the credit union message and encourages other professionals to do the same in their local or state government.

“It’s important for credit unions that we step forward to make a difference in our communities,” she said. “It’s about taking an interest in our people and helping them lead productive lives and fulfill their dreams using our credit union.”

As a newbie in the political arena, Nancy is coordinating a full schedule at the tax office with her outside office hours campaign.

“I’ve only been in it for a short time, but it’s very demanding,” she said. “I’m passionate about it so I’m willing to work hard and make the sacrifices in my personal life to make this happen. I have 1.4 million people in my county, and it’s hard to reach them all. But if you’re passionate and believe in something strongly, the rest will come.”

In her drive for public office, Nancy wants to be as different from typical candidates — as credit unions are from banks.

“I’m tired of career politicians going into a job and not really caring about what they do,” she said. “That’s why it’s important for me. We don’t want typical government, and that’s what I’m trying to fight for. I’m doing what it takes and investing in people.”