NJBA Classes

Penns Neck EIS Meeting

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This article was prepared for the November 28, 2001 edition of

U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Reining in the Bankers

With a trade association, equality rarely rules. Most

of them have several jumbo members (who often like to throw their

weight around) and lots of smaller members (who actually outnumber

the large ones), and their interests differ.

How does a director keep the peace, balancing the needs of large and

small, so the association stays on track? Alfred H. Griffith does

it by following the principles of two successful politicians —

George Washington and Machiavelli.

In 1977 Griffith gave up his jobs as a high school teacher and a

municipal

mayor to work for the New Jersey Bankers Association, and he is

president

now. Last month the NJBA moved its headquarters from a quiet enclave

in Princeton on Ewing Street to south of the Radisson Hotel on Route

1 South in Monmouth Junction. Princeton Charter School has bought

the former building, adjacent to its current campus, and the NJBA

was able to sublease the space it needed from Fleet Bank. The

telephone

numbers are different, but the extensions remain the same.

"Our primary job is to give all our banks the best tools

possible,"

says Griffith, "to not only offer products to their customers,

but also stay prepared for the changes happening in the industry."

"A major challenge for us is to speak with one voice in Trenton

as we get a more diverse constituency," he says. Twenty years

ago, before banks could cross state lines, there was plenty of

competition

but little diversity, and the NJBA had fewer fences to straddle.

"My

function as president is to set the stage so that the decision makers

(the trustees) are from as diverse a membership as possible, and to

set the stage so that when they make a decision, they can arrive at

a consensus," he says.

"Our board is a true cross-section." The most serious

challenge

to consensus came in the early 1980s, when New Jersey law did not

allow for any one bank to have more than 20 percent of all the

deposits

of commercial and savings banks in the state. Midlantic and First

Fidelity were nearing that percentage mark.

"Those two banks wanted to be able to continue to grow, to fend

off eventual acquisition by an out of state bank, and they wanted

to go to Trenton to get the percentage increased. The next nine

largest

banks took an opposite point of view. So we had a major dispute

between

our 11 largest banks." Supporting the nine might cause the two

largest to walk away with a considerable portion of the dues and many

of the political resources.

As Griffith says, with understatement, "We provided encouragement

that it might not be to their interest to involve the

association."

The 11 banks did agree to fight their own battle in Trenton. "For

at least two years the bankers had to go down to Trenton and deal

with the legislators, and they didn’t enjoy it at all." Joseph

Semrod, now chairman of Fleet Bank New Jersey, is the only banker

still active who functioned as a combatant in those skirmishes.

"They developed a tremendous appreciation for the

association,"

says Griffith. "It made clear the importance of consensus, and

we have been lucky to keep the organization intact, with full

membership."

Ultimately the two big banks won, which changed the

state’s banking scene forever. Griffith attributes his frequent

references

to "setting the stage" to the Italian Renaissance political

philosopher. "I am a die hard fan of Machiavelli, and I try to

practice his principals in a softer way. Machiavelli always wanted

to set the stage in such a way that it didn’t appear his hand was

involved."

His other hero, George Washington, led the country at a time when

the basic governing policies were being hammered out to form the

Constitution.

"He was great at taking people with different points of view,

getting them at a table, and getting the best out of them. That’s

a skill that I admire. To take guys who hate each others’ guts and

get a common result. Here’s a document that has lasted through all

the time and trials and has hardly ever been amended."

Griffith’s political savvy, he says, comes from his mother. "My

mother has always had a very smart political way of doing things.

She was never involved with politics, but I have gotten tremendous

lessons on ways of getting things done." For instance, when he

didn’t make the cut to get into Kean College, she wrote a letter to

the president telling the story of her disadvantaged family and her

son’s experiences. "So they gave me a chance."

Griffith grew up in Hillside, where his mother was a housewife and

his father was a foreman in a foundry, "I always wanted to be

a teacher, but if I hadn’t gotten into a state school, I probably

would have been a stock car driver," he says. He worked as a

newsboy,

a supermarket butcher, and as a tourist guide at Doris Duke’s estate.

After graduating in 1962 from Kean College, he earned master’s degrees

from Rutgers in political science and secondary education and

administration.

Griffith had a brief career in politics (as Bridgewater’s mayor) and

taught social studies at Bridgewater Raritan High School. Griffith’s

wife also taught high school, and their daughter runs a florist

business

in Somerville.

Teaching as it turns out, is an effective preparation for trade group

jobs. Teenagers have an attention span of 15 minutes and, in that

respect, they resemble busy bank presidents and legislators. Griffith

started out as an NJBA lobbyist. "My education background was

crucial; I had to explain as many banking principles as possible in

as short a time as possible."

One big win that he remembers was in the 1980s, when the NJBA

persuaded

the legislator to deregulate restrictive interest rates on loans.

"To compete with the mutual funds we were paying 18 to 19 percent

on deposits, but loan rates were regulated at 12 percent across the

board." The state regulated this rate so that low-cost mortgage

loans would be available to the general public. "Yet there were

no limitations on the funds. We were not in a position to

compete."

Much of the NJBA’s mission involves presenting workshops. "Thirty

new banks have been established in New Jersey over the past three

years," says Griffith, "and we have a total of 84 banks. Many

of our banks are so small they don’t have time to get outside help,

and we can bring in speakers and consultants."

For instance, this month at Forsgate, he spoke at a morning conference

for new community bank leaders.

The training scene has changed in the last 10 years. "Formerly,

you didn’t have a session if it wasn’t a full day," he says.

"Now,

if you can do it in a half day, at the right price, it works."

Smaller bankers are more likely to do a phone conference or a

teleconference

than an actual meeting at Forsgate.

Asked to comment on possible problems with the ongoing terrorist

investigations,

Griffith says, "Considering New Jersey and its location, I am

sure our members have been asked to work with law enforcement

authorities.

I know my phone will ring off the hook if they are bothered by

anything.

"A potential issue that may wind up being a problem: the conflict

between the historical requirement to share information on

transactions

that exceed $10,000. There is some thought in Washington that maybe

the number has to be reduced, but there is also a growing sentiment

to protect the financial privacy of customers."

"I learned from Machiavelli to always think long term, and as

I think longer term — I hope I am wrong — we could find a

challenge between the right of financial privacy and the obligation

for disclosure. I can potentially see our banks being put in the

middle."

As for his own future plans: "I’ve taken a position that I will

retire when it is no longer fun."

— Barbara Fox

New Jersey Bankers Association, 4365 Route 1 South,

Box 573, Princeton 08542-0573. Alfred H. Griffith, president.

609-520-1221;

fax, 609-520-1290.

Top Of Page
NJBA Classes

For information on all classes, call 609-520-1221.

Thursday, December 6, 8:30 a.m., "Decedents’

Accounts,"

Gerard G. Brew, McCarter & English, followed by Q&A with Sharon Newett

and Meg Smith of the NJ Department of the Treasury, and Keven

Hoagland,

Middlesex Surrogate. At Forsgate. $125.

Thursday, December 6, 2:30 p.m. "To Catch a Crook:

preventing fraud," telephone seminar.

Tuesday, December 11, 8:30 a.m. "How to Survive in

the New Economic Environment," David Berson, chief economist,

Federal National Mortgage Association. $225. Princeton Marriott.

Tuesday, December 18, 8:30 a.m. "Emergency

Preparedness

and Security," Jeff Connor, Reed Smith LLP. $225. Forsgate.

Top Of Page
Penns Neck EIS Meeting

Those who hope to solve some of the Route 1 traffic

congestion by building the Millstone Bypass are hoping that a 13-hour

public session on Tuesday, December 4, will accelerate the process.

Opponents of the bypass project argue that this meeting is premature.

They are urging Acting Governor Donald DiFrancesco and Department of

Transportation Commissioner James Weinstein to cancel it, and they

mention the possibility of legal action if it continues as planned.

The Environmental Scoping Forum and Open House, sponsored by the

Transportation Policy Institute of Rutgers, is scheduled for Tuesday,

December 4, from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. at the West Windsor Municipal

Building. Its purpose: to solicit comments from the public on the

scope of the upcoming environmental impact statement (EIS).

Anyone who wishes to speak at the December 4 meeting can pre-register

by contacting Helen Neuhaus & Associates at 212-532-4175, or

hna1977@aol.com. Requests for speaking time will be honored in the

order in which they are received and each speaker will be allotted

five minutes. Anyone who does not pre-register can sign up at the door

and will be allowed to speak in the order listed, as time slots become

available.

Written statements may also be submitted either at the scoping forum

or by sending them to Helen Neuhaus & Associates at 432 Park Avenue

South, New York, 10016. They can also be E-mailed or faxed to

212-532-7479.

The latest chapter in the Millstone Bypass saga began last October

when then-Governor Christie Whitman threw out DOT’s environmental

study recommending construction of the bypass and settling on a route

for the road. Whitman mandated a lengthy environmental impact

statement (EIS) to be conducted to determine the necessity of the

project, its environmental effects, and possible alternatives.

The state retained the Transportation Policy Institute of Rutgers

University to conduct the EIS and help mediate a solution. To show

that alternatives to the bypass would be considered, the project was

renamed the Penns Neck Area EIS.

Several months into the process, Rutgers set up the Partners’

Roundtable (policy.rutgers.edu/tpi/pennsneckareaeis), consisting of

some 40 residents, government officials, environmentalists and

transportation experts who have been meeting twice a month since June.

(The Roundtable’s next meeting will be Wednesday, December 12, from 5

to 8 p.m. at the West Windsor Senior Center, 271 Clarksville Road.)

Fifteen of the Roundtable members want the Rutgers consultants to

postpone the December scoping meeting to next May or June. So far,

they say, only the EIS study area has been defined. They assert that

the next step, a Problem Statement, is being written by a committee

but is "far from complete and is nowhere near ready to be negotiated

with the rest of the Roundtable participants, never mind being

presented to the public."

"We are not pleased by a turn of events that seems to want to rush

through scoping a project that has not even been defined yet in any

manner at all," says their letter.

West Windsor needs to be more forceful in its advocacy, says

Plainsboro Mayor Peter Cantu. "They need to take their blinders off in

West Windsor and be more vocal" if they want to see the project

constructe


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