The Better Business Bureau of Columbus breathed a public sigh of relief Monday at its annual meeting, while speaker Judge John D. Allen took aim at the financial greed he says is rampant in the U.S.
The gathering, held at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center, started with outgoing BBB chair Robert Kidd calling it a “challenging year,” one in which the organization emerged “from under the microscope.”
The local BBB, which has about 1,000 members, faced nearly a year of intense review by its Washingon, D.C.-based national organization. It was recertified Jan. 10 after meeting 23 standards, said Leonard Crain, president of the Columbus BBB.
“We felt all along that our operation met the standards,” Crain said after the meeting. “But you have to go through a lot of documentation to show them we’re actually processing complaints, we’re monitoring advertising, we’re monitoring patterns of complaints, we’re doing investigations.”
The Columbus organization goes through the reviews every three years, Crain said.
The local BBB covers 42 counties in west-southwest Georgia and east Alabama, which encompasses 30,000 businesses. Crain said his Web site gets 99,000 hits annually, while his office fields 75 to 100 phone calls each day.
“Are we more vigilant from having gone through that experience? We absolutely are,” Kidder said before turning over the BBB chairman position to Bill Bell, president of Energy Savers, a Columbus-based air-conditioning, heating and plumbing company.
“I’m excited about being part of the next two years of growth and expansion that we’re going to see,” Bell said, referencing the expansion at Fort Benning and among private employers in and around Columbus.
Allen, chief judge of Superior Court for the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, prefaced his address by acknowledging some in the audience had certainly been impacted by the nation’s economic crisis.
He talked of how those involved in the financial sector manipulated consumers for their own selfish gain. Thus, he said, the financial meltdown was created.
“I assure you this is not a cry for harm to any man,” Allen said. “But it is an acknowledgment and a testament to the potent impact of extreme greed and unethical conduct in the economic marketplace, the results of which spread like a disease.”
A major spark to the nation’s recession came from banks and other lenders selling mortgages to subprime borrowers, who ultimately could not afford their rising variable rates and monthly payments. Foreclosures have skyrocketed over the last two years.
Allen spoke of how financial institutions became “riskier and riskier with public money because it brought greater profits and greater bonuses with no concern” for consumers’ ability to manage their debt.
The judge also had words of caution as the U.S. economy emerges from what some consider the sharpest downturn since the Great Depression.
“Nothing causes amnesia about past ethical failures like a strong economic recovery,” Allen said. “We know the recovery’s coming. Will we also allow the amnesia to creep in?”
A lighter moment following Allen’s address came from Polly Bell. The chief executive officer of MEA Federal Credit Union in Columbus thanked the judge for his inspirational message.
“I know he was not talking about credit unions when he was talking about the financial institutions,” she said, drawing laughter.
Bell then presented the winners of the Students of Integrity essay contest. The recipients were Andrew Jones and the brother and sister duo of Jack and Avery Scherrer.