An eventful, surprising and disappointing night at the City Council. In a process in which there was so much very clear Mayoral and Councilor disappointment with the recommendation to extend the contract with Wells Fargo, where was the opportunity for public comment? Where was the opportunity to really explore options. There is a lesson here….read on.
Wells Fargo: Councilor after Councilor expressed dismay that the Finance Committee and Finance Director were recommending extending the Wells Fargo contract to be the City’s fiscal agent. The Mayor in particular pressed the Finance Director repeatedly as to whether there weren’t other bidders who could be considered and at each point, Adam Johnson, City Finance Director answered, with a mix of nonsense about Wells Fargo’s commitment to the community or with more compelling arguments about Wells Fargo’s sophisticated security and software systems. In relation to Wells’ commitment to the community, apparently $200,000 in donations to local charities trumps Wells Fargo’s hundreds of millions of dollars in customer theft through scams coercing customers to pay fees to open new and unneeded accounts. Johnson also touted Wells Fargo’s investment in Santa Fe–apparently the fact that Wells Fargo gives car loans, mortgages, and issues credit cards to Santa Fe residents (their business after all and at a tidy profit no doubt)–this business practice is a more important indicator of their community concerns than their hundreds of millions invested in the Dakota Pipeline and their wholesale disregard for the human rights of Indigenous people.
I don’t think Johnson’s arguments on Wells Fargo’s shiny facade of community commitment swayed the Council at all, but despite constant pressing by the Mayor and others, Johnson kept pointing to all the proprietary software and security systems Wells Fargo had in place to protect our money. I wish the bidding process had asked bankers something like: “In the last five years how many dollars of customer deposits have been lost to fraud or lost in transaction processes at your bank?” My guess is that while Wells Fargo could crow about sophisticated software, none of the competing banks had experienced any significant loss of deposits. One would expect a mega corporation to have bells and whistles and with them they inject fear in corporate and municipal customers that without them their deposits will go up in smoke. But with a decision to be made and a Finance Director holding firm about Wells Fargo’s competitive advantages, the Council voted 6-3 to approve the extension, with Councilors Maestas, Lindell and Rivera the only Councilors to vote no.
There is a lesson here. In four years, our Public Bank will be chartered and ready to operate. We have a Public Bank Task Force that I am told by Elaine Sullivan, one of the leaders of the Public Banking effort, that this Task Force is top notch and looking for all the ways to make a Public Bank possible, while also ensuring adequate protection for the community. But in four years, I can already hear Finance Director Johnson again crowing about Wells Fargo’s even more robust security systems and software and how the Public Bank has never managed anything like a municipal account. Assuming City Council approval of a Task Force recommendation to move forward, the Public Bank could obtain a charter sometime in 2019-2020, And certainly there would be no plan to instantly seek to manage all the City’s funds. So I am hoping that the Task Force builds into its report (due in Feb 2018) a step-by-step plan for building capacity and experience in managing ever larger amounts of City funds so that in 2022 when Wells Fargo’s contract is up, the Public Bank will have credible evidence of capacity to counter Wells Fargo’s bells and whistles.
A last comment on this decision. No one on this council was happy to vote to extend this contract, but what I found shocking was that on an issue of such importance to our community, there was no opportunity for public comment. Retake folks sat in the audience in silence, but there was no opportunity for “petitions from the floor” before debate on specific agenda items began or for public comment during the debate of the contract. This is where perhaps our Retake Local Advocacy Research Team needs to do some research. How is it that we had three hours of public comment on cell tower regulations and zero opportunity for public comment on the Wells contract? Do we need to get a Councilor to ask for a public hearing? Can a resident insist on one? If you are offended by the lack of opportunity for community input on this issue and want to be part of a team that is learning the ropes of how the city works so that we can work proactively on issues like this contract, Public Banking, plans for affordable housing development and public transit, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will put you on the list to be notified of meetings. We meet the first and third Thursday of each month from 6-8pm at 1420 Cerrillos. Involvement in this team is the kind of sustained commitment to our community that can actually help turn aspirations into reality. Join us.
In closing, happy birthday to my wife, Roxanne. A true partner in all things and someone who brings to joy to all things big and small. Without her, none of this would happen….or at least not nearly as well. Her outrage at injustice is tempered by an extraordinary sense of balance and common sense. We’ll be taking the night off. No meetings and the blog tomorrow is already to go. We all need respites and time to nurture those relationships that matter most.