Tag Archives: City of Santa Fe

Forum on public bank proposal set for Monday

By T. S. Last / Journal Staff Writer | The Albuquerque Journal | November 17, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. — Already halfway through its six-month exercise to examine what next steps need to be taken to establish a public bank in Santa Fe and identify potential barriers, the Public Bank Task Force will hold a public forum on Monday to gather input to be included in an interim report that will be presented to the City Council’s Finance Committee on Dec. 4.
The council passed a resolution earlier this year to establish the nine-member task force so the council can “make an informed decision about submitting an application for a New Mexico Bank Charter for a Public Bank in Santa Fe,” but the idea has been in the works for a few years.

In September 2014, WeArePeopleHere!, a nonprofit group that describes itself as “a grass-roots progressive political action collective,” put on a symposium hosted by Mayor Javier Gonzales exploring the concept of creating a city-owned community bank.

A few months later, the City Council approved a $50,000 contract to conduct a feasibility study that ultimately determined a public bank could potentially improve fiscal management, create a healthier local lending climate and generate better interest rate margins for the city. But some critics are skeptical of the idea and whether a small city like Santa Fe can make a public bank work.

At least initially, the city would be the public bank’s only client. The report said the bank could serve the city by funding capital improvement projects with internal funds without raising taxes or using bond proceeds.

According to a news release, David Buchholtz, an attorney with experience in finance and banking who serves as the task force’s chairman, will provide an update on the committee’s progress to date, and four subcommittees will report on what’s been learned so far, address ongoing research and legal issues, banking regulations, public bank capitalization and governance. But the majority of the 2½-hour meeting will be devoted to “questions and an open dialogue with members of the public about what they would like a Public Bank to achieve for our community.”

The forum will take place from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Monday in the City Council chambers at City Hall.

Task force says city faces many hurdles to creating a public bank

By Tripp Stelnicki | The New Mexican | November 20, 2017

Whether there will someday be a Public Bank of Santa Fe was not decided Monday night, but concerned community members got an earful of the myriad regulatory and capitalization hurdles that must be resolved or further studied before such an initiative — or even an application for one — could move forward.

At a forum in City Hall, the city’s Public Bank Task Force reported on its ongoing investigation into whether the city should establish a chartered public bank, presenting an unvarnished view of the potential stumbling blocks they have intensively researched since August.

Many of the roughly 40 community members in attendance might have hoped for more validation of their interest in the idea, one advocates say could reduce debts and generate income for the city while removing the necessity of outside banking giants.

But the task force progress report came in shades of gray, revealing the path to a prospective public bank is cluttered with potential obstacles and concerns requiring more clarity, from whether the city has the statutory authority to establish a public bank, to whether some functions of a municipal public bank would violate the state’s anti-donation clause, to whether the city has enough money available to get a bank off the ground.

“The city has to have the unrestricted liquidity to make this work,” said Randolph Hibben, a task force member with experience in community banking. “I don’t believe it does.”

Many aspects of the public bank proposition have not yet been determined, including how its independent governance would be established; how it might be staffed, operated and governed; and whether its functions might be limited to the city and other public institutions or might be expanded into a broader community model. These and other regulatory concerns remain to be studied further, task force members said.

“We’re deep into it,” said David Buchholtz, an Albuquerque attorney who chairs the panel. “Do we have all of our answers yet? Probably not.”

Tasked with identifying the pros and cons of a public bank and then delivering “the information needed to make an informed decision” to the City Council in early 2018, the nine-member volunteer task force recommended by Mayor Javier Gonzales and approved by the council has met regularly since August.

Monday’s forum marked the first wide-ranging checkup on the progress made by the advisory panel and its various subgroups.

Their work follows a feasibility study authorized by the City Council in 2014 and completed early last year.

That analysis determined the city could save money if a public bank were established but cautioned any initiative ought to start small and emphasize transparency.

Whether the task force is expected to deliver to councilors a recommendation one way or the other or simply a report on their analyses is unclear. Buchholtz said he would seek clarity from councilors on the Finance Committee in December.

Contact Tripp Stelnicki at 505-428-7626 or tstelnicki@sfnewmexican.com.

Mayor, council reluctantly keep Wells Fargo as city’s bank

By Tripp Stelnicki|The New Mexican|August 31, 2017

City councilors on Wednesday approved a four-year contract extension with Wells Fargo as the city’s fiscal agent.

Councilors, both for and against the measure, expressed trepidation over the extension through 2021, saying the banking giant’s financial support of the Dakota Access Pipeline and fraudulent retail account-creation practices suggested a corporate culture that does not align with the community’s values.

But, by a 6-3 margin, the council ultimately swallowed that discomfort and accepted a recommendation from city finance staff that Wells Fargo was best equipped to handle the city’s banking, treasury and investment functions, including the management of roughly $210 million in city accounts and some $560 million in annual transactions.

On top of that, councilors acknowledged Wells Fargo has a significant community presence, with seven branches in Santa Fe that employ some 90 local workers, with sizable investments with local businesses and residents.

Citing the staff evaluation, Councilor Peter Ives said Wells Fargo represented “the logical choice,” if not the perfect choice. Take any large corporation, Ives said, and “chances are you can find something I don’t like about what they have done in the past.”

But, as Councilor Carmichael Dominguez said, “We can’t just put our cash in a cash box in the finance office. We do have to work with these institutions.”

Councilors Signe Lindell, Joseph Maestas and Chris Rivera voted against the contract extension.

“It’s impossible to ignore the national issues, the corporate issues that have occurred,” Maestas said.

Those who voted in favor — including Mayor Javier Gonzales, who called his vote a “reluctant yes” — said variously they appreciated the local Wells Fargo branches’ community involvement and recognized that the bid process had produced no viable immediate alternative for the city’s needs.

“I can’t in good conscience vote no knowing there isn’t a second selection,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales also proposed a new resolution Wednesday that would amend the city’s investment policy to ensure the city’s financial agents won’t invest city money into fossil fuels. The contract extension will be governed by the investment policy, city Finance Director Adam Johnson said, and would be subject to that possible amendment.

The staff evaluation of five bidders for part or all of Santa Fe’s fiscal services ranked Wells Fargo’s bid highest overall. “Wells Fargo does provide the most comprehensive, safe and efficient fiscal service at the best price,” Johnson said.

Councilors’ and residents’ concerns about Wells Fargo’s corporate-level activities were incorporated into the evaluation under a “community initiatives” section, which found Wells Fargo represents more of a local community bank than other bidders.

Kathleen McClure-Wight, a Wells Fargo executive vice president, told councilors she appeared before them humble but confident the bank would continue to be accountable to the city and community.

“We feel very comfortable that what we do every day is in the best interests of the city,” McClure-Wight said.

The San Francisco-based bank was battered last year by revelations of fraudulent accounts created without customers’ knowledge. Thousands of workers were fired, the bank paid millions in fines and the chief executive eventually resigned.

A former vice president of a Santa Fe Wells Fargo branch filed a wrongful discharge suit earlier this year, alleging his superiors knew about the deceptive account-creation practices and fired him for raising the issue.

But perhaps of greater concern locally is Wells Fargo’s financial support of the contentious Dakota Access Pipeline, which last year drew sustained protests from Native Americans, environmentalists and others who said the project would endanger sacred lands.

Wells Fargo has loaned some $500 million to the project. The financial stakes prompted Gonzales and councilors to ask for a broader review of the city’s fiscal agent services and to try to include local options in the appraisals.

The second-ranked bidder, Bank of Albuquerque, does not have much local presence, Johnson said, with only one Santa Fe branch. In addition, that bank’s parent company is based in Tulsa, Okla.

Gonzales said he was “disappointed we didn’t see a stronger presence from the local banking community,” acknowledging the city has greater needs than those local institutions could feasibly manage.

At the city Finance Committee meeting last week, the bank’s regional manager encountered councilors’ sharp lines of questioning about both the pipeline project and the bank’s corporate culture.

Bryan Scott, the manager, told the committee he was “personally very disappointed with things that have happened in other areas of our institution” and added certain company actions did not reflect his values or those of local employees.

In a letter to the council and residents, Scott said the bank has “enhanced our due diligence … to include more focused research into whether or not indigenous communities are impacted and/or have been properly consulted” as a result of the blowback the bank has faced over its Dakota Access financing.

A task force assembled for the purpose of examining whether the city should create its own public bank recently met for the first time, and a report on its findings must be delivered to the full council by the spring.

Any move toward a public bank in Santa Fe could still be years away. But either the city or Wells Fargo can terminate the fiscal agent contract by providing written notice at least 60 days prior to the date of termination in 2021.


Goliath, not a David, likely wins Santa Fe banking contest

Photo: Protesters outside a Santa Fe Wells Fargo in January called for Santa Fe to withdraw its municipal accounts from the banking giant. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal). 

By Mark Oswald | Albuquerque Journal North

SANTA FE, N.M. — The Santa Fe City Council, as a customer looking for the best deal, is now faced with something similar to the rancorous debate that took place when a new Super Walmart opened about a decade ago.

Santa Feans, and the council, were divided about having a second and bigger Walmart in town. Walmart was blasted for its labor policies, as a corporate giant that hurts local business and as yet another aggression against the old, traditional Santa Fe.

But in a public comment period during what was literally a night-long council meeting, there was also support for what Walmart and its massive organization has to offer – cheap prices. In the end, the Walmart development on far south Cerrillos Road was approved by a single tie-breaking vote.

Now the City Council is considering a new contract for municipal government’s banking services as the existing one with the giant Wells Fargo Bank expires.

Wells Fargo, of course, is coming off a bad year.

In a major scandal, Wells Fargo acknowledged in September that its employees opened up to 2 million bank and credit card accounts without customer authorization in order to meet lofty sales goals – a case of trying to hoodwink its own customers. Federal and California regulators fined Wells Fargo $185 million.

And the bank has faced protests, including in Santa Fe, for its involvement in financing the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.

Mayor Javier Gonzales cheered the DAPL protesters who showed up outside a Wells Fargo branch in January and pushed for changes to the bidding process for the banking contract to include assurance of local involvement by the city’s banker. The mayor and others on the council also have promoted study of the ground-breaking idea of a public bank for Santa Fe, in part to gain control over how its money can be used as it bolsters a bank’s assets

But a city fiscal team, after reviewing bids from Wells Fargo and four other banks, now recommends sticking with the Wells Fargo behemoth. Three of the four other bidders are locally based. One other bidder has New Mexico in its name, but is a “member” of a banking outfit from Dubuque, Iowa.

The bid evaluation team’s report makes it clear that the competition wasn’t even close.

“Wells Fargo Bank provided a strong alignment of business interests, community initiatives and process priorities while keeping fiduciary responsibility and the safeguarding of the City’s financial assets in the forefront,” says the team’s recommendation.

In the new “community initiatives” category, Wells Fargo scored 501 points out of a possible 525. No other bidder got more than 338 points here. “The most complete, thorough and involved response was provided by Wells Fargo” in this category, the evaluation report says. The report lists Wells Fargo’s local lending to small borrowers, community donations and its employees’ volunteer services as pluses. It even adds, “Wells Fargo has been an industry leader in social, environmental and governance activities.” Wow.

For what it’s worth, a regional Wells Fargo official more or less apologized for the unauthorized accounts scandal. He was “personally very disappointed with things that have happened in other areas of our institution this year,” he told a City Council committee Monday.

The evaluation committee’s rave review of the Wells Fargo bid is going to make it difficult for councilors to move to another bank. The Finance Committee on Monday sent the recommendation onto the full council.

It’s a tough call for elected representatives to go against political beliefs that they and many of their constituents have expressed and strongly hold to. But the city staffers’ strongly non-political evaluation report is hard to argue with.


Public Banking Task Force nominees confirmed

The Santa Fe City Council unanimously confirmed Mayor Javier Gonzales’ appointments to a new Public Banking Task Force on Wednesday.

The seven-member task force is charged with determining the necessary procedures, timelines and requirements to establish a chartered public bank.

Gonzales appointed J. Wayne Miller, vice president of commercial real estate at Washington Federal; Randolph Hibben, a retired banker; Darla Brewer, a senior forensic auditor with the state Securities Division; Kelly Huddleston, an attorney who founded the New Mexico Consumer Protection Law Center; David Buchholtz, an Albuquerque attorney who did legal work for a local organization advocating for a public bank; Judy Cormier, who has 30 years of consumer banking compliance experience; Elaine Sullivan, a public bank advocate; retired businessman Robert Mang; and city Finance Director Adam Johnson.

The mayor’s appointments, which council members confirmed without questions or discussion, sparked some concerns from the public about impartiality.

“From what I have read, this group, as presented, appears to be more of an advocacy group than one that can, in an unbiased way, evaluate this proposal,” Santa Fe resident Berl Brechner wrote in an email to the mayor and councilors Wednesday.

“Of particular concern,” the email said, “is that three of the proposed members have direct connections to ‘We are people here!’ which in its website contains a subgroup, ‘Banking on New Mexico,’ which has been a vocal advocate for the public bank concept for Santa Fe.”

Mayor makes picks for Public Banking Task Force

Eight months before the end of his four-year term, Mayor Javier Gonzales is recommending appointments to a task force responsible for research that could lead elected officials to dramatically change the way Santa Fe’s city government does its banking.

The task force will help determine requirements to establish a public bank. The nine-member panel must complete its work within six months of its first meeting, possibly making the idea of a public bank a major campaign issue in next spring’s mayoral election.

Public banking leverages a government’s assets to stimulate investment in the community. Examples of public banking include offering low-interest loans to local businesses or low-cost financing for public projects, such as housing and infrastructure.

Gonzales, who has yet to announce whether he will seek a second term, will ask the City Council on Wednesday to confirm his recommended appointees.

The mayor said the task force and his political future are unrelated.

“The public banking issue has nothing [to] do with politics,” he said in a statement, “it’s about making sure we’re putting Santa Fe’s money — the taxpayer’s money — to the best possible use and investing it back into the community for the things that keep our community moving forward.”

He added, “It’s a stretch to try to make this about an election, and it takes away from what we should be focused on — a debate about the merits of the public banking idea itself.”

While Gonzales is nominating appointees, as he does for other city committees and boards, he is not acting independently. In April, the governing body adopted a resolution to create a Public Banking Task Force that includes three members with financial or banking experience, two members with legal experience, one member with regulatory experience and two at-large resident members, plus the finance director.

Gonzales, who has championed the notion of studying whether a public bank would work in Santa Fe, said he heard about a local movement to create a public bank when he was on the campaign trail more than three years ago and decided then that he would explore the idea further if he won election.

“As I got more into the campaign and learned the stories and the challenges of Santa Fe and recognized that access to capital and new funding sources were limited,” he said in 2014, “the idea of a public bank became more and more important to me.”

Since then, the city has hosted a public banking symposium and commissioned a feasibility study that determined the city could benefit financially if it established a chartered public bank.

Now, the city is taking the next step by appointing a nine-member task force that will help the governing body determine the necessary timelines and procedures to start a public bank and to “make recommendations … in preparation for the governing body to make an informed opinion.”

Twenty-seven people applied to serve on the task force, from a former city attorney to a retired physicist.

“I’m very pleased that we received [27] letters of interest and résumés from a good mix of backgrounds, experiences and expertise,” City Councilor Renee Villarreal, lead sponsor of the resolution creating the task force, said shortly after the city’s deadline to submit applications to serve. “It’s exciting to have so much interest and commitment to serve.”

Here are Gonzales’ recommended appointments:

Adam Johnson is the city’s finance director. The resolution creating the task force called for the city finance director to serve on it. Johnson, who joined the city in February 2016, previously worked as Santa Fe County’s budget administrator.

J. Wayne Miller is an Española native who has been vice president of commercial real estate at Washington Federal since May 2005. Before that, he worked as a senior vice president at both Century Bank and First National Bank of Santa Fe.

“I love our community and would like to see the business environment grow to create new job opportunities for our youth, where they do not have to leave Santa Fe to find employment,” he wrote in his letter of interest.

Randolph Hibben has founded a number of community banks in suburban Chicago. Hibben retired in 2008 as chairman and CEO of Lake Forest Bank & Trust Co. in Illinois.

“My partners and I founded the bank in 1991 to provide a low-cost community-banking alternative to the major national players that predominated at the time,” he wrote in his application.

Hibben, who serves as vice president of the Santa Fe Habitat for Humanity board, wrote that he was introduced to the idea of a public bank through the “We are people here!” initiative. He said Craig Barnes, who led the effort until his death last year, finally convinced him the concept could be viable.

“I have a number of questions and concerns but there appears to be a niche for public banks in our nation’s financial system,” he wrote. “I see no reason why the city of Santa Fe shouldn’t fully explore becoming one of the first municipalities to establish a grassroots bank of the people.”

Darla Brewer is a financial analyst with more than 15 years of experience. She is a senior forensic auditor with the state Securities Division, working with a team of attorneys, financial auditors and others to investigate fraud, embezzlement and violations of securities law.

Brewer, who has worked for the State Investment Council and state superintendent of insurance, also is the creator and interviewer of a radio show called New Era Economy.

“My vision is to combine my passion for finance with my passion for communication to help form a deeper understanding of how profit can coexist with human, social and environmental impacts,” she wrote in her application letter.

Kelly Huddleston, an attorney, is the founder and owner of the New Mexico Consumer Protection Law Center and Huddleston Law LLC. She said she is interested in exploring the public bank option after having worked as a consumer protection lawyer dealing directly with bank issues and abuses for the past seven years.

“My primary interest in joining this task force would be to research the national and state legal framework necessary for creating a public bank and to clearly lay out the regulatory steps in a straightforward manner for [the governing body] and the public to consider,” she wrote.

Huddleston said she is also interested in sharing what she learns in Santa Fe.

“On a more personal note, I am a member of a tribe in Oregon, and they are interested in creating a bank of their own,” she wrote. “It is my hope that I can take what I learn in this process to help out my tribe as well.”

David Buchholtz is a partner in an Albuquerque-based law firm with an office in Santa Fe. He has served as lead bond counsel to the city of Albuquerque, the New Mexico Finance Authority and The University of New Mexico.

“I did some legal work for the ‘We are people here!’ foundation [and] Mr. [Craig] Barnes before he passed away,” Buchholtz said in an interview, referring to a group that has pushed for the city to establish a public bank.

“I’ve been talking to those folks. I have an expertise in government finance and such, so they asked me whether I would be interested to do this, and I said, ‘You know, so long as I’m not taking the place of a person who lives in Santa Fe.’ I have an office up there, but I haven’t lived there for a long time.”

Buchholtz, who counsels private businesses and governments in a variety of matters pertaining to growth, corporate governance affairs and government relations, also has served as state chairman of the New Mexico Anti-Defamation League.

Judy Cormier, who moved to Santa Fe from the East Coast with her husband four years ago, has 30 years of consumer banking compliance experience.

“I have built successful compliance programs within two separate institutions and was chief compliance officer/director of consumer compliance for 11 years,” she wrote in her application.

Elaine Sullivan is a founding member of “We are people here!” and now serves as president of the organization and its initiative, Banking on New Mexico, which advocates for a public bank “to democratize our local economy and support the city in its stewardship of the peoples’ money.”

Sullivan has two master’s degrees, one in education and the other in applied behavioral science.

“I am delighted that a task force will now address the questions yet to be answered about whether a chartered public bank is a fit for our city,” she wrote. “I would like to help ensure that qualified due diligence is applied to this research, in whatever ways I can be helpful.”

Robert Mang co-founded and retired from the Regenesis Group, a Santa Fe-based international consulting company to developers, architects, civil engineers and planners.

“I am particularly interested in the potential a public bank has to offer our citizens, both in savings to the city as well as the greater beneficial impact that would come from investing its funds locally,” Mang wrote in his application letter.

What if People Owned the Banks, Instead of Wall Street?

When Craig Brandt marched into the City Council chambers in Oakland, California, in the summer of 2015, he was furious about fraud.

The long-time local attorney and father of two had been following the fallout from the Libor scandal, a brazen financial scam that saw some of the biggest banks on Wall Street illegally manipulate international interest rates in order to boost their profits. By some estimates, the scheme cost cities and states around the country well over $6 billion. In June of 2015, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Barclays, among other Libor-rigging giants, pleaded guilty to felony charges related to the conspiracy and agreed to pay more than $2.5 billion in criminal fines to US regulators. But, for Brandt, that wasn’t enough. He wanted the banks banished, blocked from doing business in his city.

“I was totally pissed about it,” he says. “It was straight-up fraud.”

So, in a small act of stick-it-to-the-man defiance, Brandt drafted a resolution that barred the municipality from working with any firm that had either committed a felony or had recently paid more than $150 million in fines. He presented the homespun and eminently reasonable legislation to city officials and urged them to adopt it.

“The city councilors said they couldn’t do it,” Brandt says. “If they did, they wouldn’t have a bank left to work with. They said there wouldn’t be any bank big enough to take the city’s deposits.” Oakland, it seemed, was hopelessly dependent on ethically dubious and occasionally criminal financial titans. Brandt, however, was undeterred.

After the City Council turned him down, he started looking for other ways to wean Oakland off Wall Street. That’s when he fell in with a group of locals who have been nursing an audacious idea. They want their city to take radical action to combat plutocracy, inequality, and financial dislocation. They want their city to do something that hasn’t been done in this country in nearly a century, not since the trust-busting days of the Progressive Era. They want their city to create a bank—and, strange as the idea may seem, it’s not some utopian scheme. It’s a cause that’s catching on.

Across the country, community activists, mayors, city council members, and more are waking up to the power and the promise of public banks. Such banks are established and controlled by cities or states, rather than private interests. They collect deposits from government entities—from school districts, from city tax receipts, from state infrastructure funds—and use that money to issue loans and support public priorities. They are led by independent professionals but accountable to elected officials. Public banks are a way, supporters say, to build local wealth and resist the market’s predatory predilections. They are a way to end municipal reliance on Wall Street institutions, with their high fees, their scandal-ridden track records, and their vile investments in private prisons and pipelines. They are a way, at long last, to manage money in the public interest.

Since 2011, advocates from a national nonprofit called the Public Banking Institute have traveled across the country, preaching the practical benefits of public banking and recruiting or training activists and organizers to take up the cause. They have found willing and enthusiastic supporters from coast to coast. The movement has been embraced in Philadelphia, where the city council held hearings on the idea last year. It’s been championed in Seattle and San Francisco, where a number of city supervisors are calling for a task force to study public banking. It’s taken root in Santa Fe, with backing from the mayor, and in Oregon, Vermont, and even New Jersey, where a leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Phil Murphy, has proclaimed his desire to create a state bank right next door to the financial capital of the world.

“I believe this is the wave of the future,” says Craig Brandt, who is now a leader of Friends of the Public Bank of Oakland, the group advocating for public banking in the city. “And I hope Oakland will be the first one out the door to do it.”

The city is well on its way. Last November, the Oakland City Council passed a resolution announcing their intention to explore the creation of a public bank. In February, elected officials and community activists gathered at City Hall for a packed forum on the benefits of a public bank, including the possibility that it could hold deposits from the state’s multibillion-dollar cannabis industry and help promote affordable-housing development. This summer, meanwhile, the council will likely vote on whether to dedicate as much as $100,000 to fund a feasibility study that will explore the technical requirements of creating an independent publicly owned financial institution in Oakland.

“The fundamental point is to have a bank whose purpose is to be responsive to community needs,” says Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, a key backer of the local public-banking movement. “This would allow us to save money compared to traditional corporate bank rates, and it would allow us to fund vital projects based on community need rather than having those decisions driven by the profit motive.” She says the City is also interested in the possibility of creating a regional public bank by partnering with neighboring cities like Berkeley and Richmond, California.

“The more folks on board,” she said, “the stronger the support for taking this kind of action.”

Public banks have a long, though subterranean, history in the United States that stretches back to the days of Benjamin Franklin, who helped establish a public land bank in Pennsylvania to provide cheap loans to small farmers. Even today many public institutions, from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to the Small Business Administration to the Federal Housing administration, are essential components of America’s banking system. But there’s only one true public bank in this country and it’s not in Washington or New York or some coastal liberal enclave. It’s in North Dakota, where it has survived and thrived for nearly a century.

First established in 1919 by populist state legislators eager to extend credit to cash-strapped farmers and ranchers, the state-owned Bank of North Dakota (BND) is now a modern and multifaceted financial juggernaut. The bank holds deposits from government agencies. It provides low-cost credit for school construction and municipal infrastructure projects. It refinances student debt at reduced interest rates. Rather than opening branches of its own, it generously partners with local community banks and credit unions tos issue small-business, home, and agricultural loans. Best of all, it funnels its profits back into state coffers whenever North Dakota has budget troubles. The bank is, in other words, essentially socialist.

It’s also a steady source of profit. Last year, according to its annual report, the Bank of North Dakota saw its 13th consecutive year of record profits, taking in more than $136 million in income while growing its loan portfolio by $449 million dollars. And, unlike some of its counterparts, the bank accomplished all that without opening fraudulent accounts or manipulating interest rates or otherwise scamming consumers.

The bank’s success—its long track-record of supporting and stabilizing local economies, sharing the wealth, and minting a profit to boot—has turned it into an intriguing model for cities around the country that are keen to find creative fixes for their ongoing financial woes.

“Public banking is finding its time now because municipal executives have very poor choices,” says Walt McRee, the chair of the Public Banking Institute. “As things deteriorate and have to be fixed, as population grows but jobs decline, as tax receipts dry up, cities can either can cut services, raise taxes, fire people, or privatize things. But those trends are enormously destructive.”

“The prospect of a public bank does something entirely different,” he continues. “It gives a community the ability to liquefy its own assets and lend itself money, to do things it needs to do with money it already has, to hold on to people’s capital instead of sending it to Wall Street.”

Consider municipal bonds. Cities regularly go to the municipal-bond market to raise money for big projects, from school construction to bridge building to park development and more. These bonds, however, come with overhead costs in the form of fees that normally hover around 1 percent, but can climb as high as 10 percent, of the bond’s principal value. A recent report by the University of California Berkeley’s Haas Institute estimates that cities and other public entities pay upward of $4 billion a year in such fees, an enormous sum that serves only to fatten the purses of multinational banks, legal firms, and others involved in the bond-issuance business. A public bank could help reduce these costs and free up funds by enabling a city to deposit its money in a public entity instead of a profit-centric institution like Wells Fargo or JPMorgan Chase. The city would then be able to borrow money from its own bank rather than turning to the Wall Street bond market, with its overhead costs and market-set interest rates. It could, in short, introduce a radical alternative into the realm of municipal finance.

One of the other places where this radical alternative has taken root, surpassing even Bay Area efforts, is Santa Fe, New Mexico. The movement in that city of 67,000 started gathering momentum in 2014, when a small but determined group called Banking on New Mexico held a symposium to promote the idea. More then three hundred people showed up, including the newly elected progressive mayor, Javier Gonzales.

“A group of advocates met with me early in my term,” says Gonzales. “I was really intrigued and excited about an opportunity to explore a different way to have fiscal relationships.”

In early 2015, Santa Fe commissioned a private consultant, in partnership with New Mexico State University, to conduct a feasibility study into public banking. A year later, in January 2016, the report came back and the news was positive: By funding the city’s capital needs and improving municipal cash management, among other functions, a public bank could generate more than $24 million in savings and earnings for Santa Fe over a seven-year period. And such a bank would be particularly effective, says Katie Updike, the consultant who authored the study, if it serviced the city as well as the surrounding county and school district.

“In the case of Santa Fe, where I saw the biggest benefit is if the city, county, and school district worked together,” she says. “When you begin to step out of the jurisdiction of the city and look at the county and the school district too, which are separate entities, all their cash could be pooled and used to fund projects and then it began to get more interesting.”

In late April of this year, based on the results of the feasibility study, Santa Fe’s city council announced that it was creating a nine-person task force to spend six months digging deeper into the legal and financial prerequisites of establishing a public bank. The task force will focus, above all, on developing a governance structure for the bank.

“Governance is a concern for a lot of people,” says Elaine Sullivan, a leader of Banking on New Mexico and a passionate promoter of the cause. “People don’t want the bank run by political officials, and it wouldn’t be. There would be a clear distinction between the public bank, which would be managed by public bankers, and the city of Santa Fe.”

Indeed, the prospect of political interference into a public bank is one of the most common critiques of the idea. If public banks are to succeed in cities around the country, say skeptics and supporters alike, they must to be firmly insulated from the whims of legislative bodies and elected officials.

Here, once again, the Bank of North Dakota offers a model. While overseen by a commission of elected officials, including the state’s governor and attorney general, BND is managed on a day-to-day basis by an independent and highly transparent executive committee of professional financial managers. Its operations are also subject to regular inspection by independent auditors. BND, moreover, maintains public goodwill by declining to compete with local banks. It has no retail locations or ATMs. Rather, it partners with community banks and credit unions to provide its services.

By putting similar structure in place and starting small, Sullivan believes a public bank in Santa Fe could someday be a smash hit. It wouldn’t just provide ample economic benefits to the city but would serve a larger purpose too.

“As the global banks and major corporations that don’t have a moral tether have become more and more powerful, communities have become weaker and weaker and more passive,” she says. “A public bank is about addressing plutocracy. It is about restoring hope.” A public bank, she asserts, would be a red-hot engine of local economic democracy.

This essential fact, more than anything else, explains why the public-banking movement is blossoming in a post-recession, too-big-to-fail America where Donald Trump rules the White House and Wall Street rules Washington.

“We are seeing a resurgence of community-oriented life and activism and vision in this imperial era,” says Councilmember Kaplan of Oakland. “And it has strengthened the movement.”

Santa Fe will have task force to explore public bank idea

SANTA FE — The city of Santa Fe is forming a task force to further explore the idea of creating a public bank.

On Wednesday, the City Council unanimously approved a resolution that would create a nine-member task force appointed by the mayor and approved by the governing body within the next 60 days. The panel will report back to the council after six months with its findings so the council can “make an informed decision about submitting an application for a New Mexico Bank Charter for a Public Bank of Santa Fe.”

The task force will be up of the city’s financial director and appointed members with experience in banking finance, regulation, law, as well as two at large members. They will be asked to look into what legal steps are necessary to establish a public bank, recommend a governance structure to the council, and draft a five-year business plan.

The resolution, introduced by City Councilor Renee Villarreal, also calls for at least two public hearings to obtain community input.

The city of Santa Fe has been exploring the idea of creating a public bank since 2014 when Mayor Javier Gonzales, then in his first year in office, held a day-long symposium on the concept. That led to a feasibility study that determined the city has the potential “to provide enhanced fiscal management, improved net interest rate margins, and a more robust local lending climate.”


Public Banking for Santa Fe: An Interfaith Forum


Elaine Sullivan of Banking on New Mexico speaks to a sanctuary full of Santa Feans at an interfaith forum on public banking, March 30, 2017.

By HANNAH COLTON • KSFR.org | APR 4, 2017

We’re looking at the latest push for a public bank for the City of Santa Fe … Last Wednesday City Councilor Renee Villarreal re-introduced a proposal to create a task force to determine what it would look like to launch a public bank. The following evening the advocacy group Banking on New Mexico hosted an interfaith dialogue about public banking and economic justice.

Cash Withdrawal

Come the fall, the city government could sever ties with a bank that’s helping to fund the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Santa Fe in 2013 approved a four-year contract with Wells Fargo, agreeing to pay the bank about $449,000 over the period for fiscal agent services. But the city is free to sever ties with Wells Fargo in October, due to a clause in the agreement that allows either party to terminate the contract 60 days before the end of 2017.

In an interview with SFR, Mayor Javier Gonzales threw his support behind such a change.

“When the city has money involved with banks that invest in projects harmful to our community and counter to the will of our city, we need to look at viable alternatives,” Gonzales said in an phone call from Washington DC, where he’s meeting with the US Conference of Mayors. He also reiterated his support for a study on the feasibility of establishing a public bank to manage Santa Fe’s finances.

A coalition of local activists last week asked the City Council to divest from Wells Fargo over the bank’s investments in the pipeline, following a national movement to boycott financial institutions that fund the construction project. Gonzales previously demonstrated outside Wells Fargo as part of a national day of action on Nov. 15.

The council’s second-highest-ranking member also hinted at support in an email to SFR. “I think we would all feel more comfortable using a local institution,” said Mayor Pro Tem Signe Lindell.

The city maintains 15 Wells Fargo accounts, adding up to holdings of about $46.8 million, which covers payroll, general liability insurance claims, workers’ comp claims, savings, utilities and other functions.

Wells Fargo is among the 35 institutions bankrolling the Dakota Access Pipeline or the companies overseeing its construction. The bank has pitched in about $500,000, according to a study by Food and Water Watch, a progressive research group.

About two dozen Santa Feans spoke in support of the effort during last week’s council meeting on Jan. 11, commandeering the chambers during the evening’s public comment session. Earlier in the day, the activists demonstrated outside the downtown Wells Fargo branch on Washington Avenue.

Since last spring, thousands of activists have swarmed a campsite north of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota to protest the construction of an oil pipeline near the tribe’s land. Tribal members worry a rupture in the Dakota Access Pipeline could contaminate their water supply, as the proposed route runs beneath the Missouri River.

Over the summer, the protest camp near Standing Rock became something of a mecca for environmentalists and supporters of Indigenous rights. Social media users circulated footage of police crackdowns on the site, including one episode in which law enforcement sprayed cold water on the protestors in freezing temperatures.

The City Council late last year passed a symbolic resolution supporting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and condemning excessive force on protesters. It also called on “local financial institutions to divest from the Dakota Access Pipeline Project and invest instead in life-supporting projects and renewable energy projects.”

But Santa Fe should offer more than gestures to the self-described “water protectors” camping out at Standing Rock, said Jeff Haas, a civil rights lawyer who is representing a number of anti-pipeline activists. “I’m not asking for a symbolic statement of support,” Haas told councilors. “We can make a difference.” “The record on spills is consistent,” said activist Margaret Kuhlen. “Pipelines break.”

The actions last week were sponsored by Earth Care, the environmentalist organization, and Retake Our Democracy, a progressive organizing group that grew out of the local campaign supporting Bernie Sanders for president. Jeff Ethan Au Green, a former City Council candidate who now lives in Colorado, rode a bus here last week to help direct the campaign.

Paul Gibson, co-founder of Retake our Democracy, says his volunteer corps of about 50 people will research viable alternatives to Wells Fargo for the city’s fiscal agent. That effort likely got a boost from city council on Dec. 14, when the governing body lowered the collateralization requirement for Santa Fe’s fiscal agent from 102 percent to 50 cents per dollar.

Another proposed change would require the city to consider as criteria social responsibility before selecting a fiscal agent, inspired by a resolution currently being considered by Seattle’s City Council. Alongside Wells Fargo’s pipeline investment, the bank recently came under fire for a high-profile scandal wherein the bank’s employees created thousands of fake accounts to meet sales quotas.

The campaign against Wells Fargo represents the first high-profile cause championed by Retake Our Democracy since the November elections. Gibson said City Council should be prepared for more. “This is all part of a larger plan that recognizes that right now, given the changes in Washington, the best avenue for progressive change and policy change is at the local level,” he said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated the mode of transportation used by Jeff Ethan Au Green to travel from Boulder to Santa Fe. He rode a bus, not a personal vehicle.