Mayor Toni Harp plans to stop employing Wells Fargo Bank to manage the city’s financial needs, citing the bank’s financing of the Dakota Access Pipeline as her main concern.
The mayor, who announced her decision on 103.5 WNHH Radio Monday morning, said on the show that it will take time for the city to cut the bank out of its financial operations completely. But she said she will work closely with City Controller Daryl Jones to develop a plan to do so.
“We’re planfully removing the dollars we have there,” Harp said on WNHH. “We are going to pull some of our resources out but we would destabilize the city financially if we pulled everything out within a few days or a few months.”
Wells Fargo made a loan of $120 million to finance the Dakota Access Pipeline last year, a project that would transport oil from North Dakota to Illinois, but that many fear could cause environmental damage to the areas around the pipeline. The bank’s decision to finance the controversial project has drawn condemnation from environmental and indigenous rights activists. Wells Fargo also made headlines last year when it was reported that bank employees created more than 2 million fake accounts to falsely inflate their sales figures and boost profits.
With Harp’s decision, New Haven joins a growing list of cities that have cut ties with the banking giant over its support of the controversial pipeline project. In February, Seattle and Davis, California, removed a combined $3 billion from accounts with the bank over concerns about its involvement with the pipeline. Those divestments spurred anti-Wells Fargo rallies in cities across the country, and in the ensuing months, mayors and comptrollers from Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and other cities announced plans to cut ties with Wells Fargo.
City spokesman Laurence Grotheer said cutting ties with Wells Fargo will not be a simple matter of withdrawing money and redepositing it somewhere else. He explained that Wells Fargo manages many of the city’s more complex financial dealings and that it will take time for the city to find another firm that can handle those responsibilities. Wells Fargo handles payroll for city employees, coordinates payments to vendors that sell to the city, organizes insurance payments for the city and more, according to Grotheer.
Grotheer said Harp and Jones are weighing several factors, including size, capability and location, as they look for a replacement financial services provider. He cited CitiBank and People’s Bank as two options the mayor is currently considering.
“The institution has to have the wherewithal to handle everything the city needs, but the institution has to agree to take the city on, too,” Grotheer said.
Local activists have planned a rally for Thursday evening to protest the city’s involvement with Wells Fargo. As of 7 p.m. on Wednesday, 16 people marked themselves as “going” to the rally on a Facebook page for the event and another 70 indicated that they were “interested.”
Max Greene ’19, one of the 16 who indicated he was going to the event, said he opposes Wells Fargo’s financing of the Dakota Access Pipeline and its other “dubious financial activities.”
Ward 29 Alder Brian Wingate said the history of Wells Fargo speaks for itself and that he would support the mayor if she moved toward a different bank. He added that it would be best to “keep it local” and suggested People’s Bank, which is headquartered in Bridgeport, as a possible replacement option.
Wells Fargo was founded in 1852.
Jon Greenberg | email@example.com | @JonGreenbergYDN