More than six months after Mayor Toni Harp announced that New Haven would stop contracting Wells Fargo to manage the city’s financial needs, the city still has no timeline for transfering funds to another contractor.
On Monday, at the first New Haven Board of Alders Finance Committee meeting of the new term, the committee held a public hearing to let residents share their thoughts about transferring the city’s operational funds from Wells Fargo to another bank. The hearing was held at the request of members of New Haven Stands with Standing Rock, an organization that opposes the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline due to concerns about potential oil leaks into the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s main water source.
At the Monday night meeting, City Controller Daryl Jones — City Hall’s chief financial officer — said that given how long it has been since the city has changed the location of its operating budget, the process is more complex than it seems and would become an “accounting nightmare” if rushed.
“Rushing the process might be a disservice to the city,” Jones said.
Elias Estabrook ’16, one of the main organizers of the New Haven Stands with Standing Rock Organization, criticized Wells Fargo at the hearing, not only for its part in funding the Dakota Access Pipeline but also for its generally “fraudulent” practices — practices that caused the Federal Reserve under former chair Janet Yellen GRD ’71 to impose harsh punishments on the bank on Feb. 2.
“We believe it is feasible within a reasonable amount of time to move that money and use the city’s influence, we think, to make a statement about who the city decides to associate with in terms of their business practices,” Estabrook said at the meeting.
Estabrook asked to continue the public hearing at a later date, saying that there was confusion about why many residents were unable to testify.
Wells Fargo has managed the city’s operational budget of $11 million for roughly 30 years, but following the bank’s decision to back the Dakota Access Pipeline, many New Haven residents called on City Hall to move its operational funds to a smaller, regional bank.
Estabrook said that New Haven Stands with Standing Rock has solicited 750 signatures from Elm City residents in support of changing the location of the operational funds. Though he understands that the process will require time, Estabrook wants a timeline commitment from the city. To bolster his case, he pointed to major cities such as Seattle and New York, who recently voted to pull municipal funds out of Wells Fargo.
Ward 22 Alder Jeanette Morrison pointed out that the question of who controls the city’s operating budget is decided by a request for proposal, which calls on companies to bid for city projects. According to Jones, however, the request for proposal is still in its development process, though Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa has asked for the committee to be updated as the process continues.
Festa also questioned why the city has contracted Wells Fargo to manage its operating fund for the past 30 years without considering whether the city could obtain more preferable fees and returns from other banks. She asserted that all fees are “negotiable” and that the city is in need of a system that periodically checks rates so it can get the best possible return on its money.
Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19, who was present at the meeting, reaffirmed his support for divesting the operating funds.
“To every bank and financial institution operating in New Haven, know this — we will never tolerate putting profit in front of ethics, money in front of the environment and corporate greed in front of the values that make our city great,” Catalbasoglu said.
Wells Fargo was founded in 1852.
Ashna Gupta | firstname.lastname@example.org