Written by Sig Silber
An all-day (and evening) conference was held 27 September 2014 at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center in New Mexico. Sponsors were We Are People Here! and the Public Banking Institute. Approximately 250 attended (official attendance was not announced). Attendees were from Santa Fe and other New Mexico locations as well as from many points around the U.S. This conference served as half of the annual conference for the Public Banking Institute for the western U.S.
The half of the annual conference for the eastern U.S. will be held in Philadelphia 18 October. The choices of the two conference cities and the decision to split the national meeting was made because the two cities are in the process of serious evaluation of establishing municipal public banks.
The conference started with morning workshops, followed by afternoon and evening lectures and presentations. The full program is available here. Transcripts and video of various sessions are expected to be available later and GEI will try to post some (or all) of them when available. At this point videos of the live streaming of conference sessions are available. (There is one point (at least one) where this correspondent is visible briefly on camera moving through a meeting room.)
This correspondent attended all sessions. The broad scope of material covered does not allow me to report comprehensively at this time. I was specifically interested in the discussion of issues related to Santa Fe public banking and felt that the specifics fell short of establishing the goals of a public bank for Santa Fe but that was not unexpected at a first public meeting.
I would however have expected perhaps a bit more interaction with both local banks and state agencies which may need to be supportive for this initiative to go forward. I felt that the comparison between traditional (private) banking and public banking as it applies to the City of Santa Fe needs to be more sharply defined but then again that is presumably the reason for issuing the RFQ (see below). It is not clear to me that Santa Fe alone has the scale necessary for this to be viable. One model which could help one understand an existing public – private banking relationship is the Bank of North Dakota, a state public bank of 95 years standing.
This observer noted a number of local and state elected officials in attendance as well as some credit unions. I did not specifically see any traditional banking representatives which is perhaps surprising because the Bank of North Dakota interfaces predominantly with the local private banks and not directly for the most part with businesses and individuals.
The City of Santa Fe has initiated a procurement process for an advisor (or advisors) by issuing a Request for Qualifications, which contains in part:
Official Request for Qualifications (RFQ)
ATTENTION: The following request for information is in regards to the City of Santa Fe exploring the idea of creating a local public bank.
This document is in no way a commitment or legally binding resolution, draft, or memo regarding the establishment of a public bank.
Feasibility Study of Public Banking in Santa Fe Statement of Need:
Recognizing the vital importance of financial institutions within society, The City of Santa Fe,New Mexico is looking to further research the feasibility of establishing a publicly owned bank to help finance community projects, reduce risk to public funds in existing financial markets, and provide better financial returns on public investments. The City is requesting that a preliminary comparison on the City’s current financial model, specifically on the benefits and risks of current banking and financing practices in Santa Fe, and contrasted with other models including public banks in other areas of the United States.
Any analysis should take into account the financial and population demographics of the City of Santa Fe.It should also include measurable factors of city banking which include, but is not limited to, debt servicing costs, profits returned to the City,municipal and other tax revenue, and other key areas of economic concern,If this preliminary analysis demonstrates a well – founded need for further studies into a public bank, additional actions can be considered.
The City of Santa Fe is tasked with holding and protecting the fundamental interests of the public at large; this includes the financial well being of the City. To this end, the City will explore alternative methods and practices, to ensure the stability and lasting success of the City. It is in this spirit that the RFI is being issued.
The response to the RFQ must cover, in depth, the following questions:
1.) Is a Public Bank in Santa Fe feasible?
What factors make it feasible or not?
a. If so, how could it be executed?
What broad steps would be involved?
b. If so, what issues would need to be addressed?
Background on the Sponsors
We Are People Here! is a 3 ½ year old organization which first met in Santa Fe in January 2011 and started a seven week lecture series by Craig Barnes, a radio show host (Our Times with Craig Barnes), author and lecturer. The focus of the group has been on the “Global Banking Industry as the major root cause of much of the misery and inequality in our world” (organization’s website). They have a mission “educating, advocating and legislating for public banking“.
The Public Banking Institute was founded in 2010 to “inspire, enable, and support public bank initiatives, returning control of money and credit to states and communities” (organization’s website).