CORTLANDT, N.Y. – At least two Cortlandt residents are asking town officials to divest from JPMorgan Chase, because they say the company's banking practices have hurt town residents.
"I don't mean to be melodramatic, but it's often said, all that needs for evil to happen is for good people do nothing," said Brian Pugh, 26, of Croton. Pugh started a website tasked with encouraging municipalities to divest from the banking giant.
Pugh cited the bank's botched foreclosure processes, which became public as recently as March, and recent reports of trading losses in the billions as irresponsible behavior, and reasons the town should move its millions out of Chase accounts.
"I've been informed the town is looking into a new bank," Pugh said. "I think it's commendable for the board to look at this."
Town Board members appeared to share Pugh's low opinion of big banks. Member John Sloan said big banks had "ethically failed" Americans, but added that the town had legal and financial interests of taxpayers to keep in mind.
"Having aligned my sympathies with Brian, we also have to take into account the workaday finances," Sloan said.
Town Attorney Tom Wood said the town had legal considerations different from most bank customers. For example, the town is legally required to use a bank that can provide a third-party holder for huge sums of money, more than $100 million after seasonal tax collection.
Whether the town will be able to find a suitable bank "with lesser muscle than Bank of America or Chase remains to be seen," Sloan said.
Each year in January, the town approves a list of depositories. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of American, HSBC, First Union Bank, Hudson Valley Bank and Key Bank are all listed as official depositories. Most of the town's accounts are at JPMorgan Chase.
If Cortlandt were to act on the suggestion, it would not be the only town to do so. The City of Buffalo pulled $45 million from JPMorgan Chase accounts in May, after Buffalo Comptroller Mark Schroeder was angered by the bank's foreclosure practices in the upstate city. National groups such as Move Our Money USA are working to divest from large banks.
"I've already asked our town comptroller to start evaluating other banks," Puglisi said. The town will not likely discuss the topic in-depth until December, when budget work sessions take place.
Pugh was accompanied by fellow Cortlandt resident Dillon Chesnut, 21, of Lake Peekskill. Croton residents may remember Pugh from his work with Kevin Davis, currently a candidate for Croton village trustee, to move Croton's village elections from March to November. The referendum eventually succeeded at moving the elections to November.