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The Illinois congressman who two weeks ago chaired a House hearing on the federal takeover of Park National Bank today spoke out about the announcement of mass layoffs at its former branches.

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez said last week’s news from U.S. Bank, the company to which the FDIC sold Park National and FBOP Corp.’s other banks, was disturbing and unacceptable.

Gutiérrez, D-4th of Chicago, said he’d been awaiting a written follow-up from Richard Hartnack, the U.S. Bancorp vice chairman who testified at the hearing, about corporate commitment to the communities that Park National had served.

“Unfortunately, before I ever received a response, U.S. Bank announced its plans to lay off hundreds of employees at four Illinois facilities, including one in Chicago, one in Oak Park and one in Oakbrook Terrace, beginning in March.

“This disturbing news is further evidence of the unacceptable consequences stemming from the increasing trend of bank failures and consolidations. U.S. taxpayers have not invested billions of dollars of their money in the banking industry so that big banks -with little warning or notice – can continue to lay off workers and tear apart our communities. It’s time for banks to start focusing on job creation, not job elimination,” Gutiérrez said in a letter forwarded by his press office.

“If the congressman can bring this expression to the U.S. Senate, he will have full support from his own back yard and from the whole country,” said Rev. Marshall Hatch, pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in West Garfield. Hatch is one of the organizers of the Coalition to Save Community Banking, the grassroots group of  West Side and Oak Park activists who brought to Gutiérrez’s attention neighborhood concerns over the loss of a community-minded bank. Members of the coalition traveled to the Jan. 21 hearing in Washington, D.C. by bus and, since their return, have been working, committee by committee, on their own follow-up with Gutiérrez’s office.

“I commend the congressman, and I want to know what his next steps will be,” Hatch said in a phone conversation tonight with Wednesday Journal. During the conversation, Hatch made clear what one of the coalition’s next steps will be.

“We have an appointment with a civil rights law firm tomorrow,” Hatch said, referring to a meeting between the coaltion’s newly organized legal subcommittee and lawyers with the Chicago firm of Futterman Howard Ashley Watkins & Weltman.

Hatch said the coalition is exploring several legal options.

Stay with Austin Weekly News for this developing story.

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Gutierrez Statement on Layoffs by U.S. Bank
Banks and Federal Regulators Must Act in Better Interest of Communities

February 3, 2010

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

(Chicago, IL)  Today, U.S. Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Chair of the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit made the following statement:

"Barely two weeks ago, I chaired a hearing on the condition of financial institutions, focusing on community bank failures and using the recent seizure of FBOP and its sale to U.S. Bancorp as a case study for lessons learned.  During the hearing, I asked Mr. Richard Hartnack, Vice Chairman of U.S. Bancorp, about his bank's commitment to its community – especially given FBOP/Park National Bank's strong record in this regard- and asked him to put it in writing.  Unfortunately, before I ever received a response, U.S. Bank announced its plans to lay off hundreds of employees at four Illinois facilities, including one in Chicago, one in Oak Park and one in Oakbrook Terrace, beginning in March."

"This disturbing news is further evidence of the unacceptable consequences stemming from the increasing trend of bank failures and consolidations. U.S. taxpayers have not invested billions of dollars of their money in the banking industry so that big banks – with little warning or notice – can continue to lay off workers and tear apart our communities.  It's time for banks to start focusing on job creation, not job elimination."

"And the onus is not on banks alone. It is my hope that regulators look at these announced layoffs by U.S. Bank as further evidence of the human consequence of bank closures and consolidations; there should be no excuse for overlooking the impact these actions have on our local communities and civic organizations.  Bank failures are a reality we need to deal with, and regulators have a job to do. Regulators must look beyond the standard CRA rating and assess a purchasing bank's knowledge of the market it is moving into, as well as a bank's record of commitment to community investment and support. If we as a country are to continue on the road to financial recovery, they must do their part in accounting for the foreseeable consequences that bank closures and consolidations have on our communities."