From the publisher
Many banks have been taken over by the FDIC during the past tumultuous year. One hundred and forty-four, to be exact. Just one of those bank holding companies was the subject of a Congressional hearing. That would be Oak Park’s own FBOP Corp., best known locally for its community-minded Park National Bank.
You can be dismissive of such hearings and call them C-Span background noise. You can be cynical and poke fun at the various legislators slipping in and out of the hearing room for their five minutes of long-winded questioning that often never actually get to a question.
Or, as we choose to be, you can be inspired by the fire of grassroots organizing that recently forced this hearing. And you can simultaneously be angered anew at damage done by the faulty and dubious decision of federal regulators to take over Mike Kelly’s nine banks.
This hearing made news, in part, because it vented the righteous anger felt ever-more broadly across America against the gigantic bailouts of the huge banks and now the stick in the eye of their record profits and bonuses. It made news because there’s a growing sense that community banks – a term that covers a vast range from worthy to unexceptional institutions – are being abused by regulators intent on bringing America to a final count of five mega-banks dominating the landscape.
Mainly, though, this hearing made news because the more you know about particulars of the Park National Bank case, the more outrageous it becomes. Was Park National, along with its eight sibling banks, really taken over because the feds couldn’t figure out how to adapt TARP funding to the single privately held bank company that had ever applied? Was the Park National takeover rushed because, a week later, a new law on the accounting treatment of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac losses would have benefited the bank’s balance sheet by a critical $150 million? Just when was the cushy deal to hand over Park National to U.S. Bank really made? Does no one actually care that this rushed deal cost the FDIC and taxpayers $2.5 billion?
In his written testimony to the Congressional subcommittee – a letter he also hand-delivered to the White House, Oak Park Village President David Pope called for this egregious error to be reversed. While one congressman said it would prove difficult to “unring the bell,” for Oak Park and West Side organizers such action remains a legitimate goal. And we support it.
A recent front-page piece in the Trib on Mike Kelly, his banks and his role in our communities struck us as a signal that a big media outlet finally got what this story is actually about. It’s about making city neighborhoods work. It’s about the sweet nexus of capitalism and philanthropy. It’s about shared values and passions between blacks on the West Side and whites from Oak Park. And it’s absolutely not and never was the simplistic portrayal of the reclusive billionaire that a Crain’s profile invented several years back.
What Mike Kelly, his allies and his staff, had built – and were building – was remarkable in so many admirable ways, all of which needed to be nurtured and replicated. Not stomped flat.
That expanded understanding, seen in media glimpses and in the Congressional hearing, is worth fighting for today. There is, we are told, “talk.” That’s government code for “Maybe we screwed this up and do we bury it deeper or find a way to do right?”
There’s still time to do right.