Hundreds gathered outside City Hall this morning to demonstrate in support of the city divesting from Wells Fargo.
Hundreds gathered outside City Hall this morning to demonstrate in support of the city divesting from Wells Fargo. SB

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In a move spurred largely by Wells Fargo’s financing of the Dakota Access pipeline project, Seattle City Council members voted unanimously this morning to advance legislation intended to take the city's $3 billion holdings out of the bank.

The ordinance, which will go to a full council vote on Monday, amends the city's contracting policies to favor working with companies without histories of unscrupulous business practices. It also recommends that Mayor Ed Murray and the city's director of finance notify the bank immediately that the city will not be renewing its contract with Wells Fargo in 2018.

"This starts in Seattle, and we're going to create a ripple effect across this country with divestment," Matt Remle, a Standing Rock Sioux tribal member and local activist, told a crowd of hundreds cheering the Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods, and Finance committee's decision.

But it wouldn't be Seattle politics without some fucking weirdness in the room before the vote. The majority of the hundreds who showed up to demonstrate in favor of the ordinance were not Native, and after a long string of public comments from non-indigenous people, Muckleshoot organizer Rachel Heaton asked if anyone might be willing to give up their speaking spot for a Native person.

Council Member Debora Juarez, the first Native woman (Blackfeet) to be elected to the City Council, also gently chided the boisterous crowd. "Some of us here have lived this life," she said. "It is more than a hashtag."

Tensions in the room flared again when Juarez said she wouldn't support two of Council Member Kshama Sawant's proposed amendments. The first amendment added statements criticizing Wells Fargo's business practices based on two reports from CNN and Vanity Fair. (It also added a note about Wells Fargo's connections to the private prison industry.) The second included statements about Food & Water Watch's report on Wells Fargo's involvement with the Dakota Access Pipeline (which the ordinance already acknowledged) and said that 1,000 Seattleites demonstrated against an executive order Trump signed to advance the Dakota Access Pipeline (it was an executive memo, which is slightly different).

Juarez, a former judge, said she wanted better sourcing for those statements. She also said her intent was to get the ordinance passed, but wanted to make sure the city didn't get sued. When Juarez said she couldn't support the ordinance in its entirety (all amendments included), several people in the room booed her.


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Eventually, Council Member Lorena González agreed to work on better sourcing for the first amendment, and Council Member Herbold noted that the Food & Water Watch report was based on SEC filings. Both agreed to help prepare different language for the Monday vote, and council members voted unanimously to pass the ordinance out of committee.

If the full council votes in favor of the ordinance—and the odds look promising—the next step for the city is finding an alternative to banking with Wells Fargo. Council Member Lisa Herbold noted that when the city solicited banking bids three years ago, only four banks—Wells Fargo, Bank of America, US Bank, and Union Bank—applied. (Two of those banks have invested in the Dakota Access Pipeline, and three have been fined by the Department of Justice for mortgage fraud.)

Another challenge is that state rules require that banks contracted by cities like Seattle have enough collateral on hand to match the maximum amount of daily city deposits. For Seattle, that's between $300 and $400 million a bank would have to be holding in collateral in order to do business with this city. According to Herbold's office, only three to four banks within the state meet those requirements. At the committee meeting, Council Member Mike O'Brien suggested looking into the possibility of a state-owned bank; Financial and Administrative Services staff also discussed looking into a consortium of local credit unions, too.

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