Gainesville Community Leaders Initiate The Ethical Move-Break Free From Fossil Fuel, Private Prison, Racial Injustice, and Violations of Indigenous Sovereignty
Dear Friends & Neighbors,
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Earlier this month, on Jan. 11, 2018, more than 20 activists of the Divest Gainesville showed up at the Gainesville City Hall to ask commissioners to move away from fossil fuels and to stop doing businesses with banks that invest in pipelines. Divest Gainesville is inspired by the Native-led resurgence of the divestment movement across the USA. They are a collective of residents of Gainesville advocating for divestment of all City of Gainesville financial assets from fossil fuels, petroleum pipelines, private prisons, and in particular organizations which directly or indirectly finance and fund such operations. Their mission is two-fold:
- build public awareness of the intersection of racial justice and climate change issues
- to make real, on-the-ground change, beginning in Gainesville, by passing a social responsible investment ordinance to discourage support for fossil fuel pipelines, private prisons, and violations of indigenous sovereignty
These are the goals of Divest Gainesville, below:
- Pass a socially responsible investment ordinance prioritizing vendors in the Request for Proposal process who do not fund or otherwise support fossil fuel pipelines, support private prisons, or violate indigenous sovereignty.
- Provide Suntrust Bank, with whom Gainesville currently contracts to hold its operating funds, with notice of Gainesville’s intention not to renew its contract in 2022.
- Ask Gainesville’s investment advisor to conduct a thorough review of its holdings for fossil fuel and private prison-related stocks.Group leaders previously emailed city officials a number of requests. Among the requests were: ending a contract for banking services through Suntrust; to no longer use Bank of America for city-issued credit cards; and to pass both a “socially responsible” investment and purchasing ordinance.City commissioners largely supported the movement, including Mayor Lauren Poe, though they said the details on how to “divest” were still unclear and likely years away from occuring. Commissioner Charles Goston was absent from the discussion.“We have a lot of work and a long way to go on this, but I do think it’s a path worth going down,” Poe said.
To better understand why these group leaders met, excerpts from Divest Gainesville web site, in italics, below:
CITY OPERATING FUNDS WITH SUNTRUST BANK
The City of Gainesville has approximately $120 Million in operating funds, and a contract for banking services with SunTrust Bank for the term of October 2017-2022.
SunTrust has invested $435 million dollars in companies that built the Dakota Access Pipelin in violation of Indigenous sovereignty and nation-to-nation treaties and threatening the waters, lands, sacred sites and burial grounds of Indigenous Nations.,
SunTrust has invested $105 million in companies building the Sabal Trail Pipeline, which threatens to contaminate our water supply, and to disproportionately affect the 80% poor and minority residents along the project’s route with threats of explosions and dangerous emissions.,
SunTrust profits from and enables the expansion of private prison and immigrant detention center by financing the debt of the Geo Group and CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America-CCA), two of the largest private prison companies in the world.
SunTrust has extended to CCA a $65 million dollar loan and a $132.5 million line of revolving credit, and is part of the syndicate of banks that has extended a $444 million dollar loan and a $900 million line of revolving credit to GEO Group.
In 2013, HUD charged SunTrust with discriminatory lending and violations of the Fair Housing Act for allegedly denying mortgages to women on maternity leave.
In 2012, SunTrust paid $21 million to the Justice Department to settle discriminatory lending claims and violations of the Fair Housing Act for allegedly discriminating against African-American and Hispanic homeowners.
GENERAL EMPLOYEE PENSION FUNDS
The city’s general employee pension fund contains approximately $355 million in investments. Because the 2016 performance report references benchmarks for each investment manager, and not the actual stocks included in each fund, we can only speculate as to the contents of those funds. We do know that one fund, managed by Harvest Fund Advisors and whose benchmark is Alerian, consists entirely of Master-Limited Partnerships that are energy (and most predominantly) fossil-fuel based. The remaining benchmarks vary in content of fossil-fuel stocks at a rate of 0.83 to 20.47%, and at least one of the benchmarks has 0.26% of its funds in CoreCivic or Geo Group, the largest private prison developers.
More precise information is needed as to the precise stocks selected by each investment manager, but the benchmarks give us an idea that, indeed, a significant portion of Gainesville’s General Employee Pension Funds are in the fossil fuel industry, and at least minimally in private prisons.
CITY EMPLOYEE PURCHASING (“P”) CARDS
The city currently does approximately $8 million in business with Bank of America through city employee purchasing (“P”) cards. Bank of America has similar ties to the fossil fuel and private prison industry as SunTrust. Divest Gainesville would like to see the P cards replaced with a socially responsible credit card company, of which there are many.
Our Specific Requests
- The City of Gainesville create a city ordinance establishing criteria for a minimum social responsibility score to be used in the City of Gainesville’s RFP process for all vendors, including
- The city’s operating funds
- The city’s excess funds
- The city’s general employee pension fund investment managers.
- The city employees’ purchasing cards
- The City of Gainesville create an ordinance whose social responsibility criteria would include, at a minimum, non-investment and non-provision of loans, credit, bonds or similar debt instruments, or underwriting services to:
- Entities organized to carry out the construction of fossil fuel pipelines
- Entities organized to carry out construction of private prisons
- Entities that violate indigenous sovereignty, as defined by the standards set out in the International Finance Corporation’s Environmental and Social Sustainability Performance Standard 7; Articles 11, 12, and 25 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People; Indigenous People’s right to free, prior, and informed consent; and the treaties of the United States.
- The City of Gainesville provide SunTrust with advance notice of the City’s intention not to renew its contract for bank depository services for any of the allowable five one-year extensions beyond its current 2017-2022 term.
- The City of Gainesville ask its investment advisor to conduct a thorough review of its holdings for fossil fuels and private prison-related stocks. We also recommend that the City look at the risk of these investments and also compare on a risk-adjusted basis similar investments that are fossil-fuel free. Many other esteemed investors such as New York Common and Harvard Endowment have decided to remove fossil fuels from their portfolios.
It is up to community leaders to initiate the ethical move. Perhaps it is time for all cities and communities to consider the same move to Break Free From Fossil Fuel, Private Prisons, and Violations of Indigenous Sovereignty.
Gathered, written, and posted by Windermere Sun-Susan Sun Nunamaker
More about the community at www.WindermereSun.com
~Let’s Help One Another~
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