The Burlington School District has links with F&M Bank

In a separate decision, the Burlington School Board voted Monday to maintain its relationship with the Farmers and Merchants Bank and Trust, and to maintain the district’s bank accounts and the programs the bank provides to Burlington schools.

“I hate the way things are one or the other. Some things are both,” said Board Vice President Joel Sieren ahead of the roll-call vote in which he spoke the groundbreaking ‘no’ to Board member Tom Courtney’s motion to motions Reallocate the district’s financial assets to other banks. “We can vote to keep F&M and continue to support the Black Leadership Council. I don’t see this as and / or.”

The 4-3 vote came after months of failed negotiations between the bank and the Burlington Black Leadership Council. The tense situation was fueled by a comment that Lisa Walsh, then Vice President of the bank, posted on social media on November 1, describing Vice President Kamala Harris as a “minority slut”. Walsh has been on vacation since November 3rd.

The district has multiple accounts with F&M, including its main operating account with an average balance at the end of the month of $ 4.38 million. a Scholarship Trust Fund CD of $ 4,144; and a direct debit account with an average end-of-month balance of $ 1,000. F&M also hosts the Kids Bank student banking program, which has been in use in Burlington schools for 23 years, and the Crayon Project, which has funded the district for art supplies for 12 years.

Walsh’s comment caused the school board to consider cutting ties with the bank, even though board members decided in November to give F&M time to rectify the situation.

“Nothing on this list that the Black Community asked or wanted was done.”

Charles L. Walsh, President of F&M, and Charles E. Walsh, CEO of F&M, met with Rev. Rob Brown, President of the BLC, several times after Lisa Walsh commented. The Superintendent of the Burlington School District, Pat Coen, also stepped in to try to broker a solution.

Some of the items requested by the BLC, including interest-free black loans, have been shot down by the bank due to Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation regulations.

“I’ve never known anyone who is able to name their own punishment,” Brown said. “Nothing on that list that the black community asked or wanted was done.”

More:F&M Bank comes under fire after the Vice President posted a racist, sexist comment on Facebook about Vice President Kamala Harris

Brown had also asked bank employees to be offered diversity training. However, F&M chose to receive this education through the Southeastern Community College accredited program. Brown declined the offer to attend these meetings.

The bank attempted to donate $ 1,000 to Hope Temple Christian Church, of which Brown is pastor, to help put together boxes of groceries. Brown’s ward voted not to accept the money because they believed no adequate apology had been given, and the check was returned.

In December, F&M attempted to donate $ 5,000 to black churches to buy Christmas gifts for families in trouble. Brown said he felt unable to allocate that money and did not reply to Charles L. Walsh’s messages requesting mailing addresses for donations.

F&M Bank, the BLC, appeared to be making headway in January

It appeared that F&M and BLC were on their way to reconciliation after a January 9 meeting at Hope Temple Christian Church that included members of the BLC, school board, and city council, as well as Charles L. Walsh and Lisa Walsh.

More:Lisa Walsh, vice president of F&M Bank and Trust, is meeting with the Burlington Black Leadership Council for the first time since the malicious comment

During that meeting, Lisa Walsh apologized in tears, and Brown asked the city council and school board not to make any decisions about their dealings with the bank until the BLC, Lisa Walsh, and F&M were able to discuss the terms of the bank’s grants in the process of Creation.

Charles E. Walsh said none of the younger Walshes were authorized to speak on behalf of the bank during this meeting.

“I told these two people, Lisa and Charles (L.), that F&M Bank wasn’t sending them there,” said Charles E. Walsh, who didn’t attend the church meeting because he was caught by COVID -19 recovered Monday. “If they wanted to leave, it was up to them. Comments were made that shouldn’t have been made.”

Was it possible to fix the problem?

Shortly after that meeting, Brown texted Lisa Walsh to schedule an appointment to discuss the matter. He was told she could not do this after checking with Charles L. and Charles E. Walsh. The answer was a blow to the reconciliation efforts.

“It’s pretty hard to keep saying, ‘It’s not F&M and it’s just Lisa.’ But when Lisa was open and ready to take care of us, F&M stepped in and said ‘no’, “Brown told the school board on Monday.

More:Lisa Walsh, vice president of F&M Bank and Trust, is meeting with the Burlington Black Leadership Council for the first time since the malicious comment

Charles E. Walsh said he had not excluded Lisa Walsh from further talks.

“After that statement (at the January 9th meeting) she spoke to me and I said, ‘Lisa, I can’t tell you to go back and do more. You’ve already done your thing,'” Charles E. Walsh said.

Courtney said he doesn’t think the district’s dealings with F&M Bank would have been called into question if Lisa Walsh had met with the BLC.

“I think she and Rev. Brown were dating,” Courtney said. “I think he and she could have done it.”

Could F&M Bank and the BLC resolve the matter?

Charles L. Walsh said he thinks the matter could have been resolved if the bank had agreed to make a donation of $ 125,000 or $ 95,000 to the BLC, as requested during a phone call on Jan. 19 . It did so after Brown and BLC Vice President Merquiche Lewis learned that F&M had already established scholarships for minorities, not blacks, and that the bank would not set up a new financial literacy program for blacks.

After this call, the conversations between the BLC and F & M were interrupted. The BLC brought the issue back to Burlington City Council, whose members decided to continue the city’s business with the bank.

More:Burlington City Council will not cut ties with F&M Bank & Trust

“We never said there was no middle ground,” said Lewis. “We never said we wanted to end the discussions. They stopped it. We couldn’t sit at the table and negotiate the scholarship.”

Charles L. Walsh said it was the council BLC’s request to sever ties with F&M that caused the communications breakdown.

“When (Brown) went to the city council and came to you to cut ties with F&M, I drew the line here,” said Charles L. Walsh. “A man cannot speak out of both sides of his mouth. He either speaks to us and is with us, or he will be against us and you cannot do it both ways. Whenever that started, F&M Bank did the Line drawn, period. “

BLC and other local banks are working to set up a financial literacy program

To rectify the situation, school board member Deborah Hatteberg offered the district’s resources to set up a financial literacy program.

“Education is what we do and, as the school board, I want to be a part of it for myself to drive this situation forward,” said Hatteberg. “I think a conversation started that had to be started a long time ago. I think what happened happened. People will disagree, but moving forward is in the best interests of this whole community.”

Brown said the BLC worked with other local banks to set up such a program.

More:The Burlington Black Leadership Council achieves official not-for-profit status

Members of the school board have been informed that both the bank and the BLC believe the relationship between the two has been irreparably damaged, and the BLC formally requested the board of directors to sever ties with F&M.

“Given current events, how things turned out, how communications broke down, I think we were the group of people who were offended,” Brown said. “The school board is supposed to represent their voters together. To represent the black community, I believe that the black community can only find a solution to this situation if the school board works with the black community and breaks ties with them.”

“The bank has been good to me,” said Rev. Fred Starling of Faith Temple Church of God in Christ, also a member of the BLC. “I did banking there for over 50 years. I had no problems, but that made me change my mind. … You are voting against us, you are voting against this group. That means that you are voting for this racist arc. “”

More:Burlington School Board sets decision of F&M Bank

Board members Darven Kendell and Nancy Hoelzen said they had not seen how breaking ties with the bank would help repair the relationship, and Kendell compared the decision to an expulsion.

“As the board of directors, we are responsible for expulsions,” said Kendell. “When I look at that in some way, we’re being asked to expel the F&M Bank from our schools. I have great respect for the Black Community, but I don’t see the F&M Bank being expelled from our schools is anything do better. “

Ultimately, Courtney, board vice president Anika McVay, and board member Dean Vickstrom voted to begin the six-month process of severing ties with the bank by filing requests for return proposals. Hoelzen, Kendell, Hatteberg and Sieren were against it.

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