NEWARK, NJ - Essex County Schools of Technology is following suit with the county government and will no longer bank with Wells Fargo over the bank's foreclosure practices.
Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. earlier this month announced the county was cutting ties with the bank and putting its $3.6 million in holdings elsewhere. The move was in defiance of what DiVincenzo called “predatory lending schemes and aggressive foreclosure proceedings” from the bank that have impacted residents.
Essex County Schools of Technology Superintendent James Pedersen, who oversees schools in Newark and West Caldwell, gave kudos to DiVincenzo for his decision.
“While the County Executive is speaking for Essex County residents, the school district is speaking for our students who see and understand how this affects their neighborhoods,” Pedersen said in a statement. "There are other more reputable banking institutions we can do business with that can provide us with first-class service and more peace of mind.”
DiVincenzo asked the district to sever ties with the bank. The decision was approved by the vocational schools' board and will mean $16 million from the district will be put into different banks.
New Jersey ranked No. 1 in the nation for foreclosures last year, with 4,388 reportedly in Essex County. Wells Fargo has particularly drawn the ire of many lately, especially after its most recent controversy involving an error that led to over 600 customers being denied loan modifications.
The divestment from Wells Fargo comes in the wake of local clergy members taking issue with the bank’s foreclosure practices.
Rev. Ronald Slaughter of the Saint James AME Church in Newark and other ministers met with freeholders to discuss the issue. The reverend also said he met with Wells Fargo representatives recently, where they agreed to audit about 130 impending foreclosures from July and through October.
"The county (executive) is not only leading with words, but leading with actions and I just wish more persons would follow his lead on this," Rev. Slaughter said, adding that he would hope Newark Public Schools would follow suit with the county schools.
Essex County Freeholder President Brendan Gill recognized the clergy member’s role in shining a spotlight on the foreclosure issue too.
“The Board of Freeholders will continue to work with the local clergy and other community leadership groups to bring light to, and stop, the unethical and immoral practices of predatory lending institutions such as Wells Fargo.”
When asked about DiVincenzo’s initial decision to divest from the bank in mid-June, Wells Fargo spokeswoman AnnMarie McDonald previously said the company would reach out to address county officials’ concerns.
"We were surprised and disappointed to learn of the county’s decision in the press," company spokeswoman AnnMarie McDonald in a previous email. "We have reached out to county officials and look forward to discussing their concerns."
Wells Fargo Regional Foundation recently donated $100,000 to the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District to develop a new neighborhood plan for the area.