A.C. Cook, like other residents of Ohio's Mahoning Valley, is tired of businesses that abandon his community in troubled times. The Mahoning Valley is a community that has yet to recover from the shutdown of its steel mills in the late '70s. So when a local bank announced plans to merge with a Pittsburgh company, he decided to fight it.
Cook began by placing an ad in the local newspaper calling on community members and stockholders to oppose the sale. "The needs of the entire community are best served by locally owned banks controlled by local residents who know the history of the area and have the Valley's needs as their top priority," he argued. He added that in addition to the loss of local jobs, loans to minority and low-income residents would be severely affected by the loss of local control. It is only when a loan officer has the opportunity to get to know applicants as members of the same community that he or she can become sensitive to their needs and willing to invest in their dreams.
The bank directors argue that the sale is needed to cover the cost of a $32 million loan to a now bankrupt drugstore developer, but Cook and others believe that the sale is both an excuse for the directors to escape public scrutiny and an opportunity for them to safeguard their own financial interests. Ultimately, approval for the merger must come from the approximately 2,500 stockholders who will vote on the sale in April or May, but through public meetings and speaking engagements Cook has already generated substantial public opposition. "One person can make a difference if he or she is willing to pay the price of activity," he told Sojourners.
Brigitte Kerpsack was news assistant of Sojourners when this article appeared.