There have been numerous articles, recently lauding Ocean National Bank and its president Danny O'Brien for their community service. Their site has all kinds of links to community minded activities. The problem is that his actions and the action of the bank clearly show that this is yet another example of typical PR window dressing -- handing out a check to get the good publicity. The problem is that they are ignoring the "community" part of community relations, and allowing internal policies to destroy local institutions and family farms, most recently mine.
After a fire destroyed my house in 1999, I rebuilt my house with the premise that it would be "the capital of social capital" -- a place where I could easily host benefits, fund-raisers and networking events for my community in New Hampshire. Since I moved in in 2000, I have, at no cost, donated my house and the surrounding 55 acres of family farm land, to Governor John Lynch, The Piscataqua Maritime Society, The Gundalow Company, Durham Public Library, the Granite State Opera, Rock My Soul, and just about anyone else who has asked. Now it seems that Ocean Bank wants to put an end to all that. As the owner of a small but growing business, cash flow is always tight, but I was in the process of selling a house on the farm that would bring my taxes and everything else up to date. As it happened, the day after my neighbor, Betsy Sandberg, successfully blocked at the ZBA the subdivision that would enable the sale to go forward, Ocean announced to the world that my family farm would be up for auction on June 15th. Even though we had already sent them a payment, they returned the check and started placing ads in The Boston Globe for the auction. Since then, according to my lawyer, he has never encountered a more intractable bank nor one more unwilling to work out a solution.
I should have know that they weren't into having a "conversation" since their web site offers no opportunity to do so. Repeated attempts to contact them have yielded nothing but intransigence from their lawyers and more ads for the auction -- and a lot of talk in the community about how difficult Ocean is to deal with. As it turns out, I'm not the only one who has encountered this sort of treatment.
So the next time you see Danny O'Brien or someone else at a big community check giving ceremony, ask him where the money came from. Ask them what's more important, building social capital in the community or short term hikes in the stock price? Ask them how much of that money they're donating is made by forcing the foreclosure of family farms? As the developer vultures circle my farm in anticipation of the auction, I keep wondering how many of them have ties to Ocean?
And, just to set the record straight, my farm will not be going up for auction on June 15th, thanks to the generosity of my friends, neighbors and supporters who will NOT let Shankhassick Farm die! And if you want a good alternative to Ocean, try The Provident Bank in Portsmouth. That's where the "Save Shankhassick" fund is.