County Closes Bank Account to Protest Handling of Boy Scouts

The Cayuga County legislature decided to close its $3.8 million account with HSBC Bank USA after the company shut its doors to local Boy Scout meetings because of the group's ban on gay leaders.

The county council voted 14-1 Tuesday night without dispute to withdraw its money from the bank.

"I hope it sends a message to the bank that if they want to fight with the national Boy Scout organization, go right ahead and do it. But they should not just single out the local group and discriminate against them," said county lawmaker Herbert Marshall.

"Our local Boy Scout group is an asset to the community," he said.

Earlier this month, bank officials told the local Boy Scouts chapter that it could no longer use the building as a meeting place after June 30 because the national organization's policy of excluding gay leaders conflicts with the company's commitment to diversity.

HSBC spokesman Kathleen Rizzo Young said Wednesday that the bank did not intend to change its position. She declined any further comment about the county's action, citing the bank's policy on customer confidentiality.

Young also stressed that HSBC has "a strong presence of community involvement and support" in the communities where it operates. "This has gotten a lot of attention ... but there is a bigger picture," she said.

The local council, with approximately 2,000 Scouts, has rented a 1,200-square-foot space in the bank on a month-to-month basis since 1993. It uses the space for administrative offices, a retail supply store and training room in the bank, Marshall said.

Cayuga lawmakers acknowledged that their protest action was purely symbolic and would have no financial impact on the corporation.

HSBC Bank USA, based in Buffalo, is the country’s 11th largest holding company with $87.6 billion in assets. It has 420 branches in New York as well as 13 other branches in Florida, Pennsylvania and California and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the London-based HSBC Holdings, with 6,500 offices in 78 countries.

Young said she was not aware of any other similar situations involving the bank.

"We are rarely in the landlord business. Most of our buildings do not have rentable space," she said.

Since the bank's decision, at least two Auburn churches and the Town of Throop also have pulled their money — totaling about $752,000 — from HSBC.

On Thursday, Auburn city lawmakers will consider a similar move, but Mayor Melina Carnicelli said she would vote against such action. The city has between $5 million and $10 million in HSBC.

She called it "blatantly inappropriate" for "two business reasons." First, she sees the situation as a landlord-tenant dispute. More importantly, she said the city should not arbitrarily decide to withdraw millions of dollars without studying the financial ramifications for the city and its taxpayers.

The groundswell of local support has been overwhelming, said Don Grillo, the local council's executive director.

"We're not going to put them out of business, but I think people have felt very strongly to show their concern for the well-being of Scouting," Grillo said.

Gregg Shields, a spokesman for the National Council of the Boys Scouts of America, said similar situations involving the Scouts' policy have come up "here and there, now and then but by and large it has not been much of an issue."

Last year, Syracuse University told the Hiawatha Council that it could no longer hold its annual fund-raising dinner in the Carrier Dome. The dinner, which had been held in the Dome since 1984, features national prominent speakers and is attended by more than 2,000 Scouts.

Shields said only a few of the Scouts' 315 local councils do not own their own building. He said he thought it would be easy for the Cayuga council to find new accommodations, adding that Scouts do not plan to alter their stance.

"We will hold to our mission, which is to help young people build character and make ethical choices throughout their lives," Shields said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.