Perdue, CEOs meet on banking crisis

Gov. Sonny Perdue has held several meetings with Georgia banking leaders in recent weeks to discuss the crisis that has engulfed the state’s banking industry.

Georgia leads the nation in bank failures over the past year with 21, and the governor wanted to see “what we could do going forward to make banking in Georgia better,” said Carolyn Brown, president and CEO of the Community Bankers Association of Georgia, who attended one of the sessions.

Brown said the short answer from those present at her meeting was, not much, if anything.

“I don’t think there’s anything at the state level that could have been done to prevent this,” Brown said.

Whether Perdue will follow that advice is unclear at this point. Bert Brantley, the governor’s communications director, said the meetings generated “a lot of good information” that’s being mulled over.

“There are probably some ideas that can be turned into legislation that we need to look at really closely and discuss with people and see if it’s a direction they want to go in,” Brantley said.

Brantley did not provide specifics of what legislative fixes might emerge from the round of meetings.

The governor’s involvement comes as Georgia banks continue to struggle amid the recession and real estate slump. Many banks bet big on the metro Atlanta housing market only to record mounting losses once the real estate industry collapsed.

One meeting called by Perdue took place on July 31 in the governor’s office and included six bank CEOs, leaders of several industry trade associations and the state’s top banking regulator, according to Brown, the community bankers association president.

Joe Brannen, president of the Georgia Bankers Association, declined to talk about what took place during the session. But he said there’s little the legislature can do to either help banks weather the current storm or help prevent a similar crisis in the future.

It’s the economy, not bad laws or regulations, that’s to blame for the state’s banking problems, he said.

“Why are banks unable to survive? Their customers are not repaying their loans,” Brannen said. “That’s not a bank reform issue.”

Any changes the governor proposes would need to get through a state legislature where the banking industry has tremendous clout.

Staff writer Aaron Gould Shenin contributed to this article.