The Federal Reserve has rolled out a series of announcements, online forums and meetings with Americans this year in response to outspoken civic groups and many Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, calling for a more transparent and inclusive U.S. central bank.
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The latest critique came this week when Fed Up, a labor-affiliated coalition pushing for reforms, said it was "disappointing" that Nicole Taylor, a black woman and dean of community engagement and diversity at Stanford University whose term as director at the San Francisco Fed soon expires, would be succeeded on the board by Sanford Michelman, a white man who is co-founder of law firm Michelman & Robinson LLP.
"It's definitely a step back in terms of what I'd like to see on our board. We're working actively to build representation of women and minorities," John Williams, president of the San Francisco Fed, said on Wednesday in response to reporters' questions, noting the decision was made by private banks in his district.
After years of resisting more overt political efforts to curb its independence, the Fed this year has appeared willing to shine a light on its historically opaque process of choosing district Fed presidents, and also to show it is more sensitive to racial and gender diversity.
After the Philadelphia, Dallas and Minneapolis Fed banks last year all chose as presidents men with past ties to Goldman Sachs, the Atlanta Fed hosted a public webcast this month and said it seeks a "diverse set of candidates" for its new chief, raising hopes it would name the first black or Latino Fed president in the central bank's 103-year history.
"It's not just because we want to go and say we're diverse," Loretta Mester, Cleveland Fed president, said at a meeting with workers a day after her bank launched online applications for the public to recommend directors and advisers. "It's about getting different view points that are very helpful to us in ... thinking about the economy and understanding the trends."
The regional Fed presidents have rotating votes on policy, except for the head of the New York Fed who has a permanent voting role. Unlike Fed governors who are selected by the White House and approved by the Senate, the presidents are chosen by their district directors, half of whom are themselves picked by private local banks that technically own the Fed banks.
Critics say the dizzying structure leaves the Fed beholden to bankers who do not represent the public, and they point out that 11 of 12 district presidents are white while 10 are men.
Clinton, the Democrats' presidential nominee, has come out in favor of dropping bankers from district boards. That followed a May letter from 127 lawmakers to Fed Chair Janet Yellen urging more diversity.
(Additional reporting by Ann Saphir in San Francisco; Editing by Leslie Adler)