INDEPENDENCE — This southeast Kansas town claims two celebrities: Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright William Inge and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair.
The latter is in town this weekend to serve as the honorary grand marshal for the Neewollah Grand Parade, part of an annual community festival that dates to 1919.
At a news conference Friday afternoon at Independence's Memorial Hall, Bair told reporters this was the first time in 18 years that she had been back to her hometown.
"I like to get out of Washington because it helps you connect with the people you serve," said Bair, who has led the FDIC since 2006. Her tenure has coincided with one of the most tumultuous times for banks and thrifts.
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Bair said Independence appears to be better off than many other communities across the country that she's traveled to.
"There's just been some real devastation from this financial crisis," she said.
Bair expects the number of bank failures to peak this year, noting that as of Friday afternoon there were almost as many bank failures this year as there were in all of 2009, which was 140.
Bair said she thinks her agency and the industry have done a better job of resolving failed banks and thrifts this time than in the last crisis, which was in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Today, she said, the FDIC works hard to find buyers for failing banks and thrifts, where in the past it wasn't the norm for a bank that failed to have a buyer lined up and ready to take over.
"I'm a big believer in the private sector being a better manager of assets than the government," she said.