[caption id="attachment_50795" align="alignleft" width="214" caption="Deborah Meekins will now serve as the California market president for Sterling Financial Corp."][/caption]

SANTA ROSA -- Sonoma Bank, the Santa Rosa-based subsidiary of the Spokane Washington-based Sterling Financial Corporation (NASDAQ: STSA) announced today that chief production officer Deborah Meekins will now serve as executive vice president and California market president for the company.

In her new role, Ms. Meekins will work to increase public awareness of commercial lending, including the government-secured loans available through the U.S. Small Business Administration, according to a release from Sterling.

Ms. Meekins joined what was once Sonoma National Bank in 1985 as vice president and CFO, becoming president and CEO in 1990. Sterling Financial Corporation acquired the bank in 2007, which then rebranded under the name Sonoma Bank.

“Debbie is a respected and trusted leader within the community. She has built her personal reputation in Northern California over the course of the past 30 years and excelled in every facet of community banking and customer focus,” said Ezra Eckhardt, president of both Sonoma and Sterling banks, both subsidiaries of Sterling Financial.

U.S. Banker magazine named Ms. Meekins as one of the top “25 Women to Watch” in 2006. She is a board member for the California Bankers Association and the Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital Foundation.