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Editorial: Speak softly and carry a big stick to get job done

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Harrisburg is moving forward again on tackling its massive financial problems.

Former Receiver David Unkovic developed a court-approved plan to help the city dig its way out of its financial hole. Interim administrator Fred Reddig neatly encapsulated for the court the obstinate attitude of city officials toward that same plan. Now the reins are in the hands of a new receiver, retired Maj. Gen. William B. Lynch, and he is acting.

Lynch, 69, brings unique credentials to the post. He spent 40 years in the military and was chief of staff to the U.S. State Department Office of Iraqi Reconstruction Management in Baghdad. He has served as the state’s adjutant general under three governors and has a law degree. In other words, he knows on a number of levels how to get things done in highly charged political environments.

Moreover, Lynch seems to grasp that Harrisburg is not just another struggling Pennsylvania city. He appreciates the role it plays in the regional economy as well as its statewide significance, and he sees his mission in big-sky terms. The job, he says, is not just about putting Harrisburg’s finances right — success also means restoring the capital city’s status and reputation.

Lynch doesn’t see himself as a financial expert, as Unkovic was. Rather, he’s the guy who comes in and gets the job done. In a one-on-one interview with the Business Journal (see “Moving forward,” this issue), he said he liked Unkovic’s plan and intends to see it through.

He also doesn’t beat around the bush. He has a firm grasp of the tools at his disposal to execute the recovery plan — including using the courts to compel action, though he says he would prefer cooperation rather than compulsion.

He displayed that big stick Monday, when he sent a letter to City Council President Wanda Williams that gives council a one-week deadline to comply with certain provisions of the plan at which it is balking. These include hiring a director of communications and an assistant city solicitor and raising the earned income tax by 1 percent.

A similar letter went to City Controller Dan Miller, seeking a contract approval needed to proceed with the auction of the city’s “Wild West” artifacts.

Lynch says he will petition the court to force compliance if council does not act.

This is the kind of decisive action missing in the city’s fiscal crisis for too long. As Lynch rightly notes — and is plain to everyone with a stake in the outcome — delay simply increases the magnitude of the problem.

Lynch is the third man to oversee the

office in the past six months. Let’s hope the third time is the charm.

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