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Frustrated Harrisburg Receiver David Unkovic Resigns

MAR 30, 2012 1:08pm ET
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In the latest dramatic twist to the incinerator debt saga in Harrisburg, Pa., David Unkovic quit Friday as the city’s state-appointed receiver.

“Mr. Unkovic’s resignation was unexpected and unfortunate,” said Steve Kratz, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, the agency coordinating the takeover. He said Gov. Tom Corbett, who appointed Unkovic last November, would move quickly to fill the position.

Messages were also left seeking comment with Unkovic, whose resignation letter was delivered to the Commonwealth Court, which must confirm the receivership appointment.

Unkovic had become increasingly irritated at what he considered pushback from lobbyists and some state and regional lawmakers, who opposed his efforts to extract more concessions from major creditors. “I wish my name was never out there,” he said at his final press conference Wednesday.

Unkovic resigned three days after a Dauphin County court ruled that a seprate receiver was necessary to oversee the operations and bond debt of the local incinerator, the cost overruns of which have left Pennsylvania’s capital with a $310 million liability that it cannot pay.

Major creditors — including TD Bank NA, Bank of New York Mellon Trust Co., and incinerator bond insurer Assured Guaranty Municipal Corp. — had sought the incinerator receiver.

“I am sorry to hear that Mr. Unkovic will no longer serve the city of Harrisburg as receiver,” Mayor Linda Thompson said in a statement. “He was committed to the recovery of the city.”

Alan Schankel, a managing director with Janney Capital Markets in Philadelphia, said Friday’s news would not hurt Harrisburg’s recovery in the long term. “I don’t like to see it, but to David Unkovic’s credit, he got the ball rolling. The [request for qualifications] process for the asset sales is significantly down the pike.”

City Controller Dan Miller and City Council member Brad Koplinski, both of whom had opposed receivership and favor a Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing for the city, praised Unkovic on Friday.

“I’m sorry, frankly,” Miller said. “We’re in April and here’s a man that spent four months really trying to understand the situation in Harrisburg. Does this mean we start all over? You don’t come in here and learn all this in a day or two.”

Miller saw one positive in Unkovic’s departure. “Now that he’s unshackled, he’ll be able to speak the truth about the pressures he’s been under,” he said. “He’s been asked to do things that he knows are not proper.”

“He listened to every voice on the subject and was fair and honest,” Koplinski said.

After the Dauphin County ruling, Unkovic asked U.S. attorney Peter Smith of the Middle District of Pennsylvania and state Attorney General Linda Kelly to investigate the bond deals.

“At the end of the day, I felt sorry for him,” said City Council attorney Mark Schwartz, who sparred with Unkovic at the latter’s confirmation hearings in the Commonwealth Court.

“This opens the door to yet another dirty chapter of Pennsylvania politics,” he said. “The governor says his resignation was unexpected? What garbage. Why doesn’t Mr. Corbett just name one of the lobbyists or the president of the bond insurer?”

Assured Guaranty declined to comment.

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