Bending the truth about going broke

    If you’re troubled that nobody from Wall Street has gone to jail as a result of the financial meltdown and precious few have suffered civil action, you’ll be encouraged to learn the Securities and Exchange Commission has nailed a big fish: the city of Harrisburg.

    It’s true.

    The SEC has charged Harrisburg with securities fraud for misleading bond investors about the sorry state of the city’s finances over the past several years. The city has agreed mend its ways, and won’t have to send its mayor to jail or pay fines.

    Actually, I’ve heard and read enough about Harrisburg’s financial mismanagement to be confident its leaders deserve whatever they get from the SEC. Regulators found the city failed to file required financial reports and made broadly misleading statements about the depth of the doo-doo the city’s finances were in.

    You can read the SEC’s statement here.

    As somebody who’s covered a few financial messes in my time, I’m all for making public officials tell the truth about them.

    The same should go for people running for public office.

    City Controller not responsible for chemical weapons, just ruining the city’s schools

    Democratic Philadelphia city controller candidate Brett Mandel has produced a television ad — something you don’t typically see in a controller’s race.

    The ad (see it above) will be running on cable until the May 21 primary, Dan Siegel of the Mandel campaign told me.

    If you’ve followed the race, you won’t be surprised to learn that the ad attacks incumbent Alan Butkovitz.

    “Is City Controller Alan Butkovitz to blame for Philadelphia’s school funding mess?” an announcer says as the spot begins. He doesn’t answer the question directly, but concludes that “on Butkovitz’s watch, the school district’s $300 million deficit forced neighborhood schools to close.”

    On Butkovitz’s watch?

    A quick check of media reports shows many occasions in recent years when Butkovitz sounded alarms about the school district’s financial condition, which wasn’t exactly a secret anyway.

    But to state the obvious, it’s up to the school district’s managers and funders to educate kids and balance the books, and these aren’t the first to have trouble doing that. I’ve seen this movie before.

    I get it that if you have money for just one TV ad, you want to make that one shot count. But suggesting that Butkovitz is to blame for school closings is, well, silly.

    “We’re not blaming (Butkovitz for the crisis),” Siegel told me when I asked him about the ad. “We’re saying he’s the city’s financial watchdog and he should be watching out for the city’s finances.”

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