By Mark Shade
HARRISBURG, Pa (Reuters) - Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett on Friday named a retired Air Force major who led the state's military affairs department as the receiver for Harrisburg, the state's debt-laden capital.
The appointment of retired U.S. Air Force Major General William Lynch, 69, follows the unexpected resignation in late March of David Unkovic, a bond attorney, as receiver.
Lynch admitted at a press conference on Friday that he does not bring the accounting or legal background that Unkovic did, but said his experience in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, while chief of staff to the U.S. State Department of Iraqi Reconstruction Management, will help him find a solution for Harrisburg.
"I'm taking it because, I guess, I'm a bit of a sucker for a challenge," he said.
Corbett last week said he was having a difficult time finding a replacement who would be willing to step into the charged battle over Harrisburg's finances.
Lynch led Pennsylvania's Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, as its adjutant general, under three governors.
Unkovic had been appointed as receiver in early December to help Harrisburg work through more than $320 million of debt incurred by cost overruns from the upgrade of the city's incinerator.
His unexpected resignation on March 30, when he said that "political and ethical crosswinds" left him unable to implement his fiscal recovery plan for the city, prompted calls by some for a court examination of the circumstances behind his departure.
Unkovic, who had worked for several of the creditors involved in Harrisburg's debt crisis, initially caused concern among observers who questioned his objectivity. But he proved himself to be an independent arbiter in the search for a solution for the city.
The lack of an official receiver since has added fuel to an already combustible situation in Harrisburg. On Thursday, City Councilman Brad Koplinski called for Mayor Linda Thompson to resign, saying her lack of leadership contributed to the city's problems.
Thompson's spokesman, Robert Philbin, welcomed Lynch's appointment.
"General Lynch is a combat veteran with experience operating efficiently in highly stressful environments," Philbin said.
Lynch's appointment is subject to approval by Commonwealth Court Judge Bonnie Leadbetter, who is overseeing the city's fiscal recovery plan. She has 15 days to hold a hearing and will have 60 days to rule on whether to approve the appointment.
Not everyone was happy with the selection. Attorney Mark Schwartz, who has represented the city council in its failed attempt to win bankruptcy protection, said the court needs to first understand why Unkovic left before it approves Lynch.
"It doesn't matter if Corbett appoints Gandhi, Mother Theresa or Warren Buffett. A new receiver without a new environment means little," Schwartz said.
As a member of Veterans for Tom Corbett, Lynch helped campaign for Corbett. Lynch also donated "a couple hundred dollars" to Corbett's state attorney general campaign, but called himself "pretty apolitical," noting his work with Republican and Democratic governors.
(Reporting by Mark Shade; Editing by Hilary Russ and Leslie Adler)