What if the central figure in Harrisburg's $780 million combined debt disaster resulting from the Harrisburg Authority's incinerator boondoggle and Harrisburg City School District finances is cooperating with investigators?
What if Steve Reed -- the brilliant mastermind of Harrisburg's dismally failed "renaissance" and master orator -- can legitimately claim he doesn't know anything about any subpoena from the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office because, well, he is willingly delivering the goods on how all the deals went down?
It is just a theory, but damn, five years after Reed lost his 28-year reign as the way-too-free leader of a struggling third-class city to Linda Thompson, it is a good theory.
As Donald Gilliland of the Patriot-News/Pennlive has been reporting recently, sources have confirmed that there is now taking place an investigation into the Harrisburg debt. New Mayor Eric Papenfuse confirmed that he recently met with a state Grand Jury in Pittsburgh. Papenfuse said he is confident that justice will come for Harrisburg residents now saddled with a debt workout plan that sold off assets and still squeezes residents for operating budget revenue.
The incinerator debt is what brought about the Act 47 designation and the four-year, high-wire act perpetrated by two separate state-appointed receivers, Dauphin County and a bevy of creditors all looking to hold Harrisburg accountable for all its ill-gotten debt. Now prosecutors from the AG's office and perhaps the U.S. Attorney's office have justifiably lumped the school district's whopping $500 million debt into the mix, stirred in the history of risky swaps, the result of which seems to be a keen probe into how a small city of 45,000 mostly poor people in a heavily tax-exempt state capital city were stuck with almost a billion in debt.
Sure, Steve Reed was the mayor. He was a Wild West "visionary" who sought to bring Harrisburg out of the dark ages. He lined up a bevy of consultants, lawyers, developers, engineers and other "professionals" and yes-men -- all of whom were used to create deals and justify the means to make the deals happen. But what if Steve Reed could make the argument that he, as mayor of this struggling city, was only doing everything in his power to make things OK? What if he can make the case that he relied completely, blindly, faithfully on the EXPERTS whose job it was to secure financing, or write legal opinions to make sure whatever was done, would keep Reed out of harm's way?
Until and unless there are indictments handed down as the result of any investigation into Harrisburg's debt, I know I am reserving judgment as to whether the mastermind of Harrisburg's "renaissance" is going to go down. His brilliance was his ability to stay three steps ahead of everyone, to play three dimensional chess with the host of sycophants whose names actually DO appear on legal documents, like those attorneys from Eckert-Seamans, Rhodes & Sinon, Buchanan-Ingersoll, etc.
The legal gymnastics that was created in order for Harrisburg to create such debt was no mistake. For instance, the lack of a performance bond for the incinerator deal that left little ol' Barlow free of liability was crafted with the utmost care to try and work around the municipal codes that require performance bonds for such huge public projects.
So, too, is there suspect paperwork when it came to documents submitted to the Department of Community and Economic Development to certify that the incinerator debt was self-liquidating.
Steve Reed is nothing if he isn't a brilliant, cold-blooded, articulate politician and tactician. He might have been too smart for his own good, thinking he could outsmart the spirit if not the letter of the law by making sure the money continued to flow, that his power was unchallenged, that all the vultures who wanted to make money off the city had to come and play ball his way. Still, in the end, Steve Reed got the signatures of many "experts" and "professionals" who may, soon, have to tell the people how come they used their expertise, and their legal licenses, to give Reed any and all avenues to kick the can down the road.
The end of the road may be in sight. But, until Steve Reed is charged, the man who "saved" Harrisburg could very well still have a trick up his sleeve.
Is a former political and sports columnist who worked great cities like Albany NY, Seattle, Baltimore and Harrisburg PA. She lives New York.