The financial management of the city of Harrisburg is troubled, and people need to know about it.
In 2018 the city wrote off approximately $9 million in receivables on delinquent sanitation and disposal accounts. It was never reported in the media, and city management, perhaps seeking to avoid embarrassment, did not bring it to the public’s attention.
This information surfaced last year, and an alarm was raised by City Treasurer Dan Miller. The city’s independent auditor found there were no procedures in place for follow-up on delinquent sanitation and disposal accounts or for the determination of accounts that are to be written off as uncollectible.
Trash revenue is one of the city’s largest sources of income.
The independent auditor also found a slew of other material weaknesses and significant deficiencies for which corrective action has not been completed. A “material weakness” is the most serious type of finding. No one we spoke to had ever heard of a municipality having such a phenomenal number of them.
The Director of Financial Management for the City is Bruce Weber. Mr. Weber has tried to minimize the seriousness of the audit findings. That shouldn’t cut it. Mr. Weber should take responsibility for these findings and step down or be replaced.
Mayor Eric Papenfuse is the city’s chief executive officer. If he wants what is best for the city, then it is time for Mr. Papenfuse to step up, acknowledge the troubles, and commit to fixing them. When it comes to leadership, the buck stops there.
As a member of the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority for Harrisburg, I brought our concerns to Mr. Papenfuse in a private meeting in December. We asked him to take these issues seriously and commit to addressing all of them.
Instead of partnering with us as we hoped, Mr. Papenfuse has positioned himself as an opponent of reform. He has put up a wall, canceling our meetings and apparently placing a gag order on Mr. Weber.
Transparency and accountability on the part of our public servants is the bulwark of our democratic form of government. Behind Mr. Papenfuse’s wall, we don’t know what additional troubles may be lurking.
We call upon Mr. Papenfuse to give us full transparency with all the troubles with the City’s financial management, to commit to identifying and addressing all material weaknesses, and to provide regular updates on the progress of reform.
H. Ralph Vartan is Vice-Chair, Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority for Harrisburg.