During my preteen years, just as I was finishing one of my book assignments for English lit, I came across -- actually a more apt description would be "stumbled" across -- the word "continuity."

I did what any lazy school aged kid would do -- I asked my father.

In lieu of a paternal reply, I was conked across the noggin with a ponderous unabridged dictionary accompanied by three simple instructive words: "Look it up."

That was in an era when folks actually had to look words up in a dictionary, as opposed to simply surfing dictionary.com.

But say this, once you've gone through the exercise of leafing through a phalanx of pages to get to the word in question, you seldom forget it.

Obviously, the folks at the Securities and Exchange Commission must have skipped over that particular chapter, underscored by last week's blockbuster announcement that SEC Chairman William Donaldson would be resigning at the end of the month.

It has been something of a human resources nightmare at the SEC offices in recent times, not exactly the climate of stability that the public would clamor for at a financial watchdog.

Ever since long-time chair Arthur Levitt stepped down after an eight-year run heading the nation's top regulator, its executive suite has more resembled a revolving door at Saks during the holidays than a beacon of stability.

There was the rocky 15-month tenure Harvey Pitt, who, admittedly, was instrumental in helping get the financial markets back on track after 9-11, but more often was at the center of controversy. Who could forget his promise to give auditors a kinder, gentler SEC, or his petition to make the SEC Chair a full-fledged Cabinet post?

Pitt ultimately resigned on election day 2002, with President Bush's footprint -- real or imagined -- on his backside.

When Donaldson was appointed as his successor, it was thought that the Wall Street veteran and founder of Donaldson Lufkin and Jenrette would be more of a healer for the wide rifts that had developed between the Democratic and Republican commissioners.

Instead, Donaldson suddenly turned regulator and implemented a series of reforms that included overhauling the mutual fund industry and requiring the registration of hedge fund advisors.

But the agency has lost several key people recently, not the least of which was its no-nonsense director of enforcement, Stephen Cutler.

And there was also the matter of a budget shortfall of nearly $50 million that will impair the agency's ability to hire at par levels, not to mention the effect on its travel budget.

Just last week, the Government Accountability Office came out with a report that, in the irony of ironies, had identified weaknesses in the commission's internal controls.

I would assume that a critical element of being able to effectively regulate would be having a semblance of continuity at the highest levels.

With or without having to get the book thrown at you.

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