Brett Mandel, one of the candidates trying to unseat city controller Alan Butkovitz, is providing voters with their own opportunity to become city fiscal watchdogs. With help from a technically-savvy friend, Ben Garvey, Mandel has created a website where Philadelphia citizens, and anyone else who cares, can look up the city’s expenditures in the fiscal year ended last June.
The site is budget.brettmandel.com. It features blocks for each department in city government, sized according to how much of the $3.5 billion budget they control. By clicking on each block, users can drill down into different categories of spending, including outside contracts, equipment and supplies, and government salaries – literally every expenditure by the city from July 2011 through June 2012, Mandel said, though the salaries appear as lump sums, not the biweekly checks issued by the city.
“We need to be able to see where every dollar goes if we are to be able to make decisions about Philadelphia’s future,” Mandel said in a press release. In every budget debate he’d ever seen, he said, candidates were asked how they’d cut city spending. The proper response should have been, he said, “’How should I know? I can’t see where our money goes.’”
His website changes that, but the view of city spending is still cloudy. While it lists thousands of payments to the city’s vendors and contractors, for example, it relies on the city’s sometimes-sketchy descriptions of why the payments were made.
Butkovitz voiced a different objection – his salary is listed on the website as $128,016, he said, even though he’s jumped through hoops for several years to keep it frozen at around $109,000 annually, by giving back money back to the city treasury. “Not only me, but Mayor Nutter and lots of other officials,” Butkovitz said. “There’s nothing on the website to show that. It’s inaccurate and misleading. In our office, it’s kind of critical to make sure that we’re accurate in what we put out. If I did something like this, just one time, everybody would be all over me.”