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.