Philly-controller candidate's site reveals in-depth info on city's budget

Brett Mandel: "Our taxes are too high, our job rates are too low."
Brett Mandel: "Our taxes are too high, our job rates are too low."
Posted: January 24, 2013

WANT TO KNOW how much taxpayers spend on Mayor Nutter's salary, the Wawa Welcome America festival or City Council's furniture?

There's a website for that.

City Controller candidate Brett Mandel on Tuesday launched budget.brettmandel.com, a site where users can see the nitty-gritty of taxpayer expenditures in 2012. It shows city employee salaries, elected officials' travel reimbursements, individual contract costs and other parts of the operating budget.

The city regularly releases budget data on how much each department spends on general items, but it doesn't provide the type of detail found on Mandel's site.

"Seeing where every single penny goes is really the Holy Grail of public information," said Mandel.

Given the scale of the site, it was impossible for a reporter to confirm every part of it. Mandel said he made it using city data, which he obtained through a Right to Know records request .

The city has been working on its own budget application for smartphones, which will show employees' salaries. Adel Ebeid, the city's chief innovation officer, said his team was checking to make sure the data are correct before unveiling the app.

"We thought it was more important to make sure we're publishing accurate data than just releasing an app and getting a headline," Ebeid said. "Regardless of who releases it, the public is always the winner in the end."

Councilman Bill Green has long complained that the city doesn't release enough budget information. Political consultant Dan Fee said more and more people are talking about making government spending transparent.

"It's not just a question about how we're taxing people, but also how we're spending that money," he said. "Tools like this will help not just decision-makers have that information, but the public too."

Mandel's budget tool is part of his overall campaign site. He said a Web developer helped to make the tool for free, so it didn't cost his campaign any money.

City Controller Alan Butkovitz said that he applauds transparency but that Mandel's site does nothing to solve Philadelphia's problems.


Holly Otterbein writes for It's Our Money, a joint project of the Daily News and WHYY funded by the William Penn Foundation, that works to shed light on where your tax dollars are going.

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