"If we have more information -- better information -- we can make better choices and build a better Philadelphia."
Just recently, developer Ben Garvey responded to an inquiry sent to Indy Hall members by City Controller Candidate Bret Mandel. He built a treemap-style chart that allowed the public to view complex budget data in simple way, and released it to the public 10 weeks later. He made the code available on GitHub, a popular site for sharing projects. An Italian software development firm eventually repurposed it to visualize their country's national budget.
Mandel has run before and should be viewed as a shoe-in for the Democratic primary, but with the usual low voter turnout, anything can happen between now and the May primary. This election may very well provide some suspense in this so-called "off-year."
Standing on the steps of Germantown HS, which his mother attended, fiscal activist Brett Mandel made his campaign for City Controller official. A former employee of the Controller’s Office under Jonathan Saidel, Mandel vowed to “create unprecedented budgetary openness and governmental accountability” in the City’s independent auditing agency.
Despite the minor effect expected by the announcement, Fels Institute of Government graduate Brett Mandel, who is running for City Controller in Philadelphia, was encouraged by the decision. "I think it’s good for me to have more and more people come out," he said. He was encouraged by the possibility that more students may now be able to vote because he felt they are likely to share his views. "We should be doing everything we can to encourage people [to vote]," he added. "It’s scandalous how few people participate in most of our elections."
Mandel suggested a system of tax deferrals that would not have to be paid off until people sell their homes. "Then nobody would be forced to do anything they don't want to do," he said. Mandel, 44, a former aide to Jonathan Saidel, Butkovitz's predecessor, spoke after announcing his candidacy in front of Germantown High School, one of three dozen city schools targeted for closure because of the School District's budget crisis.
Brett Mandel, running in the Democratic primary for City Controller, spiked the football this week with a news release noting that he led the field in fundraising, as reported in 2012 annual campaign-finance reports submitted by candidates last week. Mandel said that his cash balance as of Dec. 31, $206,084, was more than the three other candidates in the race had raised in 2012 combined.
The candidates for Philadelphia City Controller have filed their campaign finance reports. Here are the numbers. The race is the only game in town for 2013 campaigns in Philly.
Brett Mandel's second run for city controller has already produced something far more useful than the lawn signs and bumper stickers that are the chief legacy of most campaigns. Mandel recently unveiled his "Bulldog Budget," a spiffy online tool that presents detailed information about the $3.5 billion the city spent during the last fiscal year. Developed by Mandel and his friend Ben Garvey using city data acquired under the Right-to-Know Law, the application (budget.brettmandel.com) represents the budget in nested, color-coded rectangles sized according to their share of spending. Users can click on successive classes of expenditures to drill all the way down to the individual line items.
Central to Mandel’s world view is the notion that there exists some distinctly Philadelphian way of being, and that he has been irrevocably shaped by it. Therein lies the genesis of his political persona: an outspoken and independent voice sculpted from the granite bedrock of an endearingly stubborn hometown.
For the Controller, it was a bit of a surprise: Brett Mandel significantly outraised the incumbent Alan Butkovitz — blew him out of the water, actually — EVEN if you take out the $50,000 loan to his campaign. Mandel also has more cash-on-hand (even if the loan is backed out). With the loan, it’s an almost $60,000 advantage for Mandel.
Challenger Brett Mandel leads incumbent City Controller Alan Butkovitz in fundraising for the Democratic primary so far, according to campaign finance reports filed last week. Mandel shows $206,084 on hand as of the end of December, though $50,000 of that is a loan from Mandel to his campaign committee. Butkovitz's report shows $146,681.
“I certainly gained experience as a candidate,” Mandel said in regards to the 2009 race. “I have been working to raise more money to build more and deeper political connections and to communicate my vision to groups and residents across the city.”
Just in time for budget season, it’s possible to track city spending down to the penny, through a new Web tool launched this week by Brett Mandel, as part of his campaign for city controller. “Unless we have the ability to see where every single dollar is spent, we end up having the kind of ridiculous debates we’ve had in recent years, where we take what we spent last year and we only tweak it at the margins,” he said.
A few days ago, City Controller candidate Brett Mandel released a very cool infographic/database documenting where every penny of city money was spent in Fiscal Year 2012. So I combed through and found some of the weirdest stuff your taxpayer dollars are funding.
Many political figures Google themselves to keep current on the electronic chatter about them. Now local politicians must "bulldog" themselves as well. They can thank Brett Mandel, a candidate in the May 21 Democratic primary election for city controller. Mandel this week unveiled his "Bulldog Budget" website, which allows users to scroll through the fine detail of the city's fiscal year 2012 spending.
Brett Mandel, who's planning another run for City Controller, has been advocating for the office to be more active and transparent for years. Well, he deserves some credit for taking matters into his own hands, by putting online a database of city expenditures that he says accounts for the entirety of the budget from 2012. In addition to viewing individuals' salaries, you can also look at an accounting of expenses. Which tends to reveal fun facts, like that someone in the Public Health Department got an $800 office chair, or that the Prisons System bought a number of comfy-sounding seating options in the $560 range.
Want to know how much taxpayers paid for Mayor Nutter's salary, the Welcome America Festival or City Council’s furniture? There's a website for that. On Tuesday, City Controller candidate Brett Mandel launched budget.brettmandel.com, a site where Philadelphians can see how their tax dollars were spent last fiscal year.
In the race for the least glamorous of Philly’s high-level municipal posts, things are getting pretty web-savvy. First, embittered ex-city auditor Rafael “Ralph” Kaplan launched a campaign for “Anybody But Butkovtiz” with the website www.therealalanbutkovitz.com. (Click on it to see photoshopped pictured of Alan Butkovitz with a Pinocchio nose.) Now, real Controller candidate Brett “The Bulldog” Mandel has created a neat, searchable, interactive graphic detailing where every penny of Philly’s FY 2012 budget is being spent. Just to start you off: the city spent $280 on “Hoagie and Drinks” for prisons last year.
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.
A new tool from City Controller candidate Brett Mandel lets Philadelphians see inside the 2012 city fiscal year budget. It’s being unveiled this morning at coworking joint Independents Hall. Built by freelance data visualization hacker Ben Garvey, the “Bulldog Budget” visualization shows you exactly how the city spends its $3.5 billion budget, down to the last dollar (in spring 2011, Councilman Bill Green introduced legislation calling for a more available online budget tool). Click through each city department to find the breakdown of its own budget, as well as specific budget line items. Find the salary of every single city government worker (remember for salaries that they are for FY 2012 only, so new employees will be incomplete). See the impact of crime on the city budget.
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.
"Our taxes are too high, our job rates are too low, the crime rates are too high," said Mandel, 43, who worked eight years for Butkovitz's predecessor, Jonathan Saidel, cowriting a book on how to improve city government. "If we're ever going to get back to making our tax structure more competitive and improving the quality of life in Philadelphia, the controller is the person who can get us there by making sure we're spending our money effectively and efficiently."
Rafael "Ralph" Kaplan landed a job in 2011 as an auditor for City Controller Alan Butkovitz. He called the $39,600-a-year position a "dream job." Kaplan, 34, a licensed CPA with a master's degree in business administration, was gone six months later, dismissed at the end of his probation, ostensibly for using a four-letter word in criticizing an office seminar. Now he's a wild card in the 2013 controller's election, with a website, therealalanbutkovitz.com, that purports to present "The Real Alan Butkovitz."
Mandel plans to attack Butkovitz as he did four years ago. "We don't have a controller who is actively using that position to make sure that we are spending our money wisely," Mandel said in an interview last week. "Instead, our controller is protecting his friends, pulling his punches, running for mayor from his office as controller. That's not helping us."
At the head of the Democrat line is Brett Mandel, who challenged Butkovitz in 2009. An employee of the Controller’s Office under Butkovitz’s popular predecessor Jonathan Saidel, Mandel has solid credentials in public financial management. Like the incumbent a native of Northeast Philadelphia, Mandel earned a Master’s at Penn and now lives in Center City. He has gained a reputation as an articulate, detail-oriented critic of Philadelphia fiscal policies.
Mandel said most people would agree that the current system is broken. “If everybody in this room went out and bought a house in Philadelphia for a $100,000, everybody would pay a dramatically different amount in taxes because we don’t value properly, and we don’t value consistently,” Mandel said. Mandel said in some cases, residents with very modest properties are paying more than residents with extravagant homes. “That’s not good,” he said. “That’s not right. That’s not legal. We have to fix the system. The question is how are we going to make a transition from a system that is woefully screwed up and horribly unfair to a system that is fair and accurate.”
Two weeks ago, I introduced you to some Philadelphians I consider to be disruptive - innovative change agents who challenge the status quo in their respective fields. Since then, you've e-mailed me a lot of other names. Some - such as fiscal watchdog Brett Mandel and mural maven Jane Golden - are no-brainers. In a town long characterized by a go-along-to-get-along culture, they have the guts to stand up and stand out.
PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER - The fable of the temporary tax hike (March 15, 2011) By Brett Mandel
PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER - City Hall should give the public the 'Full Monty' (December 10, 2010) By Brett Mandel