The Democratic candidates for city controller each voiced support for paperless government initiatives Thursday night at the third and final major debate being held for the elected city office.
The rare moment of agreement between incumbent Alan Butkovitz and challengers John Braxton and Brett Mandel followed a confrontational discussion of the city’s $2.6 billion budget shortfall, real estate tax abatement and wage and sales tax increases.
In a modest side room of the John Perzel Community Center, the candidates responded to a question posed by Technically Philly in front of more than 30 residents in the Mayfair neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia.
If elected city controller, would he support recommendations made by freshman councilmembers in October that would promote digital government initiatives that would cut back on paper consumption, bring forms online and potentially save the city millions of dollars?
Butkovitz called paperless initiatives a “tremendous opportunity,” but said the city had to be realistic, citing millions of dollars “down the drain,” spent on Project Ocean, an IT overhaul for the Philadelphia Water Department that failed in 2006.
“[My] hopes in the sky but [my] feet are on the ground,” he said.
*Alan Butkovitz: “Licenses and Inspections.”
*John Braxton: I would say the criminal justice system. Because we have significant abuses of overtime both among police and prison guards.”
*Brett Mandel: “If you’re talking per-capita waste, it’s the row house offices: the sheriff’s office, the register of wills and other things run by ward leaders.”
Butkovitz also mentioned a policy paper he wrote concerning paperless paychecks.
Braxton envisioned how paperless forms could streamline the city’s L&I processes.
“People spend hours and days getting paperwork. Rather than to have them waiting, I support going paperless,” he said.
Mandel wrote about paperless government in Philadelphia: A New Urban Direction, he reminded the crowd.
“We should be pushing that. The city controller’s job is to make those recommendations,” Mandel said.
Mandel also supports establishing a transparent budget process wherein all city payments would be posted online, according to campaign literature.
The debate was hosted by NEastPhilly, a news startup covering Northeast Philadelphia, the Mayfair CDC, and WHYY. On Monday, the candidates met at the University of Pennsylvania in a debate moderated by Daily News reporter Dave Davies. On Wednesday, the second major debate was held by Philadelphia magazine and moderated by its editor Larry Platt.
Which of the three candidates will face Republican City Controller candidate Al Schmidt, who was in attendance, will be decided on the May 19 primary, which will also include the contested District Attorney battle and numerous judicial races.
Read a full story on the debate from NEastPhilly.com; watch video from WHYY and hear the complete audio recording from WHYY here.
Staff writer Christopher Wink contributed to this report.