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VIP: very important people or very incorrect politician?

City Controller says - and mayor denies - special hotline for the connected.

City Controller Alan Butkovitz and Mayor Michael Nutter. (Staff photos)
City Controller Alan Butkovitz and Mayor Michael Nutter. (Staff photos)Read more

CITY CONTROLLER Alan Butkovitz took a serious shot at Mayor Nutter's legacy yesterday, accusing him of running a "VIP hot line" for the well-connected to call round-the-clock for city services.

For Nutter, who ran for the city's top office in 2007 promising to provide equal access to all city services, that could not stand.

His staff quickly pushed back, saying Butkovitz didn't bother to learn the facts before issuing a news release to the media.

Everett Gillison, Nutter's chief of staff, said the six people who answer the phone line are the "nerve center for the city," answering calls only from city employees and elected officials.

"This is continuity of government," Gillison said, noting that previous administrations had the same setup. "This is not 'I'm a VIP and I want to get something done.' "

Butkovitz sent a letter to Nutter - and the media - noting that those employees racked up more than a quarter-million in overtime salary, payroll taxes and pension payments in the last year, manning the hot line 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

By contrast, the city's 3-1-1 line, which residents call to report problems or request services, operates 12 hours a day, Monday through Friday, Butkovitz said.

A City Hall operator took calls from anyone round-the-clock before Nutter took office in 2008.

"This administration dismantled that system, saying 3-1-1 would provide equal access to all Philadelphians in a fair way," said Butkovitz, a likely candidate for mayor next year. "Now it turns out that's not the truth. So I think it would be a step in the right direction to reinstate the old phone number."

Information provided by the City Controller's Office showed that three of the six employees who man the hot line doubled their annual salaries with overtime in the last year.

The Controller's Office discovered the VIP hot line during a routine audit of overtime for several city departments.

Gillison said he or Nutter's other senior staff would have explained the phone line to Butkovitz if he had just called them.

Gillison and Adel Ebeid, the city's chief innovation officer, said they did not know who Butkovitz's auditors had spoken to.