THE CITY HAS nearly 500 Big Belly solar trash compactors on the streets, including one at the Municipal Services Building, which houses the offices of Controller Alan Butkovitz. We suggest he use that unit to recycle the report he just released on the compactors, which is about as useful as the refuse being tossed into the receptacles.

We've already criticized the controller's fondness for "gotcha" reports detailing government's failings in a way that alienates the people most apt to fix them, but this "report" is so full of half-truths and unconfirmed assumptions that it corrodes the credibility of the office.

The solar-powered trash compactors hit the streets a little more than a year ago. Using $2 million in state DEP grants - not city funds - the city installed machines that handle five times the trash of the wire baskets, to save money and reduce carbon emissions by reducing collections. According to Streets Commissioner Clarena Tolson, the machines have succeeded in eliminating 24 positions in the department and reducing collections to five times a week, versus the 24/7 ongoing collection required before. Some machines also accept recycling, collecting 14-18 tons each month. They discourage household trash dumping and keep overflow litter to a minimum.

The controller's problems with the units revolve around contract details; primarily that it should have been competitively bid because the manufacturer, from whom the city bought the units, was not the sole source for the compactors. That's a legal and technical issue that should be resolved in the solicitor's office; it hardly merits the controller's headline about "exposing" a contract.

The controller also has problems with some contract details, like the fact the vendor didn't have a business privilege license, and that money was authorized weeks before the city received the units.

What the report is coy about admitting is that the controller had to approve the contract, and those issues were resolved before or soon after payments were made. In other words, the controller caught some contract mistakes and fixed them. That's his job.

The controller's report also challenges the cost savings of the units, suggesting that trash is being picked up twice as often as the city claims. The city says that that's just not true; when staff opened the doors of the units to make sure they were not full, it got recorded as a pickup. That's a detail that could have been easily clarified if the controller had actually let the Streets Department know of their findings and assumptions. Tolson says she asked the controller's office for a copy of the report last week, but was refused. She says she would have liked to have had the chance to clarify or correct the report, because "it's important our citizens to have confidence in government."

Why isn't that Butkovitz's M.O.? Instead, he seems intent on getting attention for finding faults, instead of helping to find sound solutions to problems.

No habla cheesesteak?

A Philadelphia rally in support of Arizona's "papers, please" immigration law is set for today at - where else? - Geno's cheesesteak shop. Owner Joey Vento's infamous unwelcome sign to visitors said, "This is America. Speak English." Who better to host a rally with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, author of a Pennsylvania version of Arizona's law?

Today's rally is billed as a fundraiser to help Arizona fight the feds. We prefer to keep our money instate, unless of course it buys Metcalfe a ticket to Arizona. One-way. *