After repeatedly bashing the Licenses & Inspection department over the past few months, Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz upped the ante Wednesday by calling for the head of the agency to quit.
Butkovitz said L&I has been “chaos” under L&I Commissioner Carlton Williams. Citing a new investigation of the department, Butkovitz said overtime has been abused, dangerous homes have been left to fester, and more than 1,900 building inspections have been conducted by employees who lack the adequate certification.
“He’s the captain of the ship and it’s his job to find a way to get it done,” said Butkovitz. “And instead of getting it done, he’s been interested in making it appear like things are better.”
Butkovitz said overtime costs at L&I have skyrocketed from $470,900 in 2010 to more than $1.6 million in the past year.
“There are instances when overtime is warranted, especially in emergencies,” said Butkovitz. “However, L&I has allowed for unscrupulous employees to abuse the system and be compensated for overtime they did not earn. We found one inspector who submitted two separate overtime slips for work that was completed on the same day, at the same time but for different tasks.”
The controller said he is mulling the possibility of referring the case of double-dipping to law enforcement officials.
Butkovitz also criticized L&I for failing to cooperate with his office during its most recent audit, saying investigators “were met huge resistance by L&I management.” To make matters worse, he said L&I has “an antiquated record-keeping system that allows for records to be manipulated and deleted without an audit trail.” He said he has had to subpoena L&I to get documents, a step he’s only taken once before during his 10 years in office.
Williams did not respond to a request for comment.
So, how big of a deal is it that Butkovitz thinks Williams should resign? Butkovitz is one of Mayor Michael Nutter’s biggest critics, so every insult he throws at the administration should be taken with a grain of salt. He is also behind the curve in some respects. Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney said in July that Williams would not be his L&I commissioner if elected. Melissa Murray Bailey, the GOP’s pick for mayor, has called on Williams to resign immediately.
However, Butkovitz’s latest report is one of the more serious investigations to come out of his office in recent months, and this is the only time in Butkovitz’s career that he has has urged a commissioner to quit. That means something.
But what it probably doesn’t mean is that Nutter is going to fire him. Back when Kenney and Bailey first said Williams wasn’t the right man for the job, mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said the L&I chief still had Nutter’s unwavering support. On Wednesday, he reaffirmed that.
“The mayor fully supports the commissioner,” said McDonald. “Mr. Williams is leading a reform effort within the department. With new regulations and ordinances, L&I is overseeing safety issues at construction and demolition sites like no other L&I in the past.”
McDonald said L&I has increased the number of hazardous buildings it demolishes annually, started to replace the old computer system, and helped the revenue department collect $2.8 million in back taxes by refusing to renew licenses for tax-delinquent landlords.
“The real issue with Mr. Butkovitz and his penchant for shoot-from-the-hip press releasing is what, if anything, has he actually done in connection with the administration and City Council to actually change process, procedure and the activities of government,” he said. ” There is very little the controller can cite.”