Does City Hall Have a “VIP Hotline” for the Powerful and Connected?

City Controller says yes, but Mayor Nutter's staff pushes back.

CIty Controller Alan Butkovitz on Wednesday released a letter suggesting City Hall operates a special hotline service that takes calls directly from Philadelphia’s powerful and connected — a sort of Gold Card 311 Hotline for those in the the know.

Mayor Nutter’s staff immediately denied the accusation.

Butkovitz said the hotline was discovered during field work for a soon-to-be-released audit.

City Controller Alan Butkovitz today revealed that six city employees who earned a total of $164,000 in overtime compensation last year have been working as Communications Dispatchers for a special VIP hotline call center.

The dispatchers handle municipal service problems for an exclusive group of people who have the direct phone number,” said Butkovitz.  “These are hundreds of thousands of dollars that benefit only select individuals.”

It was discovered that the VIP hotline is manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from an office on the seventh floor of City Hall.  It operates under a schedule that is not even maintained for the Philly 3-1-1 call center, which is only 12 hours a day, Monday through Friday.

KYW Newsradio says the mayor’s office had a forceful denial:

But Rich Negrin, city managing director for the Nutter administration, disputes Butkovitz’s conclusion. He says the line that Butkovitz is referring to is for internal use only by city employees.

“It is not a ‘VIP’ line. There is no outside, public-facing component of this. This is not a number for people on the outside to call someone well-connected in City Hall,” Negrin told KYW Newsradio this afternoon. “And, quite frankly, if the controller had picked up the phone and called me (or) our chief of staff, he would have learned that and could have avoided what I think is an embarrassing press release on his part.”

The Inky adds:

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, of course, is considered a likely contender for mayor in 2015.