Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz is surveying business owners in the papal security perimeter about their expectations during the pope's visit.

Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz apparently is not satisfied with how Mayor Michael Nutter is handling communications with Philadelphia businesses in connection to Pope Francis’ visit during the World Meeting of Families.

So he’s asking for direct feedback from local businesses in the form of a survey, citing “statements from the Nutter Administration” which “lack adequate transparency,” creating “an untenable air of uncertainty.”  The survey asks respondents to describe their business, their normal revenues and their thoughts about the Nutter administration’s handling of communications so far.

Here’s a sample question:

In preparing the business community for the Papal Visit, the Nutter Administration has: (Please check one)

  • Taken a hands on approach to helping my business
  • Helped indirectly by pointing me toward relevant agencies
  • Provided sufficient details to allow my business to plan
  • Provided little or no information but my business is still able to plan and function
  • Provided little or no information and my business is not able to plan and function

The following letter asking businesses to respond to the survey was provided to Billy Penn by a local restaurant owner who said it was the first direct communication they have received from the city regarding the papal visit:

Letter sent to Philadelphia businesses in the Pope security zone.
Letter sent to Philadelphia businesses in the Pope security zone. Credit: Billy Penn photo

In an interview with Billy Penn on Friday afternoon, Butkovitz said the letter, which went out to businesses within the “security perimeter” in Center City, was meant to assure business owners that the independent Controller’s Office would “be receptive” to their opinions.

“Everybody in town is talking about the Pope’s visit and about their anxieties, and we thought it was important to have an independent entity reach out to people and give them a chance to talk about what’s really on their minds,” Butkovitz said, “and perhaps have an impact on the way the planning and management of the event occurs.”

He said that his office has already received “thoughtful” responses from some businesses, and the rest will have until Aug. 28 to respond. After that, Butkovitz said his office plans to release some of the comments publicly in the hopes of influencing planning. His office will then circle back after the Papal visit with businesses who responded to find out how the weekend went.

“We will do a second snapshot afterwards of the same people to see what their actual experience was compared to their expectations,” he said, “and hopefully this will provide more information in preparation for the convention in July [The Democratic National Convention].”

Mayor Nutter’s office doesn’t buy it.

“The tone of letter is disturbing and extremely disappointing,” said Desiree Peterkin Bell, the Mayor’s Director of Communications.

At his now-weekly Papal visit news conference Thursday, Nutter said more than 100 calls have come in to a new Business Resource Center hotline, which opened for calls on Monday. That number, 215-683-2100, is open for questions Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., for questions. Peterkin Bell told Billy Penn that about 80 percent of questions asked on that call are answered and resolved on the spot.

Peterkin Bell also said the Mayor’s office has received copies of the letter and survey from businesses confused about its purpose. “A lot of people are put off by it,” she said, saying recipients don’t understand why a survey is necessary.

Added Mark McDonald, Mayor Nutter’s longtime press secretary, “I really have to question (the involvement of) Mr. Butkovitz, who has not participated in any of the planning, has no role in this at all other than looking for a way to get his name in the newspaper yet again.”

Anna Orso was a reporter/curator at Billy Penn from 2014 to 2017.