It’s no wonder politicians don’t like the Freedom Of Information Act – it often reveals things they’d rather see kept secret.
Take Northumberland County councillor David Woodard, for example. It’s a safe bet than when he told council officers that people complaining about a set of traffic lights in Morpeth needed to ‘stop complaining and get a life’ he thought those thoughts would remain within the Town Hall walls.
Sadly for him, a Freedom of Information request by anti-lights campaigner (or so the Morpeth Herald calls him) David Bawn revealed all. Mr Bawn asked the council for all correspondence relating to the lights. Most had the names of the senders and receivers blanked out, about from the one from county councillor Woodard.
Unfair on him? I don’t think so – Cllr Woodard takes the public shilling to represent people, so it’s only fair his correspondence aren’t redacted.
In his letter, Cllr Woodard said:
“The recent complaints in the local press are manufactured by grumpies and self-seeking future election candidates.
“They should get a life and stop looking for any old reason to complain and distort.”
He isn’t the only silly man coming acropper thanks to FOI. Hyperlocal site Brighton and Hove News reports how a shop owner called Adam Campbell used FOI to find out what councillors were saying about his campaign to prevent a change to loading restrictions near to his shop.
He points out that he has the support of 600 residents and traders in his campaign, yet when he used FOI to find out what was being said about his campaign, he was surprised to it was his personal politics being discussed:
According to the News, he spoke at a council meeting to raise his FOI revelations:
He read excerpts from emails between the four councillors – Ian Davey, Pete West, Ollie Sykes and Phelim Mac Cafferty – to support his claims. He obtained the emails using the Freedom of Information Act.
One email, from Councillor Davey, asked: “Do we know this man?”
Mr Campbell said: “Councillor Sykes, replying for both himself and Councillor Mac Cafferty, states not that I am a business owner or that I employ five local residents but simply and to our mind with malice that informed Councillor Davey’s and West’s decision making, ‘Adam Campbell stood for the Tories in Brunswick and Adelaide.’
“These emails were sent seven months after the election.
“I am a private citizen whose politics are no one’s business but my own.
“To have elected officials discussing what they think are my politics and then making decisions motivated by their hatred of another party is intolerable.”
Two councils, almost a country apart, but with two councillors who seem to think it’s acceptable to put the fact someone is a potential political rival ahead of all other concerns.
It’s a safe bet neither councillor was particularly keen to see their emails shared to a wider audience – but thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, they have.
Two great examples of why we should be asking for copies of emails when making FOI requests about issues, campaigns and complaints.