Tracking down local government expenses is a recurrent theme for many successful freedom of information requests.
Some recent examples suggest that quite a variety of information is potentially available — about credit card charges, salaries, retirement parties, and even costs of leak investigations.
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Let’s look at recent reporting on government spending.
In Australia, Alexandra Humphries, the State Political Reporter of The Mercury, simply asked about what Glenorchy City Council staff had charged on Council credit cards. Quite a bit, it turned out. Like $172,000 over an eight-month period, including thousands on alcohol, restaurants, flights, and groceries, as Humphries reported.
Salary information is available in many jurisdictions, but here’s a twist – what does it cost when a top official quits?
An FOIA request by an ABC News 4 television station in Berkeley County, South Carolina, in the United States, revealed that losing a school superintendent is going to cost taxpayers between $166,000 and $191,000. Local records documented not only severance pay, but also the expense of hiring consultants to recruit a replacement.
What about the costs of police investigations?
“The investigation into the botched Kevin Nunes murder case cost Staffordshire Police more than £300,000, it has been revealed,” according to an article in The Express & Star.
How about the cost of retirement parties for officials?
A request by the Press Association in the United Kingdom discovered that the Bank of England spent more than £3,346 on a “leaving party,” as they say there, for Dame Minouche Shafik, formerly deputy governor of the Bank of England, according to an article in The Belfast Telegraph.
And back Down Under, The Mercury’s Simeon Thomas-Wilson used a FOI request to find out that the Glamorgan Spring Bay Council spent over $16,000 on a private investigator to hunt down the source of a leaked confidential document. But the investigation failed to identify the source of the document – about a proposed 200-berth marina and a residential development at Waterloo Point, Swansea – which was leaked to The Mercury in September last year.
Toby McIntosh is editor of FreedomInfo.org, a nonprofit website based in Washington, D.C., that covers international transparency laws. After 39 years at Bloomberg BNA, he semi-retired in 2014. He has filed numerous U.S. FOI requests and written about FOI policies worldwide. He is a Steering Committee member of FOIANet, an international network of FOI advocates.