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How to handle annoying FOI requests

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Martin Rosenbaum | 11:25 UK time, Friday, 2 October 2009

If you're a freedom of information officer, I'm sure that occasionally you find some requests you receive a little irritating - even when you can't actually dismiss them as vexatious.

So I'm afraid I can't resist drawing your attention to the robust approach adopted this week by Jim Kalb, the mayor of Portsmouth in Ohio, USA.

He received an application under Ohio's open public records law for a document about the building of a children's playground, which seems to be the subject of some local controversy, from a Portsmouth blogger called Robert Forrey. A cursory examination of Mr Forrey's blog River Vices (Portsmouth lying on two rivers) suggests he is not entirely happy with his city's elected leader, having described him as a lapdog, a fathead and a goof-ball. And he evidently also has a rather low opinion of the mayor's wife.

The information request clearly did not go down well with Mayor Kalb. Having told Mr Forrey how he could obtain a copy of the document, the mayor decided to make some additional remarks:

"If there is anything else that I can do for you, which is required by law, don't hesitate to call my office. If it isn't required by law then don't bother asking, because I think that you're a worthless piece of..."
[BBC editorial guidelines prevent me from ending that sentence]

The mayor continued:

"You're a poor, lonely, jealous, old man with aspirations of being a writer. You write your lies and uneducated opinions on people and issues from behind the safety of your slobber stained keyboard with the hope that somebody will read them that doesn't know you and believe that you're more than the pitiful, broke-down, lizard-looking thing that you are, in my opinion. Get a life old man. On second thought, don't bother."
Tempted? I wonder what the UK's information commissioner would make of such a response.

I have asked the mayor to explain, and he told me the following:

"Let me first say that I am an advocate of 'Open Record Laws' and my response to Forrey reflects that. I immediately responded to his request in a professional manner. My mistake was I should have sent my opinions of Forrey in a separate correspondence. What I'm not an advocate of is the freedom of bloggers to write lies, half-truths and slanderous insults about people (especially my family and me). This man is exactly as I described him in my e-mail, but my opinion of him had nothing to do with his request for information. I did not do this in a public forum either, it was a private e-mail."
Jim Kalb is up for re-election in November. Something tells me he's still not going to get Robert Forrey's vote.


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