EXCLUSIVE: Crawley council refuses to publish register of interests online
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
This is Sussex
A ROW has erupted after councillors voted not to publish details of their business interests online.
Members decided not to give out information about properties and businesses they own and groups they belong to on Crawley Borough Council's website.
Rejecting the publication plan, members said it could be used by "criminal and malicious elements."
Members of the public can now only see the Councillors' Register of Interests by making an appointment and visiting the town hall.
Brenda Smith, leader of Crawley's Labour councillors, asked why information was not freely available when many other councils, including West Sussex County Council, publish online.
She said: "I can't understand why they would vote against it.
"I believe in openness and transparency and would have no problem having my declarations of interests on the web.
"The pertinent personal information on councillors, such as address and phone number, is already on the council website.
"I am at a loss to know how someone could cause mischief by knowing this information."
Conservative councillor Duncan Crow said: "I would question why people have an interest in seeing this information online. What would be the motivation for viewing it?
"It's not about trying to hide anything. My concern was that if the register of interests was published online it has the potential to be used by either criminal or malicious elements.
"I have no objection to the fact councillors' addresses and phone numbers are online but if you add to that such things as places of employment it might not be hard to work out where councillors are and when they are not at home.
"It's unlikely that anyone with criminal intent would present themselves at the town hall and ask to see the register."
In a free vote on July 22, councillors rejected the plan, which came from the town hall's standards committee.
On the register, councillors have to declare facts including membership of organisations, business interests, payments received and land owned.
Anyone can view the register but members of the public have to make an appointment and cannot make copies, although notes can be taken.
The council says names of people viewing the register will not be recorded.
TWO COUNCILLORS ARE MASONS
A NEWS investigation has revealed two Crawley Borough Councillors are Freemasons.
The register of interests, which councillors voted not to release online, shows Cllrs Lenny Walker and Lee Gilroy belong to the society.
Cllr Brenda Smith was unaware the pair were Freemasons and said she was concerned it could lead to loyalties being divided between fellow Masons and Crawley residents.
She said: "I would think anything that gives you dual loyalties is a problem because you are on the council to serve the public.
"Where would their first loyalties lie?
"Freemasons have their own rules and structures and part of their allegiance is to their lodge."
Councillors Gilroy and Walker did not comment, but the Freemasons website tells members their "duty as a citizen must always prevail over any obligation to other Freemasons."
The Conservative councillors declare themselves members of the Grand Charity for the United Grand Lodge of England in the register of interests.
The website of the grand lodge, the governing body of Freemasonry in England, says: "Freemasonry is a society of men concerned with moral and spiritual values.
"Its members are taught its precepts by a series of ritual dramas, which follow ancient forms and use stonemasons' customs.
"The essential qualification for admission and continuing membership is a belief in a supreme being.
"Freemasons strive for truth, requiring high moral standards and aiming to achieve them in their own lives."
It adds: "It is not a secret society, since all members are free to acknowledge their membership and will do so in response to enquiries for respectable reasons."
DETAILS REVEALED BY THE REGISTER
- Most declarations are about membership of local groups including churches, charities and local government organisations.
- Councillors list land owned in Crawley, with several declaring more than one town property.
- Jobs and businesses owned are also listed.
- Several councillors list a 2006 trip to Holland worth £500 to view buildings courtesy of Grosvenor, the company behind the Town Centre North redevelopment plan.
- Dan Kavanagh, who was recently granted a six-month break from council duties while he works abroad, lists himself as a "quality coordinator" for TUI travel.
- Two councillors, Lee Gilroy and Lenny Walker, list themselves as freemasons.
- Council leader Bob Lanzer shows his care for animals by being a member of Friends of the Red Squirrel and the RSPB.
by Richard W. Symonds, Ifield