The Herald Express in Torquay has published details of “golden handshakes” given to five former senior council officers.
It ran the story thanks to the Freedom of Information Act – three years after it first requested the information.
Reporter Allan Tudor was given access to Torbay Council documents after initially having had his FOI request turned down for confidentiality reasons – the same explanation as he first received in 2002 when the FOI Act had yet to come into effect.
But this time Allan persisted, insisting Information Commission rulings obliged the council to give information about the pay of officers as it involves public money, and the authority released the paperwork.
It revealed that the departure of two chief executives and three directors had cost Torbay Council more than £700,000.
Allan made the request after attending an in-house law refresher course run by trainer David Scott, who gave examples of two other councils which had been forced to reveal officers’ salaries.
Allan told HoldtheFrontPage: “The FOI Act is a powerful tool and one that everyone should get used to using.
“Once you get into the mindset the automatic question you should be asking is ‘does FOI apply?'”
David said: “How to make the best use of the Freedom of Information Act is part of my one day law refresher course which I have been doing for many newspapers round the country.
“I could see Allan’s eyes light up on the course and afterwards we spoke about the best way to get the information.
“Newspapers need to know how to go about making their requests for information, but if they do it properly they can get many stories which prior to January 1 2005 would have been denied to them.
“The Herald Express did an excellent job and refused to give up when faced with officers who tried to stop the information getting into the public domain.”