Council split on pay-off for chief executive as new evidence arises
A crunch meeting is to be held on Friday on the future of Shetland Islands Council chief executive David Clark, with opinion split as to whether he can be sacked without compensation or must be given a severance payment.
Lawyers for the council and Mr Clark will begin talks after he was granted extended holiday leave following a series of alleged misdemeanours, including the “deletion” of the post of assistant chief executive Willie Shannon.
It is understood that council convener Sandy Cluness believes Mr Clark, who was appointed last summer, should be given the bullet and no public cash, not least because of potentially important new evidence relating to the threatening phone call Mr Clark is alleged to have made to councillor Jonathan Wills last September, while head of legal Jan Riise is insisting a payout is necessary.
The Shetland Times has learned that a council official, who has not been named, is now ready to testify that he or she witnessed Mr Clark saying earlier in the day in question that he intended to phone Dr Wills and rehearsed what he would say. “That’s a game-changer,” one source said on Thursday.
Dr Wills later accused Mr Clark of having told him over the phone that he would “kick his f***ing teeth in” if he did not stop digging into his private life. Police dropped an investigation into the accusation and Mr Clark was cleared following internal and external hearings, although Dr Wills disputes this.
Meanwhile, the search has been launched for a respected official, possibly from the local government umbrella organisation Cosla, to run the authority for a year in an attempt to restore order before a new chief executive is appointed.
Councillors have remained tight-lipped about developments after being warned last Thursday by Cosla chief executive Rory Mair, who had been brought in to advise councillors on the way ahead, that anything they said publicly might prejudice a deal to remove Mr Clark. There is a strong desire to get rid of him with as small a payout as necessary, if at all.
One official said rules introduced since the council dispensed with its last unwanted chief executive, Nick Reiter, in 1999 had outlawed ex-gratia or discretionary payments through which a lump sum is given without accepting any liability – that may mean the council is limited to awarding three months of Mr Clark’s £100,000 salary.
Mr Reiter was only four months into the job before he was paid off with £75,000 early in 1999 after councillors decided they no longer trusted him due to his role in the infamous homes-for-votes scandal involving the Tory administration which ran Westminster City Council in the late 1980s.
A petition was circulating in Shetland shops this week calling on the council to dismiss Mr Clark for his conduct, which the organisers claim has “brought the council and the community of Shetland into disrepute”. They also demand that he be paid no more than the minimum statutory amount due to him for his employment being terminated.
Mr Clark is understood to have left the Town Hall on Up-Helly-A’ day after the the formal reception for the Jarl’s Squad, attended by local dignitaries. Mr Clark was there with his partner Judith Miller.
Mr Cluness is said to have gone to Mr Clark afterwards and told him to clear his desk. Shortly after lunchtime he is believed to have left the Town Hall clutching a black bag.
He should have been conducting the weekly management meeting in the afternoon followed by the weekly media conference but the media were told it had been cancelled.
During the guizers’ procession that evening Mr Clark watched from outside Ms Miller’s house in St Olaf Street brandishing a glass of red wine and a cigar. He did not attend the hall at Bell’s Brae Primary School that evening as intended.