By NEIL RIDDELL, ROSALIND GRIFFITHS & RYAN TAYLOR
Morgan Goodlad has resigned as chief executive of Shetland Islands Council and will be stepping down from the post, which he has held for a decade, at the end of May.
In a statement issued yesterday afternoon Mr Goodlad said he was now in his 10th year in the job, stressing that he was not retiring but moving on to pursue unspecified “new opportunities and challenges”.
Mr Goodlad informed convener Sandy Cluness and sent an email to councillors during yesterday morning’s services committee meeting saying that, having served for longer than any previous chief executive in the isles, it was now time for him to stand down. He has been in the job since replacing the short-lived Nick Reiter in 1999, becoming the first Shetlander to hold the post in the process.
The 58-year-old is not asking the council for an early retirement package and told The Shetland Times that having survived in the post for so long, staying in power itself was arguably his biggest overall achievement, but that he was happy with the way he had restructured the council.
By far the biggest controversy of his tenure came when he was censured by the public services ombudsman, which in 2007 found him guilty of maladministration after he failed to declare an interest when advising Shetland Development Trust on investing in local salmon farm consortium SSG Seafoods, which was part-owned by his brother Alistair and later collapsed at a cost of £7 million in community funds.
Following that report Mr Goodlad faced down calls for him to resign, eventually threatening legal action against the local media, since which he has kept a noticeably low public profile.
“For long I’ve indicated that once the council [elected in May 2007] settled in it would be an appropriate time to hand over,” he said yesterday. “It’s a good time for the council, coming up to its mid-term, to get a new chief executive to face up to the challenges ahead, [which are] the same ones of the last decade.”
The outgoing chief executive has now advised the SIC’s personnel department to bring a report to the next Full Council meeting to kick-start the recruitment process in the hope that a replacement can be in position in just over three months’ time.
Mr Cluness said he was “sorry to see him go”, adding that if Mr Goodlad “feels there’s something new to do then that’s for the best”, but vice-convener Josie Simpson said he was “very disappointed” that he had chosen to stand down at this particular time. “There’s a lot of things going on and I’d hoped he would have stayed to see out this council,” he said.
Candidates to replace him in the job, which carries a salary of over £90,000, may include the council’s executive director of services Hazel Sutherland, recently-appointed executive director of infrastructure Gordon Greenhill and new charitable trust general manager Ann Black, while it is believed that former head of social care Jacqui Watt is not interested in returning to the isles. Assistant chief executive Willie Shannon may also be in the running.
In addition, there are likely to be potential suitors from outwith the isles, especially with a number of local authority chiefs elsewhere in Scotland leaving their posts in recent months.
Former councillor and vice-convener John Nicolson said yesterday: “Morgan and I had differences of opinion when I was a councillor, but I hold no ill will against him and what he does now is really his business. I wish him well for the future.”
The general reaction to his departure among the current breed of councillors was one of surprise and, in many cases, sadness. Lerwick South member Gussie Angus said: “He’s stayed longer than he intended, longer than any other chief executive. He’s made his contribution and is moving on, and I wish him nothing but the best.”
Shetland West councillor Frank Robertson said: “I knew he was thinking of going and was looking at the most opportune time to vacate the post. He is standing by the council until the end of the financial year, which is very commendable, and May is as good a time as any to look for a replacement.
“He has been a very good officer, he has understood the Shetland situation extremely well and dealt with some very difficult situations during this time and from my personal perspective he handled them very well. And he has always been extremely approachable.”
Shetland Central councillor Betty Fullerton said it was a “shock” and he would be “sorely missed”, while Shetland South member Rick Nickerson was also “a bit surprised”.
“He’s always treated me very fairly and whenever there’s been a problem he’s dealt with it very professionally,” said Mr Nickerson. “I’m aware there has been controversy in the past but on a personal basis I’ve always had a very good relationship with him. The big issue now is who will replace him.”
Lerwick South member Jonathan Wills, who has been heavily critical of the council’s leadership in the past 12 months, would say only that “10 years is a long time”.
Mr Goodlad’s press statement yesterday afternoon read: “I have been in this position for much longer than any previous incumbent and much, much longer than I envisaged I would be. It certainly has been challenging but also a great privilege.
“The council is now approaching half way through its time in office, the budget exercise for 2009/10 is essentially complete and a number of large projects are getting underway and we will soon complete single status implementation.
“We have an excellent senior staff compliment as demonstrated by the recent good inspection reports and our services remain of excellent quality, a testament to all our staff. There remains, as always, many challenges facing the council and I believe it is now a good time for the council to appoint a new chief executive to take the council forward.”