The outcome of an independent investigation into allegations made by councillor Jonathan Wills over SIC chief executive David Clark’s conduct should be known next Wednesday.
Dr Wills accused Mr Clark of threatening to “kick him in the f***ing teeth” if he did not stop digging into his private life, in a phone call made on 9th September this year – an allegation which Mr Clark strenuously denied. The councillor also took his complaint to the police, although they dropped their inquiry into the matter shortly after.
An independent lawyer, Steven Millar, was brought in to carry out an investigation on behalf of the SIC and he conducted interviews with the concerned parties in the early part of this week.
He then convened a meeting of five councillors appointed to a special investigating committee to consider the matter on Thursday afternoon. They are believed to include Betty Fullerton, Florence Grains, Frank Robertson and Gary Robinson. It is understood that Bill Manson was to be included but has been unwell this week. The location of the meeting was not disclosed. The committee was allowed to call both parties and any witnesses to give further evidence if it wished to do so.
Following Thursday’s deliberations, a special meeting of the full council is to take place behind closed doors at 10am on Wednesday in Lerwick Town Hall. Mr Millar will present his findings to councillors, who will then decide what action – if any – to take.
Mr Clark has been on holiday since the allegations first surfaced nearly a month ago. It followed an initial investigation by three councillors, Jim Budge, Rick Nickerson and Allan Wishart, the day after Dr Wills made the allegations in an email to all his fellow elected members. They ruled that the available evidence lacked clarity and that further examination was necessary.
After some initial confusion, it was also confirmed that an investigation into a complaint over Mr Clark drinking in his office at the top of Lerwick Town Hall during work time was dismissed. He said he had been having a celebratory drink with former work associate Andrew Laidler after the latter had completed his independent study into the siting of the new Anderson High School.
Dr Wills said he did not want to make any comment until the investigation had run its course, while this newspaper has been unable to contact Mr Clark for the last three weeks.
Privately, a number of councillors were this week very sceptical as to what the investigation would be able to uncover because it is just one man’s word against another’s. One told The Shetland Times they felt the whole thing was a “complete and utter waste of time” and the sooner the council could get on with the business of sorting out budgets and capital programmes instead of focusing on “petty” personality clashes the better.
Another said he was annoyed that the chief executive had been “tried and convicted” publicly before his guilt or innocence had been determined. He was concerned the whole affair had done nothing other than to drag Shetland’s name into the mud in the eyes of other local authorities. He was also worried it could have negative repercussions for the budgetary settlement which the SIC receives from the Scottish Government later this year.
Whether Mr Clark’s reputation can fully recover, particularly in the wake of the damage caused by the fall-out from his decision to demote assistant chief executive Willie Shannon, remains to be seen. Mr Shannon’s position is still to be resolved, which SIC convener Sandy Cluness said he hoped would be done “as soon as possible”.
One councillor suggested there seemed to be something of a split between those who retained confidence in Mr Clark and those who did not. But several told this newspaper they both believed and hoped that Mr Clark would survive the debacle.
There has been a constant stream of rumours and gossip about the 43-year-old’s private life, which has intensified in recent weeks, but another councillor said he “couldn’t give a damn” what Mr Clark did outside of the town hall as long as it did not affect his ability to do the job.