Senior councillors have urged fellow member Jonathan Wills to draw a line under his dispute with chief executive David Clark for the sake of Shetland after his allegation that he was threatened with violence by the council’s top official was dismissed this week.
One of them, services committee chairman Gussie Angus, went so far as to describe the ongoing spat between Dr Wills and Mr Clark as a “pathetic sideshow” which was detracting from the serious business the local authority has to attend to.
As Mr Clark got back behind his desk in his Town Hall office on Wednesday after a closed meeting of the Full Council ruled in his favour, Dr Wills issued a three-page statement rejecting the entire investigation and insisting that Mr Clark has promised to “kick him in the f***ing teeth” if he did not stop meddling in his private life during a phone call five weeks ago.
Council officials have handed over Dr Wills’ statement to lawyers for advice on its content but as yet there has been no official response to Dr Wills’ remarks.
Mr Clark’s return to work was the expected outcome of a matter that boiled down to one man’s version of events against another’s. The police, who had also been asked by Dr Wills to look into his allegation, dropped their investigation soon after receiving the complaint.
Speaking in his office after learning that he had been cleared of the allegation, Mr Clark told The Shetland Times: “I’m absolutely delighted at the decision taken by the council and I’m pleased to be back at my desk doing the job I love doing. I’m very much looking forward to getting back into the swing of driving forward the various initiatives that we, as a team, have got up and running over the summer months.”
During the 80-minute meeting, the nine councillors eligible and able to be present discussed a report from a five-strong investigating panel who had looked into Dr Wills’ allegation relating to a phone call made by Mr Clark from the Great Wall restaurant in Lerwick on the evening of 9th September.
They dismissed the complaint after accepting the panel’s recommendation that there was insufficient evidence to prove that the allegation was true. The matter was not put to a vote. The SIC said the investigation had been carried out in line with procedures set out by the Scottish joint negotiating committee for chief officials.
Vice convener Josie Simpson said in a statement: “This now bring the matter to a formal conclusion. I am satisfied that the proper procedures have been followed during the past few weeks and that it has been thoroughly investigated. I now welcome Mr Clark’s return to work and his working with the council to seek to continue to deliver excellent quality services to the people of Shetland.”
Mr Simpson added: “The panel didn’t take their task lightly by any means. Mr Clark will be back in his office and it will be business as usual as far as we are concerned. [Deputy chief executive] Hazel [Sutherland] has done a fantastic job filling in while Mr Clark was on holiday. I can’t look into the future and say what will happen, but I’m hoping this is the end of it.”
Asked whether he truly thought it would be possible to draw a line under proceedings and move on, Mr Simpson said the SIC leadership would do its best to reconcile the seeminly intractable conflict but admitted he could offer no guarantees.
“It’s very damaging, but as leaders of this council we have to press ahead and deliver the business to the Shetland public that we were elected there to do, and that’s what we intend to do. If there’s somebody that’s not happy with that, we can’t help that. We’ll try everything we can to close the gap but a lot of it is maybe outside of our hands.”
Lerwick North councillor Allan Wishart said he echoed the vice convener’s remarks and the sooner the council was able to get on with its business, the better. “I do hope this whole matter can be laid to rest,” he said. “I just think it’s been a difficult period and there is so much to be done. If we look at the challenges facing the council with the high school, the Viking Energy business, dealing with Total, there are so many projects on just now.”
He said Dr Wills’ response to the ruling had not been helpful. “I’m disappointed with his comments. We havea lot of work to do: let’s get on with it and not be distracted by something that has now been dealt with in a proper manner.”
Mr Angus said all he was interested in was in providing a new high school, new care centres and extensions to rural care centres and that he wanted to see an end to the dispute.
“I’m fairly clear that the council has a massive programme of capital projects in support of the services I’m responsible for. I think that’s what the council is in business for, the rest I regard as a rather pathetic sideshow. I hope the parties involved are able to reconcile but I’m no longer willing to see council business derailed by this carry on.”
However Dr Wills described the process as “flawed” and said arrangements for conducting the hearing were “seriously deficient” and “contrary to natural justice” and could be challenged. He said he felt certain people were “making the victim feel like the accused”.
A full version of this story can be read in this week’s Shetland Times newspaper.