The SIC has reported Jonathan Wills to the Standards Commission for an alleged breach of the councillors’ Code of Conduct, having considered the statement he made last week after chief executive David Clark was cleared of threatening him with violence in a phone call.
Last Wednesday the council ruled that there was not enough evidence to prove that Mr Clark had verbally abused Dr Wills in the call made in early September. Within minutes of that decision, the councillor released a statement to all three media outlets in the isles.
Dr Wills insisted he had been threatened and that he was not a liar. He called into question the way the investigation had been carried out and went on to list detailed criticisms of some of Mr Clark’s behaviour since he took up his post in June this year.
A bulletin released to council staff on Tuesday confirmed that Dr Wills had been referred to the commission because the SIC’s leadership believed he had not abided by the councillors’ Code of Conduct.
The bulletin, signed by Mr Clark, deputy chief executive Hazel Sutherland, head of legal Jan Riise, convener Sandy Cluness and vice-convener Josie Simpson, stated: “On this occasion, there is evidence to suggest that a member has not upheld those standards. It was therefore felt important that this not be ignored and that the situation be put in front of the relevant body so that they can consider the facts of the matter.”
Dr Wills responded by saying he was “unsurprised” but was relishing the investigation, which would be an opportunity to “bring a lot of things out in the public arena”, adding that he regarded the entire process as public and, as such, would not be observing any request for confidentiality.
He said it was his belief that both Mr Cluness and Mr Simpson were “out of control” and were not fit for public office, especially in light of the deletion of the post of council assistant chief executive Willie Shannon.
“It’s interesting that I get investigated, but the convener doesn’t get investigated for approving the illegal and improper removal of the assistant chief executive. I think what has been done to Mr Shannon over the past eight weeks is a complete scandal, a failure of political leadership and a failure of governance.
“I look forward to telling the Standards Commission the true state of this shambolic, leaderless council, and then hopefully the truth will come out – which it certainly did not during their kangaroo court investigation.”
In a media briefing on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Clark said the SIC had taken legal advice which was “very detailed and specific” but that it would not be appropriate to share that detail at this stage. He said the action was being taken to protect council staff.
The Standards Commission for Scotland is tasked with maintaining high ethical standards in public life by promoting and enforcing the councillors’ Code of Conduct.
The matter is being reported to the chief investigating officer, whose office is a separate legal body, who will investigate the case before deciding whether to report the matter to the commission.
If the officer rules there has been a breach of the code, the commission will then have to decide whether to hold a hearing into the matter. Should Dr Wills be found guilty, sanctions open to the commission include censure, suspension or disqualification for a period of up to five years.
Asked whether he believed this was the wisest course of action as the council seeks to move on from the damaging spat which has dominated the political agenda and discussion in the wider community in recent weeks, Mr Clark said: “We in the council are determined to move on and the fact that certain actions took place last week meant there was an issue to be dealt with. It’s been dealt with in order to facilitate us moving forward.
“The council has been through a process which is now closed. I am getting back to business as normal with my executive team, driving forward the initiatives that we got up and running over the summer.
“As soon as [Dr Wills’] statement was made, it became an issue and a story. In terms of our responsibilities to our employees, we have a duty of care, therefore there was action that had to be taken. It’s not our choice that this situation has arisen.”
In June, Mr Clark leapt to the defence of head of planning Iain McDiarmid, who had been the subject of criticism from Dr Wills over the handling of a planning application to build the new Anderson High School at the Knab.
During Tuesday’s briefing, Mr Clark alluded to the fact that “there has been a repeat of a similar episode …” before being cut off by executive director of infrastructure Gordon Greenhill. He said: “We can’t talk about that I’m sorry. It says quite clearly in that last paragraph [of the staff bulletin], so stop right there.”
The Shetland Times has been unable to contact Mr Cluness, who has yet to speak publicly on the matter having been unwell last week.