Jonathan Wills is to complain to Scotland’s financial watchdog about the council’s handling of allegations that chief executive David Clark held a drinking session with surveyor Andrew Laidler in his office after completion of the review into the siting of the new Anderson High School.
The Lerwick South councillor tabled a series of questions with the council’s head of legal Jan Riise late last month about the incident on 3rd September and asked for a reply by 5pm on Monday.
He received a letter shortly after his deadline from council solicitors Anderson Strathern LLP, which he said portrayed the matter as “an internal employment issue which has been formally resolved” and questioned his right to ask about it.
Describing the letter as “pathetic” and “threatening”, Dr Wills said he now intended to write to Audit Scotland to complain about the way council convener Sandy Cluness and deputy convener Josie Simpson had dealt with the issue. “A fish rots from the head,” he exclaimed.
He will also raise the “complete shambles” of council chief executive Willie Shannon, whose job was deleted by Mr Clark. Negotiations are currently under way to find a way for Mr Shannon to return to work.
The reference in the council lawyers’ letter to the drinking issue having been dealt with relates to discussions among the three councillors convened on Thursday 10th September to hear a separate complaint from Dr Wills about the now infamous phone call he received from Mr Clark the previous evening, in which he alleged that the chief executive had threatened him with violence.
According to Mr Cluness, the trio dismissed the allegation, believing that his actions did not constitute gross misconduct.
After the appointment of an investigator from local government umbrella body Cosla, Mr Clark was also cleared over the phone call. He has admitted sharing a bottle of champagne with Mr Laidler in his office on the afternoon in question, claiming that he had taken a half day.
However Dr Wills said the convener and vice-convener had allowed a case of “gross misconduct” to be dealt with improperly and informally.
In a statement issued on Monday evening Dr Wills said the council lawyers had suggested he had “no locus” to raise questions about the drinking incident.
“My comment on this is that if a councillor cannot ask such questions there seems little point in holding council elections,” Dr Wills said.
On the issue of the nature of the drinking session, he added: “They say that if the matter were re-opened the council might be accused of not protecting the chief executive’s rights as an employee. My view, and that of most people I meet, including many council staff, is that his behaviour was indeed gross misconduct and justified summary dismissal.”
He went on: “It is clear that the convener and others involved are desperately trying to close this down. He has no intention of answering these legitimate questions and hopes to get away with sweeping everything under the carpet.
“By his feeble response to this notorious incident the convener has brought the council into public contempt and condoned an appalling example for council staff, whose boss has been let off with a tap on the wrist after breaking the council’s policy on substance abuse in council premises. Anyone else would have been suspended and probably fired.”
He said he would be taking the issues to Audit Scotland because “the council’s own system of checks and balances has clearly broken down”.
Dr Wills has also asked Mr Cluness why he, vice-convener Josie Simpson, Mr Clark, deputy chief executive Hazel Sutherland and Mr Riise referred him to the Standards Commission without consulting the Full Council. In addition, he has asked on what authority Glasgow law firm McGrigors was commissioned to draft the complaint.
The complaint, alleging a breach of the councillors’ code of conduct, followed a lengthy and critical statement issued by Dr Wills after Mr Clark was cleared by councillors over the phone call. In it, he repeated his allegation that Mr Clark had threatened to “kick his f***ing teeth in” and accused him of acting like a “foul-mouthed bully”.
Dr Wills has, however, apologised to Mr Riise for accusing him of “discourtesy” in Friday’s Shetland Times for failing to notify him that he was being reported to the commission. Dr Wills claimed attachments to the email were so large that they were routed to his laptop’s “large mail” folder which he only read last week.