The reign of David Clark as controversial chief executive for Shetland Islands Council appears to be over following a high level meeting at the Town Hall yesterday, although the SIC may have to pay him off with a six-figure sum to help sweeten his departure from office.
Moves have been afoot to have Mr Clark removed from his £100,000 a year role for several months since a string of damaging stories surrounding the 44-year-old began to emerge.
The lengthy meeting held in private yesterday gave councillors and officials the chance to discuss Mr Clark’s case with Cosla chief executive Rory Mair, who had been brought in to advise the SIC on what options it could take.
Members stayed resolutely tight-lipped as they spilled out of the chamber, unanimously refusing to comment on any progress made during the meeting.
Options open to the council range from disciplinary action, voluntary severance, resignation or a negotiated settlement.
It is likely that Mr Clark, who only took up the job last summer, may want to haggle for an attractive severance package drawn from public funds to help him on his way. He is currently on extended holiday leave and has organised legal representation to help determine a positive outcome for his future.
A statement earlier this week said the council had received representation from Mr Clark’s legal team in response to “recent events”, although it declined to comment on exactly what was behind the move to get lawyers involved.
The statement added that Mr Clark had been granted leave “whilst these issues are being resolved”.
Mr Clark declined to comment further when contacted by The Shetland Times. His lawyers have been employed from Edinburgh-based firm Morton Fraser – the same company, interestingly, which acted for Judane in its recent dispute with the council.
Despite the refusal from councillors to speak about the matter, a final decision on Mr Clark’s future was unlikely to emerge at this stage. Instead the meeting was designed to clear a pathway for any future negotiations.
Nevertheless all signs from the Town Hall this week seemed to show no way back for Mr Clark, with officials already planning for a future without the 44-year-old in post.
The move comes after a difficult period for the council since Mr Clark took the job on from former chief executive Morgan Goodlad, who announced plans to resign last February.
Mr Clark, who started his job last June, was seen as a suitable candidate for the role as the SIC’s top official, not least because of his good pedigree.
His father was the council’s first chief executive, Ian Clark, who was credited with negotiating Shetland’s oil wealth at the birth of the Sullom Voe era in the 1970s.
Mr Clark, who had travelled to Shetland to take his first public sector role, warmed to the task when he took up the job last June.
However, he was only three months into the role when he was forced to take an unscheduled break over allegations he had threatened councillor Jonathan Wills with violence – although an investigation found no proof to substantiate the claim.
By then the chief executive had already caused a row when he “deleted” the post of assistant chief executive Willie Shannon in August as part of a proposed restructuring programme for the council. Mr Shannon had held the position since its creation by Mr Goodlad.
At the time Mr Shannon was given the option of two alternative roles or a redundancy package. Trade union Unison was up in arms over the move, while councillors such as Dr Wills, Allison Duncan and Gary Robinson criticised the fact Mr Shannon had been given no warning his job was in danger.
He was eventually invited back to his desk with a new remit to undertake strategic projects in December following a motion by SIC convener Sandy Cluness at a Full Council meeting.
Mr Clark welcomed that at the time, but there is little doubt the early experience proved to be damaging.
Questions were also asked over Mr Clark’s appointment of former business associate Andrew Laidler to conduct a review of the £49 million Anderson High School project, although Mr Clark maintained he had the backing of senior councillors.
Mr Laidler’s findings revealed shifting the Anderson High School from the previously proposed Knab site could add between £6-10 million to the existing price tag, but the new site at the Clickimin was superior in every other area.
Mr Clark also courted controversy when he was found drinking in his office, although he claimed to have been off duty at the time and was enjoying a celebratory drink with Mr Laidler following the completion of the high school review.
In December six councillors submitted a complaint about Mr Clark’s performance and the Accounts Commission announced it would investigate the authority.
Mr Clark’s reputation was not helped by sensational coverage concerning his private life which featured in The Sun newspaper a fortnight ago.