Wills calls on ‘incompetent’ council leadership to resign over Clark payoff

Convener Sandy Cluness and vice-convener Josie Simpson confront the protesters. Click on image to enlarge.
Convener Sandy Cluness and vice-convener Josie Simpson confront the protesters. Click on image to enlarge.

The councillor who has been most vocal in criticising David Clark has accused convener Sandy Cluness and his vice-convener Josie Simpson of “indolence and incompetence” and called on them to resign from the council over the payoff offered to the chief executive.

Jonathan Wills is the first of Shetland’s elected members to speak openly about the deal to give Mr Clark £250,000 tax-free since news of the offer, which his lawyers are still considering, was first made public on The Shetland Times website on Friday night.

His comments came as, on a cold, snowy day during working hours around 120 people staged a march from the Market Cross to the Town Hall in Lerwick in protest at the award, which according to sources may cost the council as much as £500,000 by the time tax and legal fees are factored in.

The march was organised by community councillor Kathy Greaves and retired Lerwick businessman Ian Inkster. Mr Cluness and Mr Simpson appeared on the steps of the Town Hall where they were confronted with chants and angry outbursts.

Facing cries of “Go! Go! Go!” Mr Cluness said: “We can’t discuss a personal employee with the public because it’s part of a legal process. We’ve appointed Cosla, who are the employers’ organisation for every local authority in Scotland, who have dealt with this kind of case before.”

The chief executive, who has been the subject of a series of damaging stories about his conduct since taking up the job eight months ago, had asked for £1.7 million after claiming he had been bullied and harassed and subjected to racism because he is not a Shetlander.

But following discussions between lawyers for Mr Clark and the council, brokered by Cosla chief executive Rory Mair, councillors were advised at a meeting on Friday to offer Mr Clark a quarter of a million pounds to avoid a potentially costly and damaging court battle. They accepted the advice without taking a vote. In a statement issued after the meeting Mr Cluness said he hoped a joint statement could be issued on Monday or Tuesday of this week.

Meanwhile police have reopened their investigation into allegations that Mr Clark made threatening remarks to Dr Wills in a phone call in September last year in light of new evidence. It is understood that two senior council officials are now ready to testify that they heard Mr Clark say earlier on the day in question that he intended to take Dr Wills “up a back lane and kick his f***ing teeth in”.

Dr Wills, who was not at the meeting on Friday because he is away from Shetland on holiday, said: “Why is this happening? It is happening because the convener and the vice-convener by their indolence and incompetence have left the council exposed to a massive financial liability. They should resign immediately, not only from their posts but from the council.”

He revealed that under the proposed deal with Mr Clark the council would have to withdraw complaints against him. Dr Wills said the council had not made any complaints against Mr Clark. The complaint submitted to the convener in early December was made by six individual councillors. “I am not going to withdraw my complaint against Mr Clark under any circumstances.”

Dr Wills said the council could not withdraw the complaints, only repudiate them. He said he hoped Mr Clark would now sue him so that witnesses, ie. the two council officials, could be put on oath, allowing the truth to come out.

“I do not see why the Shetland public should have to pay this money – the convener and the vice-convener should be personally surcharged for the cost.”

The protesters make their way from the Market Cross. Click on image to enlarge.
The protesters make their way from the Market Cross. Click on image to enlarge.

In a statement, Mrs Greaves and Mr Inkster said: “How often and for how long must we be shocked, outraged and aggrieved at our council’s actions, by the increasingly poor decisions being made in our name? The scandalous catalogue of errors made over the years, the waste and misuse of public money must stop now.

“Our rally today shows petitions signed by many hundreds of people in Shetland against both the payment of a huge amount of money to the outgoing chief executive, whilst at the same time the council are calling for cuts in public spending, such as tuition fees for school childrens’ music lessons.

“We feel that neither a golden handshake nor any compensation is due to the chief executive as he has not fulfilled the duties expected of him, at the same time behaving in such a way as to tarnish the reputation of Shetland.

“By the council’s leadership’s apparent lack of positive action over the past few months, we have been left exposed to ridicule whilst our reputation has suffered world-wide.

“So we ask those responsible, those accountable, the convener and vice-convener, to stand down, resign, as we Shetlanders call for a new local election.”

Speaking before the march Mrs Greaves said: “It’s going to be a difficult time for Shetland, we know that. But we are not being represented by the people who have been elected to represent us. We want to be strong and stand up for what is right.”

Calling for the council to “start again from scratch”, she added: “They should look at his [Mr Clark’s] contract, look at his job description, see if he has come up to what has been expected of him. If it was you or me, we’d be told ‘sorry, you are not living up to what was promised, and therefore please go without a penny’.”

Mr Inkster said: “This is not a witch-hunt. This is purely about the person they’ve employed and they’ve not made a good job of hiring him.”

Also on the march was Ann Thomson. She said: “I do think that what’s happening is very wrong, so I’m just showing my support. Something serious is needing to be done. Credibility is zero at the council. It couldn’t be any lower.”

Many at the protest were outraged by last week’s decision at the Full Council to introduce music tuition fees for children. One protester said: “How can they find that money? Just like that. No problem, pay him off and the youngsters are going to suffer. I’m here to represent the musicians. I am a musician. It’s not their money, it’s our money.

A second protest has been scheduled for noon on Saturday to allow many who could not attend on Monday to voice their opinions as well.

Meanwhile, Mr Mair and the council’s external legal adviser Murray McCall issued a joint statement criticising the open discussion of the deal on offer.

“There has been and continues to be a huge amount of speculation regarding Shetlands Islands Council and employment matters relating to its chief executive. We will not comment on the detail of that but one thing is absolutely certain: the detail of employment of the chief executive is not something that should be discussed in public at all.

“We were both brought in as advisers to a confidential process by Shetland Islands Council. As part of our role as advisers we both attended last Friday’s confidential council meeting. However it has happened, we are both appalled that so much information on what is a confidential matter concerning an individual’s employment has been discussed so publicly.”


Add Your Comment
  • Ashley

    • February 22nd, 2010 20:50

    Don’t tax me for my music tuition to pay him off. New council is desperately needed, so much money is wasted … and we probably don’t even know the half of their expenses wasted!

  • Iris

    • February 23rd, 2010 11:23

    Why is the SIC bothering to build the red herring called Mareel if there’s not going to be any up and coming musicians to perform in it, owing to lack of tuition?

  • Kevin Learmonth

    • February 23rd, 2010 13:01

    This current council has failed the people of Shetland. The grotesque pay-off to an official they themselves appointed and cack handed attempts to impose music tuition fees were the last straw for many people.
    The current mess councillors have presided over has to be put in context of a long list of wasteful and poorly made decisions: Whalsay ferry backtracking, school closure reviews, continuing with the Viking Energy windfarm in the face of public rejection, failure to reform the Charitable Trust, Anderson High saga.
    Consultations are carried out, but the results are just ignored.
    The council is treating the public with contempt; right, left and centre. It is not just one factor but many, which is bringing folk onto the streets.
    Despite some brave attempts, councillors have shown themselves incapable of self-reform. We don’t need a council reshuffle. We need a fresh clean start.

  • Ertie Herculson

    • February 23rd, 2010 15:51

    None of this ludicrous pantomime would ever have happened if Mr Wills hadn’t set about his single-minded and frankly disturbing campaign of sustained harassment and invasion of privacy against David Clark, aided and abetted by his old pals in the gutter press. Wills’ conduct and behaviour leaves much to be desired and is amazingly juvenile for a man of his years. Faced with such harassment, how many of us could avoid voicing a wish to damage the teeth of the person responsible?

  • Allan Pring

    • February 25th, 2010 15:46

    Is this all a bad dream?


Add Your Comment

Please note, it is the policy of The Shetland Times to publish comments and letters from named individuals only. Both forename and surname are required.

Comments are moderated. Contributors must observe normal standards of decency and tolerance for the opinions of others.

The views expressed are those of contributors and not of The Shetland Times.

The Shetland Times reserves the right to decline or remove any contribution without notice or stating reason.

Comments are limited to 200 words but please email longer articles or letters to editorial@shetlandtimes.co.uk for consideration and include a daytime telephone number and your address. If emailing information in confidence please put "Not for publication" in both the subject line and at the top of the main message.

200 words left

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Get Latest News in Your Inbox

Join the The Shetland Times mailing list to get one daily email update at midday on what's happening in Shetland.