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.”
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.”