The go-ahead has been given for an interim chief executive to be recruited to replace David Clark and steward the SIC through and beyond next set of elections in 2012, as councillors seek to restore public faith following what is widely regarded as one of the most damaging spells in the organisation’s history.
Elected members agreed at a meeting of the Full Council on Wednesday to instruct local government body Cosla to start the headhunting process. Following the drawing up of a shortlist, candidates will be interviewed by a panel consisting of convener Sandy Cluness and six other councillors – Florence Grains, Robert Henderson, Bill Manson, Gary Robinson, Cecil Smith and Allan Wishart.
Once the interviews have been carried out, all 22 councillors will have the opportunity to have their say on the matter before a candidate is chosen for the post, with the term of office likely to last until November 2012. There was minor disagreement among councillors as to whether the panel, or every councillor, should take part in the interview process but the matter was settled without the need for a vote.
Councillors have also agreed to suspend the existing pay scale, whereby the chief executive receives £97,000 plus allowances, in case the interim appointee costs more – though any increase on that figure would have to be reported back to the council.
Although no time period has been specified, it is understood that Cosla has already sounded out retired chief executives from some of Scotland’s other local authorities and there is an expectation that someone should be able to be appointed prior to this summer’s council recess.
During Wednesday’s meeting in Lerwick Town Hall, every councillor accepted the sentiments of North Mainland councillor Alastair Cooper, who felt the “rocky road” of recent months necessitated some stability rather than to “parachute somebody in and out again”. It was agreed that the interim appointment needed to at least encompass the remainder of the present council term, with the new face staying in charge until six months after the next set of council elections in 2012.
There was also uniform agreement with additional criteria put forward by Jonathan Wills, who posited that it would be desirable for candidates to have past experience as chief executive of a local authority, to have achieved a “best value” audit, to have experience working with independent – rather than party political – councillors and “an affinity with islands”.
The Lerwick South member was one of those who wanted all 22 councillors to take part in the interview process – as was the case when Mr Clark was appointed last spring. But Shetland Central councillor Betty Fullerton was adamant that having such a large number of people carrying out interviews was a “daunting process” and would not deliver the best results.
Mr Wishart shared Mrs Fullerton’s view, adding that he believed a smaller group put more pressure on individual members to get the decision right and made it easier to pursue lines of questioning with prospective candidates. Dr Wills acquiesced to having a panel of the convener and six other councillors provided that they would then make a recommendation to the full body of elected members before any final decision was taken.