Councillor calls for committee chairwoman to quit as meeting boils over
A councillor has called for audit and scrutiny committee chairwoman Florence Grains to stand down from her position after a disagreement over the disclosure of details of the SIC’s settlement with former chief executive David Clark.
West Side member Gary Robinson clashed with Mrs Grains over his frustration that she had “overturned a democratic decision made by the committee” at its last meeting, calling for full details of the agreement to be put before councillors in a private setting.
It has now emerged that the decision, taken by four votes to three, was reversed during the private section of the Full Council’s meeting in December. Mrs Grains had been instrumental in doing so, seeking legal opinion which advised that councillors should not be furnished with details of the agreement.
Mr Robinson expressed his annoyance during an unusually heated session of the committee, the SIC’s first public meeting of 2011, this morning. He felt Mrs Grains had not respected the wishes of the committee. “Will you resign?” he asked, but the veteran councillor made clear she intended to do no such thing.
“I had legal advice on the issue, along with the other two members,” explained Mrs Grains. “When the recommendation came up to the council I was prepared to move that we would accept the legal advice.”
Last February Mr Clark was given a £285,000 payoff to leave the council after nine months in the post, a decision which prompted members of the public to take to the street in protest. The total cost to the public purse will not be known until the SIC completes negotiations with the taxman, but is likely to be well in excess of £400,000.
During last year’s Accounts Commission hearing, convener Sandy Cluness said he felt the leaking of a complaint about Mr Clark’s conduct in office had left the council with no option but to give the former chief executive a payoff to leave the local authority.
“The official line appears to be that we, as members, need to be protected from this agreement,” Mr Robinson said afterwards. “I don’t feel the need for protection from what is effectively the truth, and I’m acutely aware of the consequences of divulging the content. This idea that some of us might leak it is entirely bogus.”
He feels the breakdown in relationships which destabilised the council over the past 18 months has not been properly healed. He believes there has been an attempt at “truth and reconciliation without the truth bit”.
Mr Robinson said he had become “increasingly disillusioned” with the work of the audit and scrutiny committee. It was meant to act as the council’s own watchdog to help “follow the public pound”, but was behaving like “a poodle” under Mrs Grains’ stewardship. He felt there was much more for the committee to get its teeth stuck into than “duvet days and yellow vans”.
“I feel like we’re holding up a facade while skeletons are buried,” he said, adding that for those who felt past events could just be forgotten about, he had two words: “Tommy Sheridan”. After the meeting, Mr Robinson told reporters the only reason he was not considering resigning from the committee was a planned restructuring of the SIC between now and spring.
His ally Dr Wills, meanwhile, continues to feel slighted over the decision of Mr Cluness, vice-convener Josie Simpson and several senior officials to submit a complaint against him to the Standards Commission back in October 2009. For months he has been demanding clarity on whether a sum of £3,500 spent on lawyers in relation to the complaint was properly authorised.
Chief executive Alistair Buchan pointed out that a complaint was subsequently made to the Standards Commission about the roles of Mr Cluness and Mr Simpson in making the complaint, while it was not appropriate for him to discuss members’ gripes with officials in public.
Two councillors, Laura Baisley and Caroline Miller, strongly objected to the nature of questioning from Mr Robinson and Dr Wills. Mrs Miller said they were “using this committee for their own personal propaganda”. Where truth and reconciliation was concerned, she suggested it was “about time people looked to their own court”.
Mrs Baisley suggested Dr Wills was using the committee to conduct a “personal vendetta”, at which point the meeting briefly descended into an unseemly shouting match as tempers frayed and voices were raised.
“Quiet, both of you,” scolded Mrs Grains, at which point Mr Buchan suggested it might be an idea to adjourn the meeting. After Mrs Baisley rescinded her remark about a vendetta, Mrs Grains was able to regain control of proceedings.