SPECULATION in the national press forced Shetland Islands Council Dave Clark out of his job, according to a statement issued this afternoon (Wednesday).
This morning Mr Clark and the council signed a negotiated settlement that will see the former chief executive walk away with a lump sum of around £250,000 after just eight months in the job.
The cost to the public purse of the settlement is expected to be closer to £500,000 after Mr Clark’s tax bill and legal fees are also covered by the SIC.
However the council could have had to pay much more if they had entered into an expensive legal battle over the matter, the council warned.
Council convener Sandy Cluness refused to comment on the agreement and called on his fellow councillors and the Shetland community to draw a line under the incident and get on with the council’s normal business of providing local services.
However Shetland MSP Tavish Scott called on the council to make the details of the settlement public.
And Lerwick councillor Jonathan Wills has repeated his call for Mr Cluness to resign from office.
Last Friday 18 councillors gave their unanimous backing for the settlement, which was negotiated between lawyers for both sides, the council team led by Rory Mair, chief executive of the local government umbrella group COSLA.
In a mutually agreed statement, the two parties said that the agreement was fair to both sides considering the damage to Mr Clark’s career prospects.
Mr Clark left office in late January after a national newspaper article delved into his private life.
The statement said the newspaper had made “inaccurate insinuations concerning the chief executive’s involvement in council decisions regarding a private company”, referring to the knitwear firm Judane (Shetland) Ltd, whose director Judith Miller Mr Clark is living with.
As a result “it had become virtually impossible for Mr Clark to continue in his role because of speculation about him in the national press last month”.
The statement added that the council had “considered expert evidence concerning the impact of all of this on Mr Clark’s career prospects”.
It went on: “Taking that into account, the council is confident that the settlement it has agreed with Mr Clark is a fair one for both parties.
“Whilst there may be calls from constituents for the council and Mr Clark to litigate to resolve this, constituents should understand that that process would be extremely expensive, time-consuming and very high profile.
“The potential award that could be made to Mr Clark could be considerably higher than the settlement which has been reached.”
Mr Clark has courted controversy since last August when he appointed a former business associate to carry out a consultancy contract for the authority and then joined him in a drinking party in his office at Lerwick Town Hall.
He then removed the post of assistant chief executive without full consultation and was subject to a council and a police investigation about alleged threats to kick councillor Wills in the teeth during a phone call. No evidence was found to stand up the claims.
Yesterday Mr Cluness said he could not breach the confidentiality of the agreement by discussing it, but stressed that it had the unanimous agreement of councillors last week.
He said that the council now had to prepare for an investigation by Audit Scotland, triggered by the fallout between Mr Clark and elected members, the results of which would be made public.
He said that he understood people’s anger about the settlement, following a petition and a protest march calling on Mr Clark to be sacked, but called on people to approach their local councillor to air their grievances.
“I hope that we can get on with what we should be doing. This has been a total distraction,” he said.
In the absence of Mr Clark running the council, depute chief executive Hazel Sutherland remains at the helm until the post is advertised.
Mr Cluness said the council would work with COSLA and its Improvement Service to find someone to replace Mr Clark. “I don’t think it will be difficult to find a candidate. We had 35 applicants last time,” he said.
Meanwhile councillor Wills said that the council still had to resolve 20 outstanding complaints against Mr Clark signed by six councillors, which was submitted 10 weeks ago.
In a letter to Mr Cluness, he wrote: “You will not silence me with your impertinent demands that we draw a line under this matter. What this disgraceful affair has drawn a line under is the credibility of your convenership.
“You should resign, to allow this council to make a fresh start and prepare itself for the auditors' inquiry which, hopefully, will reveal the full extent of your disastrous mismanagement of public affairs.”
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott called on the council to make the settlement public. He said: “The Shetland public deserve a full and frank explanation of exactly how the SIC has reached this decision and the cost involved. The financial hit that local taxpayers will now take is a matter of the deepest public concern and local people deserve to be told the full facts.”
Mr Clark did not respond to approaches for a comment.