FORMER Shetland Islands Council chief executive Dave Clark did say that councillor Jonathan Wills deserved to have his teeth kicked in, according to a Standards Commission report published on Thursday.
He also treated his deputy with “disrespect” by drinking champagne in his office with a consultant when he had an appointment to meet with her, the report says.
The watchdog cleared Dr Wills of breaching the councillor’s code of conduct after a seven month investigation into a complaint brought by SIC convener Sandy Cluness, vice convener Josie Simpson, Mr Clark, acting chief executive Hazel Sutherland and monitoring officer Jan Riise.
They complained that Dr Wills had made public his criticism of an investigation into his allegations that Mr Clark had called him on 9 September last year and threatened to “kick his fucking teeth in”.
In his letter of 14 October published in Shetland News, Dr Wills also criticised several other aspects of Mr Clark’s performance since joining the council on 1 June. He was paid off in February with a tax free lump sum of £250,000.
Exonerating Dr Wills, chief investigating officer Stuart Allan says he shares his concerns about the way the inquiry was handled, saying that it did not deploy “the rigours and disciplines inherent in an adversarial hearing”.
The report states that the investigating committee should have looked into evidence of a meeting involving Mr Clark, Ms Sutherland and executive director Gordon Greenhill on the morning of 9 September.
Mr Clark told the Standards Commission that he had been agitated about Dr Wills and suspected him of “leaking information to the press…generating unrest about (Mr Clark’s) workplace performance…and generally obstinately and unreasonably refusing to accept properly made corporate decisions”.
The report continues: “(Mr Clark) was turning over in his mind how he might address this difficulty. As part of that process he thought he might have said something like – ‘If this was the West of Scotland he (Dr Wills) might have been taken up a lane and had his teeth kicked in, but it’s not, it’s Shetland’.
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“According to (Mr Greenhill) during the discussion the Chief Executive said that ‘he would like to take him up a back lane and kick (Dr Wills’) fucking teeth in’ or something very like it.”
It goes on to say that Mr Greenhill informed the chief executive, as well as the convener and the vice convener of the reporting committee – understood to be councillors Allan Wishart and Iris Hawkins – that he intended to “truthfully relate” this information, however he was never given the opportunity during the full hearing.
The investigator said the hearing was poorly handled with no opening statement on behalf of the council, no witnesses led in any recognised sense of the word, no cross examination undertaken or summing up made on behalf of the council.
The chief investigator goes on to say that Mr Clark did not have the delegated authority to delete the post of assistant chief executive Willie Shannon, who had been a reserve candidate for the chief executive’s post. The move caused an outcry locally and wide publicity.
“Even if he had (the authority), by approaching the sensitive matter of an officer who had recently been a strong candidate for the post of Chief Executive in a peremptory fashion, he courted the controversy which followed,” the report states.
It also said it was “unsurprising” that Dr Wills had gone to the press with his criticism’s of Mr Clark’s report into the review of plans for a £50 million Anderson High School, as he had received no “definitive corporate response” to his criticisms.
He had also been justified in criticising the publication of private letters in Mr Clarks’ report. That had led to the council admitting “maladministration” and the convener writing an apology to the correspondents.
Criticism of the way Mr Clark had appointed a former business associate, Andrew Laidler, as the consultant to carry out the Anderson High School review was also “foreseeable” bearing in mind the chief executive did not appear to have the authority to make the appointment and there had been a “retrospective attempt” to justify the payment of fees above the de minimis sum of £10,000.
The report also reveals that Ms Sutherland, who was then depute chief executive and executive director of education, considered Mr Clark to have been “disrespectful” when he shared a bottle of champagne in his office with Mr Laidler following the council’s final decision on where to build the new school.
When she heard that Mr Clark was drinking with Mr Laidler, she had considered it “not worth” attending the meeting with him.
The chief executive later apologised for the drinking to the initial investigating committee that looked into Dr Wills’ allegations, and claimed that he had been on holiday at the time.
The chief investigator states: “I considered it to have been unwise of the Chief Executive to have laid himself open to the criticism of over relaxing on Council premises.”
However the report says that Dr Wills should not have said that pressure had been placed on planning staff to “ignore objections and meet unreasonable deadlines” with the Anderson High School plans.
“In my view the comments of (Dr Wills), even if made at a point in time when his involvement in, and dedication to the campaign surrounding the Anderson High School project may have clouded his judgment, were extremely unwise,” Mr Allan says.
“Taking into account the circumstances above, however, and in particular that a wider latitude must be allowed to elected members in matters of public controversy, I concluded – but only just – that in this instance the respondent had not breached the Code.”
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