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A CALL for councillor Florence Grains to resign from her post as chairwoman of the Shetland Islands Council’s audit and scrutiny committee was rejected by the veteran councillor.
It emerged at Monday’s committee meeting that councillor Grains had been instrumental in overruling a committee decision in November to have details of the settlement between former chief executive Dave Clark and the SIC revealed to councillors for the first time.
In a heated and personal exchange, rarely witnessed in the council chamber, councillors Gary Robinson and Dr Wills accused Mrs Grains of degrading the role of the audit and scrutiny committee.
In response, councillors Caroline Miller and Laura Baisley accused Dr Wills and Mr Robinson of misusing the committee to run “their own personal propaganda”.
On 15 November the committee voted by four votes to three to call for councillors to be told the details of the Clark settlemen, which had been negotiated on their behalf by the council’s and the former chief executive’s lawyers in February 2010.
Mr Clark left with a golden good-bye of around £285,000 after just nine months in the post. His tenure was characterised by controversy and a breakdown of working relationships within the local authority.
On Monday it emerged that during the private part of a meeting of the full council on 8 December, the audit committee’s vote was overturned at Mrs Grains’ instigation.
Mrs Grains said she had acted on advice from council lawyers and would not consider her position.
“I had legal advice on the issue, along with the other two members. When the recommendation came up to the council I was prepared to move that we would accept the legal advice,” she said.
Mr Robinson said he accepted that a committee chairman had the right to go against a committee decision, even though it was not the usual practice, but described her conduct as “deplorable”.
“I am seriously disappointed with what has happened here, because this committee is the council’s own watchdog. But under Florence Grains’ chairmanship it appears to be its poodle,” he said.
“With the events of the last 18 months it is a poor reflection that this committee just speaks about duvet days and yellow vans. There are surely much more pressing and more important things this committee should look at.”
In a separate matter, councillor Wills has demanded clarification about whether the use of £3,500 of council money paid in legal fees to report him to the Standards Commission in October 2009 was to be investigated internally.
Chief executive Alistair Buchan told Dr Wills that he wanted to wait for the outcome of a Standards Commission investigation into council convener Sandy Cluness and vice convener Josie Simpson before considering how to deal with the issue of how the £3,500 for legal fees had been authorised.
But councillors Miller and Baisley accused councillor Wills of running a personal vendetta. Ms Baisley said: “This is not the appropriate body to pursue personal vendettas.”
Shouting at each other, councillor Wills asked for an apology through chairwoman Grains.
At one stage chief executive Buchan recommended adjourning the meeting, but that was not taken up Mrs Grains.
Councillor Baisley then apologised and Councillor Wills accepted. Mrs Grains regained control of the meeting, and councillors moved on to the next item on the agenda.
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