The embattled chairman of the Scottish Police Authority sent an “unreserved personal apology” to a former board member just over an hour before being grilled by MSPs.
Andrew Flanagan said he “greatly regretted” his treatment of Moi Ali, who has accused him of bullying and effectively forcing her out of the organisation.
But Mr Flanagan said he would not resign his own position, believing he has “got more right than wrong” during his tenure.
The SPA, which is responsible for overseeing Police Scotland’s £1 billion annual budget, has been compared to “the Kremlin” following the decision to hold meetings behind closed doors.
Its chairman was appearing before Holyrood’s justice sub committee on policing after MSPs on another committee wrote to justice minister Michael Matheson expressing “serious concerns” at the running of the organisation.
Mr Flanagan said it had been a “misjudgment” to send a letter to Ms Ali taking issue with her decision to criticise the holding of committee meetings in private.
He also confirmed an SPA U-turn on the issue, saying meetings would once again be held in public, with board papers published in advance.
He said: “I greatly regret the timing, tone and content of my initial letter to her. It was a misjudgment to send a letter rather than open up a conversation. And I bitterly regret that I was subsequently unable to allay her concerns so she could continue as a board colleague.
“She was right in raising the substantive concerns she had about transparency and perception, and she did so in a manner that was entirely consistent with her role as a public board member. I was wrong and it is important that I today set the public record straight on that. I have now written to her and offered my full and unreserved personal apology.”
Mr Flanagan said he had “reflected very seriously” on his own position, but said he had got more “right than wrong” since his appointment in September 2015.
He added: “I acknowledge my recent mistakes and you have rightly taken me to task for them. But I hope to be judged also on the significant progress achieved, and the leadership potential I still have to offer.”
Ms Ali said she had received an electronic copy of the letter at 11.38am – just over an hour before Mr Flanagan appeared before MSPs.
She said: “This letter could be seen to be a cynical move to counter the criticism he’s faced. A genuine apology does not take five months to arrive, they don’t have to be asked for. It’s just something he’s done because he’s been forced to do it. I am absolutely in no doubt that Andrew Flanagan needs to resign. This was an error of judgement but he compounded it by not rectifying it quickly and then by trying to blame me when I had done nothing wrong.
“If he doesn’t resign, then I think the justice minister needs to step in. This is not an acceptable situation for the most important public board in Scotland.”