Andy Wells suspended as chair of Public Utilities Board

The provincial government has suspended Andy Wells as chairman of the Public Utilities Board.

Former mayor of St. John's suspended with pay until 'review into recent public statements is complete'

Andy Wells says he wasn't surprised to learn of his suspension as chair of the Public Utilities Board. (Glenn Payette/CBC)

The provincial government has suspended Andy Wells as chairman of the Public Utilities Board.

Andrew Parsons, minister of justice and public safety and the province's attorney general, released a statement Monday afternoon that said Wells has been suspended with pay effective June 19 "until a review into recent public statements is complete."

The board's vice-chair, Darlene Whalen, will assume the duties of chair and chief executive officer on an interim basis, said the statement.

Wells not surprised by suspension

Wells told CBC on Monday afternoon that he wasn't surprised by the suspension, which he says stemmed from telling Coun. Danny Breen years ago — he says it was late 2011 or early 2012 — that the City of St. John's should apply for intervenor status at a hearing on Muskrat Falls. Breen has said that never happened.

"I guess the minister looked at some comments I made in the press, in the media," he said. "I guess they're deciding to do an investigation and make the determination as to whether I'm going to be out the door or not."

Wells suggested the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project is the most important public policy issue the province has ever faced.

'Damn well prepared to speak up'

"All I was trying to do in my capacity as chairman was encourage some public participation in deliberations concerning that project," he said. "I don't know how that disqualifies me from continuing in my role as chairman of the Public Utilities Board. But that's not a decision that I make."

Wells said he learned of his suspension early Monday afternoon.

"I've always taken the position that the truth is the best defence," he said. "And I can say that I'm living in a province now where, boy, there's not a heck of a lot of truth out there around. ...  There's people who know better and won't speak up, and I know better, and I'm damn well prepared to speak up on behalf of what I think is right."

Andrew Parsons, provincial justice minister and attorney general, says suspended Public Utilities Board chair Andy Wells will be given a chance to participate in a review of his public statements. (Glenn Payette/CBC)

Parsons wouldn't specify for reporters Monday afternoon which statements prompted the suspension.

"We have an ongoing investigation and review of this matter. Mr. Wells will be given an opportunity to participate and respond, and at that point we'll be prepared to make a final decision," he said.

Criticism via email and Twitter

The statement from Parsons didn't specify which public statements would be reviewed. Wells, a former mayor of St. John's, has recently criticized the current mayor and city council, sending emails — some from his PUB account — to Mayor Dennis O'Keefe and several councillors.

In the emails, Wells has questioned the city council about a $700,000 subsidy to help keep the St. John's IceCaps at Mile One, as well as severance packages to departing city employees.

To Coun. Danny Breen, Wells wrote, "You're either a nincompoop or liar. In my opinion, you are both."

Wells also recently started a Twitter account, which he has been using, in part, to slam the current council.

"Tina Turner had a great song: What's Love Got To Do With It. So what's nice got to do with it. These people are wastrels and cowards," he tweeted.

In December, discussing city salaries and closed-door meetings on the St. John's Morning Show, Wells called city council "cowards."

Following Monday's city council meeting, Coun. Jonathan Galgay declined comment other than to say, "I'm pleased that the government finally took this issue seriously."