St. John's mayor to take charge of Public Utilities Board

Andy Wells, the often outspoken mayor of St. John's, will take charge of Newfoundland and Labrador's Public Utilities Board, the premier's office said Thursday.

May stay in top city post for several more months, Wells says

Andy Wells, the often outspoken mayor of St. John's, will take charge of Newfoundland and Labrador's Public Utilities Board, the premier's office said Thursday.

St. John's Mayor Andy Wells will head the Public Utilities Board, Premier Danny Williams said Thursday. ((CBC))

But Wells, who will take over as chair and chief executive officer on March 1, wants to hang on as mayor for another eight months, arguing that a byelection would cost taxpayers too much money.

"That's the question that we've got to try and resolve in the next while," Wells said Thursday.

Under the City of St. John's Act, a byelection is mandatory if the mayor resigns the post more than 12 months before the next scheduled election. The next civic election is in September 2009.

Wells said a byelection, which could not be held until June if he resigns the mayor's chair in March, would cost between $450,000 and $500,000.

"If I can save the citizens of St. John's a half-million bucks, you know, I will, but I'm not going to do it if people are saying, 'No, boy, go — we gotta be rid of ye,'" Wells said in an interview.

Premier Danny Williams announced Wells's appointment in a statement. The premier's office said it considered the PUB job to be a full-time appointment.

Wells said he also considers both jobs to be full-time, but thinks he can cover both, particularly during the summer months, when the city council agenda slows down.

"You'd be busy," Wells said. "There's more than eight hours in a day … so you would have to do some juggling or balancing."

The PUB appointment, which Wells says will pay about $170,000 per year, brings him back to a regulatory body with which he had a often tempestuous relationship.

Wells sat as a full-time commissioner, responsible for consumer interests, on the PUB for almost five years, but lost his position in 1990 when the house of assembly, during the Clyde Wells Liberal government, passed legislation that abolished his position.

Wells was often a thorn in the side of utilities such as Newfoundland Power and the former Newfoundland Telephone company, now part of Aliant.

Wells considered himself fired and took a lawsuit all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which in 1999 ruled that he was entitled to $175,000 in compensation and pension benefits.

Long municipal career

The St. John's mayor, though, is best known for his lengthy municipal career. First elected as a ward councillor in 1977, Wells, a former union negotiator, was first known as an advocate for downtown residents and frequently challenged former mayors John Murphy and Shannie Duff.

Wells has served as mayor since 1997.

A former opponent to Williams — who backed St. John's lawyer and former New Democratic Party leader Jack Harris in a mayoralty race — Wells has become an ally and strong supporter of the premier's agenda.

In 2006, Williams fought but ultimately lost to have Wells appointed as head of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, which regulates the offshore oil industry. Wells was later appointed as a CNLOPB member. 

Williams heaped praise on Wells in a statement announcing the appointment.

"The commitment, dedication and strong experience he will bring to the position will be invaluable assets in that role," Williams said.

Wells succeeds veteran public servant Bob Noseworthy at the PUB. Noseworthy had planned to retire in November 2006, but stayed on until a replacement was found, the government said in a release.