Andrei Novikov, who quit the Center Party and is resigning as deputy mayor to take up a position on the management board of city-owned public transport company Tallinna Linnatranspordi AS (TLT), was appointed to the position via a politically nonpartisan competition, Tallinn Mayor Mihhail Kõlvart (Center) said Friday.
Kõlvart told ERR on Friday that Novikov had told him ahead of time that he intended to apply for the position of board member at TLT, and that he in turn had told Novikov that, should he be chosen, he would have to leave politics.
"I said that if you end up chosen, then that means that your political career is now over," he said. "Everyone can apply, but the principle must be taken into account that certain activities cannot be combined."
According to the mayor, Novikov had said that he had previously already given thought to challenging himself in a non-political job.
"As he is the deputy mayor for the field of transport, this field interested him, and he gained competence and experience over the years as well," he said. "When the previous board chairman [Deniss Boroditš] had to leave, [Novikov] had to handle a lot of TLT-related things, which sparked a substantive interest in the company as well."
Kõlvart said he intends to release Novikov from office as deputy mayor as requested, adding that this should happen as quickly as possible — likely next week. There are currently no likely candidates to fill the deputy mayor post, but he intends to do so sometime this month.
Novikov has served as deputy mayor of Tallinn since 2017, where he was responsible for TLT's area of activity. Until now, he was also chairman of TLT's supervisory board.
His move onto the TLT board has been loudly criticized by the Social Democrats (SDE), Center's coalition partner in the Estonian capital.
Tallinn City Council chair Jevgeni Ossinovski (SDE) said that the Center Party had not coordinated Novikov's appointment to the TLT board with them, and that the SDE is still awaiting an explanation from Center. Ossinovski called the move a gross violation of coalition culture.
Kõlvart said that they will be sure to clear the matter up with the Social Democrats, but that he thinks Ossinovski had misconstrued the situation, adding that no coordination as such should be taking place, as the position in question is not a political one.
"It seems to me as though it's quite the opposite in the big picture — we've agreed [with the Social Democrats] that one goal is the so-called depoliticizing of city-owned companies, and that should mean that the selection of executives cannot be decided by a political party or parties or by a coalition," the Tallinn mayor said. "If anyone wants to apply, then they need to do so according to general, not political, conditions. Politicians cannot decide this among themselves; that would conflict with our general principles."
He also noted that discussing Novikov's candidacy would have violated the terms of the competition as well.
"I think the fact that someone wants to leave politics and go work in another sector is normal," Kõlvart said. "What would not be normal is to stimagize them for the fact that they served in a political position and now can no longer work in some other position. If that were the case, it would be difficult to motivate experts and specialists to enter politics, if working or applying for other positions were somehow restricted afterward."
Involved in scandal that took down previous board
On May 18, investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress published an expose (link in Estonian) detailing how TLT CEO Deniss Boroditš and board member Otto Popel had taken several international training trips on the City of Tallinn's dime, including the city paying for their plane tickets, hotels and per diems.
While not one of these trips has been relevant to Tallinn's public transport, Boroditš has nonetheless allowed for these bills — totaling €33,000-35,000 over two years — to be paid for out of TLT's budget, the paper said.
The city fired Boroditš and Popel that same day, with Kõlvart saying that as the two board members' behavior was unacceptable to the city government, the latter could not possibly trust the public transport company's board anymore.
"We cannot trust board members incapable of seeing limits that I believe are obvious," the mayor had said.
At the time he was fired, Boroditš was earning a monthly salary of €7,500 as CEO of TLT.
Novikov, meanwhile, told ERR at the time that he would not be resigning as deputy mayor, despite having been the one to agree to Boroditš' expenses.
In addition to serving as chair of the TLT's supervisory board at the time, the outgoing deputy mayor was likewise the city official to have concluded contracts with the two ex-board members.
Following the scandal, Tallinn city government opted to update regulations governing TLT board members' salaries and other benefits.
TLT board members' gross monthly salary has been set at €6,400, with an annual cap on training expenses equal to one month's salary and no car allowance.
Novikov will begin work on the TLT board this August. The term of the public transport company's board is set at five years.
Editor: Aili Vahtla