A well-known advocate of state employees died in a Scott County house fire Tuesday, The State Journal has confirmed.
Charles Wells, 52, an adviser in the Personnel Cabinet and former executive director of the Kentucky Association of State Employees, died in the blaze, those close to Wells told The State Journal.
The fire started in a home on Lakeview Drive in Scott County around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, but the cause is unknown and still under investigation, according to Scott County Assistant Fire Chief James Kanavy. The Scott County coroner could not be reached for comment by press time.
Wells worked with the Personnel Cabinet’s Governor’s Employee Advisory Council after 19 years with KASE.
He was also involved with the Kentucky Democratic Party as a member of the State Central Committee and the party’s Finance Committee, according to the party’s website.
Julia Johnson, president of the American Federation of County State and Municipal Employees Union local 2259, remembered Wells as a friendly negotiator when he represented the state during recent negotiations.
“He always seemed to be willing to work with the union, willing to give a fair shake to the state employees,” Johnson said by phone today.
“… Negotiations can, just by their nature, be a little bit contentious, but he always impressed me as trying to be a voice of reason.”
Wells handled day-to-day operations and lobbied the General Assembly as KASE’s executive director.
He left KASE in 2008 to serve as a special assistant in the Personnel Cabinet, spokeswoman Crystal Pryor confirmed.
Cabinet Secretary Tim Longmeyer called Wells a "fierce defender and protector of Kentucky workers."
"Charles was dedicated to his community and the many public organizations that he served," Longmeyer said in a statement. "He was a compassionate colleague and friend to me and many others throughout his accomplished career.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife and family during this difficult time."
“I believe strongly in Gov. (Steve) Beshear’s commitment to state employees,” Wells told The State Journal in a 2008 story on his move to the cabinet.
“If I didn’t believe the administration had the best interests of state employees at heart, I wouldn’t have come to work for them.”
Wells unsuccessfully ran for state Senate in a 2003 special election and a spot on the Kentucky Retirement Systems’ board in 2010.
David Smith, KASE’s current executive director, called Wells a mentor who always kept frontline state employees’ interests above his own and could be counted on for occasional advice.
“He was absolutely a huge advocate on behalf of state workers,” Smith said by phone today. “He believed in a fair process, and that’s something that’s really rare.
“It wasn’t about what he was about. It was about what everyone was about. He put the needs of all workers, in particular state employees, into consideration and wanted everybody to look at the needs of state workers.”
Though Wells was a Democrat, politics took a back seat to issues facing state workers, especially those on the front lines, Smith said.
“He was a leader who believed in bringing together everybody for the greater good of everyone,” Smith said. “It’s a great loss to all state workers.”
Wells was born in Paintsville and graduated from Georgetown College. He lived in Georgetown with his wife, Sheila, of 30 years, according to the Kentucky Democratic Party’s website.