Tearman Spencer Adds Media To List Of Those Inhibiting Him
Conditions at City Attorney's office would improve if media quit "erroneously" reporting on them says City Attorney.
City Attorney Tearman Spencer has a growing list of reasons his office is seeing sustained staff turnover.
The reasons include: loyalty to longtime City Attorney Grant Langley, who Spencer defeated in April 2020, the pandemic, harassment by the media, a lack of support from the Common Council and low pay.
“At times it might appear we’re at odds, but believe me, that’s not the case,” said Spencer to the media.
He said he was extending an “olive branch” and then spent the next 15 minutes attacking Alderman Michael Murphy, who Spencer said is “continually festering a toxic environment,” and the media, for conducting sustained “tabloid” style coverage.
“I’m new here. How could I have created all of these problems?” asked Spencer, who is more than a third of the way through his four-year term.
The attorney was subject to a harassment investigation that only ended when it was found the city anti-harassment policy doesn’t apply to elected officials (despite Spencer’s publicly refuted assertion that he was exonerated) and now, a series of employees that Spencer hired, including a top deputy, have left.
“Now we are getting new staff. But if we constantly get media saying ‘toxic this, toxic that,’ people don’t want to be in that environment,” said Spencer.
But he declined to answer questions about individual employees Friday.
“Let’s just be about the facts and the truth and transparency,” said Spencer.
A series of resignation forms submitted to the Department of Employee Relations don’t support Spencer’s reasons for why people are leaving. One explicitly affirms the media’s reporting or another blames “inexperienced upper management” for “ethical violations.” Only three of the 15 cite pay as an issue, and one of those also notes an issue with the “current atmosphere” of the office. Assistant city attorneys are paid between $58,462 and $108,439 per year.
“Their reporting has been very questionable in my estimation,” said Spencer. “Almost borderline whether or not it can be subject to journalist ethical concerns.” He later singled out Bice as not having a “very clean background” (without any evidence) in response to the newspaper’s inquiries into the quality of new candidates.
“We had a report from the Journal Sentinel that quality of life issues and others are being affected, totally untrue,” said Spencer. Except that wasn’t the opinion of the Journal Sentinel, it came from Spencer’s coworker, Commissioner of the Department of Neighborhood Services Erica Roberts.
Spencer has now assigned one of his four deputies to directly support the department. But Murphy expressed frustration Thursday that action only came after the issues became public.
On Thursday, the finance committee endorsed a budget amendment that would strip one vacant position from Spencer’s office and create a special attorney position for the council, similar to what the Department of City Development had done earlier this year.
How many vacancies are there?
The City Attorney called the press conference to discuss concerns “related to departmental staffing,” but couldn’t identify the specific number of vacancies his office currently has from an authorized roster of 35 assistant city attorneys. “Two to three” openings he said, with a couple new hires.
Spencer did promise to produce a report card in one-on-one interviews with any outlet that requested one, except the Journal Sentinel. “You will see some of the good policies and progress versus what has been erroneously reported,” he said after explicitly asking Urban Milwaukee to request an interview.
Urban Milwaukee requested an interview, but by the time of publication has not received a response.
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Read more about Turmoil at the City Attorney's Office here