Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

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.

By - Oct 29th, 2021 01:14 pm
City Attorney Tearman Spencer speaks at a press conference Oct. 29. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

City Attorney Tearman Spencer speaks at a press conference Oct. 29. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

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.

None of them include things within Spencer’s control. Nor, at a press conference Friday morning, would Spencer give a date when he would stop pinning issues on Langley.

“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.

And yes, “toxic and hostile work environment” has appeared in Urban Milwaukee and other outlets, but because one of Spencer’s own outgoing employees wrote it. Another employee, who lasted only eight weeks, wrote a two-page letter detailing issues with Spencer’s conduct and the office.

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.

During his press conference, Spencer took special issue with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, from which Alison Dirr and Dan Bice were in attendance.

“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.

Roberts, on Thursday, detailed to Murphy’s Finance & Personnel Committee that her department has 10 to 12 open requests for legal advice from an assistant city attorney from the “past year or so.” But, as she detailed during a budget hearing on Oct. 5., the turnover in Spencer’s office has left her without an ACA to support DNS operations.

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.

Murphy is the most vocal critic of Spencer, but he’s far from the only one. The majority of the council, in one format or another, has raised issues with Spencer.

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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Categories: City Hall, Politics

2 thoughts on “City Hall: Tearman Spencer Adds Media To List Of Those Inhibiting Him”

  1. tornado75 says:

    aren’t we sorry he got elected.

  2. Mingus says:

    Mr. Spencer was elected to do critical work for Milwaukee and not to arrogantly defend his incompetence and blame the media. He would make a good Trump Republican.

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