Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

More Turnover In City Attorney’s Office

6 attorneys recently resigned or were fired; 24 have left in less than two years. Non-attorneys also quitting.

By - Mar 9th, 2022 04:28 pm
Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Employees might need to wear name tags at the City Attorney’s Office, given the constant turnover.

Since City Attorney Tearman Spencer was elected in April 2020, his department has lost 24 attorneys, 60% of its authorized roster.

The 2022 city budget authorizes 40 attorneys in addition to Spencer: 35 assistant city attorneys, four deputies and one special deputy who serves as a chief of staff.

Spencer initially blamed the turnover issue on his replacing 36-year-incumbent Grant Langley. But employees hired by Spencer, including special deputy Kimberly Walker, have also departed. In October 2021 he added the media, Common Council and low pay as additional reasons people are leaving.

The departures are not slowing. Jeremy McKenzieHeather Hough, Gregory Kruse and Jenny Yuan all submitted their resignations in the past month. Spencer also accelerated the turnover by firing Jennifer DeMaster and Nicholas Zales, two attorneys still working under probationary status.

A report from the Department of Employee Relations indicates that nine other employees have left the department, including an assistant, paralegal, business finance officer and personnel officer. According to the 2022 budget, the department has 24 non-attorney positions.

Some exit interview forms cite an issue plaguing other city departments: a desire for a better salary or a better work/life balance.

But others are more explicit. “Toxic office and leadership environment,” wrote Christian Thomas. He also wrote a letter that accused Spencer of making a politically-motivated, retaliatory request at an employee he replaced.

“Inexperienced upper management in regards to areas of law and representation of municipal clients; ethical violations by the City Attorney, especially when it comes to Supreme Court Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys,” wrote Sheila Thobani in her May resignation.

Only five of the 24 attorneys indicated they were retiring.

A number of employees that have left the department have landed other city jobs. Mary Schanning, a supporter of Langley, took a job with the Department of City Development early last year before later becoming general counsel at Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. Naomi Gehling, who has been publicly critical of Spencer’s behavior, resigned to become chief of staff for the Fire & Police Commission. Nicole Larsen resigned for a job in Racine, but was recently appointed to serve as chief assessor by Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson.

The assistant city attorney position pays a minimum of $63,809.98 for new hires, but the office can increase that to as high as $136,395.22 based on the candidate and their experience. City residents are paid 3% more.

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Categories: City Hall, Politics, Weekly

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