MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee’s Office of the City Attorney has been at the center of controversy for months. Tearman Spencer spoke out Friday about the high turnover in his office, and turmoil in the form of complaints and allegations of sexual harassment.
Spencer, who was elected in April of 2020, says he’s being unfairly targeted as the “new person” in the role. He called a press conference at Milwaukee City Hall Friday morning, with little notice or information given beforehand.
During that press conference, and in a conversation with TMJ4 after, he said he isn’t being treated fairly by the media.
“Let’s just stick to the facts and move forward,” Spencer said.
He also criticized Milwaukee aldermen.
“You are the ones making things toxic,” Spencer said.
In particular, he called out Alderman Mike Murphy, the Chair of the Finance and Personnel Committee, which oversees allocating money to city departments.
“I’ve requested more money for staffing,” Spencer said. “The city has not been paying people. There have been no raises. I’m dealing with it right now, trying to fill positions. Several folks have been voicing concerns over not having been given a raise in five to seven years. This is prior to my tenure, but I must deal with it. I inherit it.”
Spencer has seen more than 20 employees leave the Office of City Attorney since he took over about 18 months ago. That has contributed to an already substantial backlog of cases. One of those former employees accuses Spencer of sexual harassment, which he denies.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the merit in that,” Spencer said. “What’s new here? Me, taking over for someone else who had been in the role for a long time. So, now all these other diversions have come up. Why? Because the rumor was, they figured they’d have me out of here in six months. It did not work. Sure, we had some people who left because they didn’t want new leadership or change. That’s fine.”
Spencer says he’s hired two new attorneys this past week but doesn’t know the exact number of positions left to fill.
He says he’s working to create positive change in the city attorney’s office, like making sure more than one attorney follows each case, to prevent backlogs.
“The bottom line is I’m here and I’m not running anywhere,” Spencer said. “We’re going to make the changes that people voted for. We are going to do it.”
Alderman Mike Murphy responded to Spencer’s comments Friday. Murphy says he has an obligation to hold city officials, like Spencer, accountable.
“There are some substantial issues in terms of how the office is being conducted,” Murphy said. “We’ve had some serious complaints raised by a number of women. There’s been evidence that’s been found to substantiate them by our own Employee Relations Office, and you can’t dismiss that. The city attorney is an extremely important office. It has a very direct impact in terms of our liabilities, and our lawsuits involving millions of dollars. If you don’t have competent staff there, it can result in serious harm to taxpayers of the city.”