A little over a month ago, voters made their voices heard all across this great nation. Their message was a resounding one--- Whether it was the single party rule out of Washington DC or the Ford brothers’ ignominious defeats, the resounding message of the day was “Throw the bums out”. Voters all across America stood in line at the polls to rid this nation of the “old boy” networks that have pillaged America.
So why on earth would the Shelby County Commission consider political suicide by helping just such an “old boy” network expand its influence?
One of the names they are currently considering appointing to the state senate seat being vacated by Congressman-Elect Steve Cohen is former City Attorney Robert Spence, who just picked up a petition to actually run for the seat.
Spence is hardly a stranger to the world of “old boy” politics. After serving a whopping eleven days longer than he needed to collect a city pension, he found a means of representing the City of Memphis that was far more lucrative than civil service--- He provided it with legal representation in private practice to the tune of $310,912.44 over the span of fifteen months.
Not bad work if you can get it. The city so cash strapped that the mere mention of raises for policemen sparks a battle the likes of which is rarely seen outside Fallujah somehow managed to find enough change in the sofa to toss a former City Attorney roughly $250,000 per year to do the same job that he was doing at $97,000 per year when he had a city office.
And that’s on top of his $33,500 per year pension.
Was his legal counsel worth it? Well… He’s the City Attorney that signed off on the FedEx Forum Parking Garage deal. That’s yet another $6.3 million that his “expert” legal counsel has cost this city.
Raises for policemen? Who can afford that? It’s much more important to allow Robert Spence to double dip out of city funds while providing us with advice that’s only slightly more valuable than that which can be gleaned from the average fortune cookie. At least the fortune cookie might say “You will be tempted to buy into a scam. Don’t fall for it.”
Of course, the city is hardly his only client. He’s also represented William Thomas in a civil suit against another billboard developer. If the name William Thomas sounds familiar, then you’ve probably read about the most recent corruption scandal involving Joe Cooper, Edmund Ford, and Rickey Peete.
He doesn’t just handle civil litigation--- Spence also represented Tom Jones, who pled guilty in May 2003 to stealing over $100,000 from Shelby County through fraudulent use of the credit card that he was issued for official use only. Clearly, Spence is the go-to guy when you need an attorney that plays “inside baseball”.
Spence is certainly no stranger to statewide “old boy” politics as well. According to the guidelines set out by the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation, any law firm seeking to do business with TELC had to have been in existence for three years.
Spence’s law firm came up slightly short. And when I say “slightly”, I mean “three years". Spence & Wade PLLC came into existence the very same day they were awarded the contract.
Inevitably, incumbents of any stripe have a leg up when running for office. It is simply the nature of American politics.
The Shelby County Commission has demonstrated that they are at least considering breaking with tradition and appointing an interim state senator that actually plans to run for the office.
The idea of Spence as an interim senator would be discomforting enough if he hadn’t picked up a petition to run in the special election--- The idea of the Shelby County Commission giving him a springboard to build momentum with is simply unthinkable. We are no longer content to play the game of “old boy” politics. Period.
It’s time to send a clear and concise message to your county commissioners--- They simply cannot become accomplices in the strengthening of another corrupt political machine. Senate District 30 cannot afford the representation of Robert Spence.
Contact your commissioner here. While you’re at it, contact the city’s best newspaper here, or contact the Commercial Appeal here .
This actually came in as a comment on this post, and it's well worth reading.
Let me give you some things that you may not know...
That fee he collects from the City - that was an open ended contract he drafted before he left where the City would pay him $300 per hour for continued legal services. This somehow was approved even after the mayor sought an opinion from another law firm.He was also the one who approved the contract with the architecture firm on the Cannon Center with only a $1 million coverage on a $25 million project. The result is the City got stuck with $16 million in cost over-runs.
Two more commenters have given us things that all of us should read about Spence.
The first is from the great Bob at 55-40:
Here is some more: While he was City Attorney he was working (with an out of town private firm) on formulating the secret strategy that the City and RDC planned to use to take control of the Riverfront by eminent domain (i.e. to overturn the Overton easement). He was also negotiating presumably "at arm's length" with the RDC on their proposed development agreement with the City. Then, when he left the City attorney's office, the RDC became one of his private clients. More: One of the positions he adamantly took as RDC's new counsel was that the RDC is not subject to the TN Open Meetings law. This, in spite of RDC's previous acknowledgements that it is subject to the companion Open Records law. (Rationalize that one.) So, you can be pretty sure that he is not friendly to open government. As for the "arm's length": His wife Dorchelle was, and still is, Director of Marketing at the RDC, making something in the vicinity of 100K plus benefits. If I recall correctly, before the RDC she used to work for the Mayor.
Another commenter chose to remain nameless:
Well since we are airing his dirty laundry, let me add what I know. After a quick search of chancery court records and civil suits, he is currently representing two individuals who are sueing the Memphis City School System. He also represents Clear Channel Outdoors, Adworks, and William Thomas, all billboard companies. One case in particular involving Clear Channel was just six months after he defended the City in lawsuit filed AGAINST the City by Clear Channel. Oh, and lets not forget about RACE mfg and his diligent effort to bring MORE radioactive material to the bluffs of the MS river. Ironic considering his involvment in the RDC.
And on the next episode of "Lifestyles of the Ethically Challenged"...