Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Can Senate District 30 Afford Robert Spence?

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 .

***UPDATE***
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.

***UPDATE 2***
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"...

18 comments:

Steve said...

You need to fix the link on contacting the commissioners..

Freedonian said...

Actually, I needed to fix all of them. I was repairing them when you posted that comment. Blogger acts retarded anytime you actually write in HTML, and I forgot about that.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Good research. 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.

Freedonian said...

Thank you. I did not know either of those things, and I will proudly add them to the original post.

You have my gratitude.

bob said...

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.

Anonymous said...

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.

polar donkey said...

God Damn, Spence seems as crooked as a dog's back leg. Do you think the Commercial Appeal will do a story on him? Or has it been embarassed too many times by Thad and Freedonia being ahead of it on so many stories.

Freedonian said...

Thanks, PD! I wish the CA WOULD run something on this... They have at least a few more readers than we do!

Anonymous said...

Spence tries to manhandle the media. He has a lawsuit pending against Jeni Deprizio for a story that she was getting ready to run. Had a restraining order placed on her.

Anonymous said...

So, let me get this straight. Spence part of the good old boy network because he has a contract with the city that would have gone to another firm if not his. Also, aghast, he has corporate clients and does not pick them based on your arbitrary morality.

Let's look at some other recent comparisons around the State Senate seat:

Steve Cohen, not part of the good old boy network with 20-some years in state politics, and having used state senator letterhead in law cases for profit. Also, while still not part of the good old boy network, having taken advantage of an overwhelmingly white vote and split black vote to win the congressional primary. Beverly Marrero and Kevin Gallagher also not part of the good old boy network even with strong ties to Cohen that would represent the seat being passed on to his cronies. Now with a fix in presumably to pass Marrero's current seat to Gallagher should she win the State Senate seat. Marrero not even part of the good old boy (or girl) network even with she and David Upton conspiring as to which of them would run for the State Senate seat.

Shea Flinn, also, presumably, not part of a good old boy network (as he has not been discussed her in the same light as Spence). Even though he recently was appointed interim State Senator, having only worked for his father, a sitting commissioner who did not recuse himself from the vote.

Not saying Spence is a saint or even the best person for the position (although, objectively, I think most people would agree that Marrero is not the best person either), but think about the entire context before you so cavalierly throw around the "good old boy" term.

Freedonian said...

So, let me get this straight. Spence part of the good old boy network because he has a contract with the city that would have gone to another firm if not his.

Yeah, no conflict of interest there, right? Billing the city $250g per year for the same work he did at $97g per year when he was on the job?

It's pretty absurd that you're trying to draw a comparison between Marrero and Gallagher running for a state senate seat that pays peanuts to the machine politics that have helped Spence. $16,500 per year vs $250,000 per year. Saying "Help me convince voters" is a little different than "Here's a bucket of cash".

Anonymous said...

How can you be so sure that it's the same work he did as city attorney? The city attorney manages many outside firms who do work for the city. Plenty of people move from working for an organization to contracting to that same organization for an increased rate. Maybe you should do a bit more investigation to see if he has done any valid work that would not have been done by the city attorney but by an outside firm whether he was in the position or not.

As to your other comment, machine politics is machine politics. I suppose you also ascribe to the idea that someone can be a "little pregnant". Is there a money limit that should be placed on what might be inappropriate. The TN Waltz defendents got pinched for piddling amounts, should they be excused because it didn't meet your ratio ("$16,500 per year vs $250,000 per year")?

Whether it's your beloved Cohen machine or another. If you're going to rage against the machine, rage against them all not just the ones outside of your clique.

Freedonian said...

It's funny--- In the other discussion, you were throwing around the words "white" and "Republican" like they were profanity or something... Yet here you are, sticking up for a guy with business ethics only Dick Cheney could love, while simultaneously pretending that a candidate supporting another candidate is somehow the same thing.

As to your other comment, machine politics is machine politics. I suppose you also ascribe to the idea that someone can be a "little pregnant".

It's got to be all or nothing, huh? Then let me tell you that argument is a little stupid.

Anonymous said...

Come now, in the other post it was you who originally used the term "Republican" like it was profanity. I just added white. Also, I didn't throw it around like profanity, I just wrote it. You drew your own conclusions. I was only trying to say that it appears (even from Gallagher's own release) that the concern is for the vote-splitting of white voters. I'm not making a judgement call, just trying to be upfront. I think I'll save more on that response for the other post.

There are all kinds of levels at which people get government contracts and very few of them are given with no politics involved. It's not right, it just is. In the past, a preponderance of these contracts have gone to white firms (no profanity, just fact, and I won't assume that businesspeople have to be Republican). I'm sure you don't mean to say that all of these firms received the contracts without politics being involved. So, would it be better that business be continued with these firms that have gotten the work in the past? Maybe you would rather Baker, Donelson or Farris, Matthews or some other firm get the work (and the money). What I'm saying is your focus on how much Spence made from local government is misdirected. If he hadn't gotten it someone else with the right political/personal relationships would have.

Now you've got it, whether you think my argument is a little stupid or a lot stupid, you think it's stupid. Just as whether a little or a lot, the people you support are part of their own "good, old boy" network that will help them get what they want (political office). I would say their network is a bit "gooder" and "older" in that Cohen has amassed a network over 20+ years while the Herenton network Spence is involved in only goes back 15+.

I wonder what we'd find if we looked at Cohen's full attorney client list.

Freedonian said...

I was only trying to say that it appears (even from Gallagher's own release) that the concern is for the vote-splitting of white voters.

I guess if your mind automatically gravitates to race every time you're presented with a voting decision, it may look that way. If you actually pay attention to the issues though, you'd find that race was hardly the only thing they have in common.

There are all kinds of levels at which people get government contracts and very few of them are given with no politics involved. It's not right, it just is. In the past, a preponderance of these contracts have gone to white firms (no profanity, just fact, and I won't assume that businesspeople have to be Republican). I'm sure you don't mean to say that all of these firms received the contracts without politics being involved.

Does that somehow make it right?

So, would it be better that business be continued with these firms that have gotten the work in the past? Maybe you would rather Baker, Donelson or Farris, Matthews or some other firm get the work (and the money).

How much money did THEY lose the city? Did they negotiate the Garagegate deal or the Cannon Center overruns? No? The city cries poverty every time police want a raise, yet the attorney that screwed up deal after deal gets a pay raise to move out of city hall?

Just as whether a little or a lot, the people you support are part of their own "good, old boy" network that will help them get what they want (political office).

Yeah, you caught me. It's such a well organized machine that two members were set to run against one another.

I would say their network is a bit "gooder" and "older" in that Cohen has amassed a network over 20+ years while the Herenton network Spence is involved in only goes back 15+.

I wonder what we'd find if we looked at Cohen's full attorney client list.


From the sounds of it, I don't think it's a stretch to imagine you supporting someone else in the primary earlier this year. What did your oppo research turn up? What nefarious deeds did you come up with? The letterhead thing? An accident that happened one time? Is that it?

Put your money where your mouth is. I've linked to a statement on city letterhead stating how much Spence is pulling in from his arrangement with the city. Where is your smoking gun on Cohen? It sure has to be better than the blather his opponents came up with during the primary.

Anonymous said...

I'm fascinated by the comments about Robert Spence - how incredibly nasty they are and how false and twisted. If any of your commenters are adults, they should be ashamed of themselves and after that they should get some "ethics" of their own.

One of your commenters states that s/he checked Chancery Court records and found that Spence represents Clear Channel, Adworks and William Thomas. WRONG. I checked Chancery and Circuit Court on-line records myself (did you?). It appears that Spence represents Clear Channel in lawsuits filed AGAINST Adworks and William Thomas. This same person states that Spence represented Clear Channel just six months after he sued Clear Channel on behalf of the City. Now who would claim to have information like that? And who (other than Clear Channel and soap opera addicts) would care?

I learned in junior high school that telling lies about a person in an effort to harm them is the stock and trade of pond-scum. Spence may be a "public figure" but his kids aren't and his parents aren't. If yours was an ethical blog you would check-out this garbage before you post it, and you would rip down the lies and apologize to Spence instead of encouraging it by calling it "good information."

Anonymous said...

The attacks on the client list of Robert Spence is just unconscionable. Even ax murders and child molesters get lawyers. Would you deny one to bill board companies? You are twisting the facts to attempt to disparage a good and decent man. The allegations about him being the attorney responsible for over runs on the Canon Center and what you call garagegate have no bases in fact. Yes he was City Attorney at the time but placing blame for either of those episodes solely on him is unfair. He was not the ultimate decision maker in either of those instances.

Robert Spence is a man whose ethics are beyond reproach unlike some of the current office holders. He can not be bought or controlled by lobbyist offering hand outs. He has already established a successful career for himself whether he wins this race or not. What about those you support Gallagher and Morrero, what have they done? What kind of credentials do they have, and professionally what have they accomplished?

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