Under pressure, city clerk will exit

Published May 23, 2007

The City Council accepted the resignation of City Clerk Louise Spence during a special committee meeting Tuesday.

The meeting was held to determine Spence's future. Her accountability and leadership have been the subject of concern of City Council members for a number of years.

Spence is one of three charter employees in the city, including the city manager and attorney, who serve at the will of the council.

Her dismissal was brought up for discussion at the end of a regular council meeting by Vice Mayor Ted Phillips, but Mayor Michael Yakes decided it should be the topic of a special meeting out of respect for Spence.

"She's my friend. It's one of those situations of difficulty for me," Yakes said.

Phillips offered a number of examples of what he called Spence's incompetence, including misplacing documents and failing to update him on hotel reservation changes.

"I've kind of been cast as the ogre in this situation," Phillips said, but reminded the council that he had helped her attain the position and previously suggested that she be given another job with the city instead of being dismissed.

"I got her the job and offered her everything under the sun. Nothing worked," he said.

A main concern of the mayor and council members was the frequency that the issue had been coming up.

In response to concerns in 2004, the city allotted almost $20,000 for a study on the clerk's responsibilities and performance by the Florida Institute of Government at USF. The study suggested clarifying duties outside the city charter and improving performance evaluations.

Spence's current salary is $60,892.

Both Yakes and the council mentioned that Spence's performance and ability to oversee the employees of the Clerk's Office had been the topic of discussion numerous times since the study.

Spence, who is in her 10th year in the position, was ultimately satisfied with the council's decision to accept her terms of resignation.

"I'm content," she said. "I just hope some of these issues can be put aside. Some of these issues are kind of petty."

Phillips said he went along with the motion to settle it but felt it was not the best option for the taxpayers of Gulfport.

"My feeling was, the best option was if she left at lunch," he said.

Spence will continue in her position until Jan. 1, when she will be eligible for retirement.

Nick Johnson can be reached at nickjohnson@sptimes.com or 893-8361.