Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer has replaced the city's top lawyer with an assistant city attorney who has been working for her administration for less than a year.

Longtime City Attorney Paul G. Goetzke will become a special counselor to the mayor on public safety issues, and fellow lawyer Shaem C. Spencer will become acting city attorney, Moyer said.

Moyer said she made the decision late last week after attending a meeting about the city's preparedness for a terrorist attack.

"It's daunting," she said. "On the heels of that meeting it was clear to me that we need to do some things differently."

The city attorney, who customarily sits beside the mayor at City Council meetings, is responsible for handling the city's legal affairs, both in court and in the council chambers. The attorney often drafts legislation for the council and provides the mayor with legal advice.

City officials acknowledged the change after The Washington Post obtained a confidential memo revealing Moyer's decision.

"Issues surrounding emergency management reveal that we are woefully unprepared legally should we be involved in a terrorist action," said the memo, signed by Moyer and dated Feb. 18. "Therefore, I am asking Paul to serve as a Special Counselor to the Mayor to resolve a host of public safety issues."

The memo went on to say: "I am also asking Paul to shift City matters to Shaem, who will serve [as] Acting City Attorney during this time as we work to pull our Public Safety/Emergency Management house in order."

The replacement of Goetzke is the most delicate personnel matter that Moyer has faced during her time in office. Goetzke, 42, grew up in Annapolis and received an outpouring of community support after a diving accident in August 2000 left him a quadriplegic. Among his many friends is House Speaker Michael E. Busch, his former high school football coach. Goetzke was hired as city attorney in 1993.

"Nothing that Mrs. Moyer does surprises me," said Randy Landis, a longtime friend of Goetzke's. "I don't think she wanted to have someone who was candid with her. . . . I think she needed to have another yes-man."

Goetzke's response to the move was "mixed," Moyer said. "I think he was excited about picking up the new responsibilities. I think he probably didn't want to let go of some of the others. In my mind I didn't see how you could do it all."

Goetzke did not return calls requesting comment.

Moyer stressed that the move was not a personal attack on Goetzke. "I've relied on his judgment," Moyer said. "He's good at what he does, and I think he's the best person to handle some of the new challenges that we've had."

When the mayor took office in December 2001 there was speculation that Goetzke, a political conservative appointed in 1993 by Democratic Mayor Al Hopkins, would be replaced by the left-leaning Moyer.

But Moyer did not make the move immediately. Instead, she created the position of Special Counsel for Spencer, an assistant city attorney, in May 2002. City officials privately acknowledged that Spencer was being groomed to eventually take Goetzke's place.

Spencer, 30, was not at work due to the weekend's snowstorm and could not be reached for comment. He is expected to take his new post at the next City Council meeting, scheduled for Monday.