Hobbs, N.M. -- The Hobbs City Commission met in closed session on June 8, June 29 and June 30 to review City Manager J.J. Murphy’s annual performance evaluation – his third – as well as his contract, which has been revised more times than years he has served as city manager. Before the commission amends his contract yet again, I think reviewing his contract’s chronology in total is importantly informative.
With guidance from outgoing City Manager Eric Honeyfield, Hobbs city commissioners voted unanimously at their regular April 2, 2012, meeting that minimum qualifications of the next city manager would be:
The commission also approved a minimum starting pay of $130,000 plus benefits.
About six weeks later, the City of Hobbs announced four finalists from a field of about 55 applicants. Within days, however, the city’s top pick, an assistant city manager from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and former city manager of Snyder, Texas, declined the city’s offer. The city scrapped its other finalists and announced it was starting over with its search.
After reducing the minimum qualifications and raising the minimum starting salary to $135,000 plus benefits, out of the second search the city commission unanimously voted to select Murphy following a motion by Commissioner John Boyd and a second by Commissioner Joe Calderon.
Murphy’s résumé says he worked for the City of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., from 2002 to 2010, serving as city administrator from 2004. It also says he worked as a special assistant to the mayor from 1996-1997. Murphy’s website, jjmurphycitymanager.com, says he worked as an intern for that city during his senior year of college.
Upon his hiring on Aug. 23, 2012, it was announced that he would receive a salary of $140,000, but Murphy went much further, negotiating an initial contract that was remarkable in its scope for a new manager. To wit, Murphy’s initial contract provided:
Before Murphy’s first work anniversary, he began seeking better terms for his five-year contract. The commission amended his contract without discussion, approving the changes he proposed without debate or public input by placing the matter on the consent agenda, where routine items are supposed to be decided in one fell swoop.
Then, when his first anniversary did arrive, Murphy boldly doubled-down to improve his contract terms even further.
After his second anniversary passed, it was time again for Murphy to bring up that his contract lacked a perk. Once again, the commission didn’t blink.
The Wilkes-Barre Times Leader reported that when Murphy assumed the role of Wilkes-Barre’s city administrator in 2004, his salary was $66,000. When he left the City of Wilkes-Barre in 2010, his salary was $81,120. Some might say you can’t blame Murphy for asking for and taking as much as he can get from the City of Hobbs, since it is ultimately our commissioners who consented to these princely benefits, but the audacity that underlies each revision is truly stunning.
We can only imagine what else Murphy believes he’s entitled to and has asked the commission to rubber-stamp through this latest contract review. What’s next? Since the Lea County commission agreed to an automatic three-year extension to Lea County manager Mike Gallagher’s new $185,000, five-year contract, I have my money on Murphy not being outdone. Either way, the taxpayers will pay the price.
Jeanie Coates is a Hobbs resident and conservative activist focusing on property rights, government accountability, election integrity and government transparency.