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City manager cashes in on PTO law of his own creation

Hobbs, N.M. -- Hobbs is finally abuzz with talk about our city officials and their boondoggles in 2016. First, under false pretenses, proponents obtained another heaping helping of lodgers’ tax monies to shovel into the Rockwind golf course– or “Windsock,” as I affectionately call it, because of all the money just thrown to the wind on it. Now reports of this Italy trip – mamma mia!

On that note, I would like to provide your readers with an update to my research regarding the City of Hobbs ordinance that provides for annual cash payouts to employees for paid-time-off balances in excess of set caps set by the Hobbs City Commission.

In late December I shared the history of the city’s PTO ordinance, proposed by City Manager J.J. Murphy in December 2012 and passed by the city commission in January 2013, only months into the city manager’s tenure.

To make the conversion to this new system in 2013, the only one of its kind in New Mexico, the City of Hobbs paid out more than $1.4 million to employees for their accrued vacation and sick-leave balances, although "use it or lose it" is a very common practice in government regarding sick leave.

In January of 2014, 83 employees received their first so-called “cap payments” for their excess PTO. Gross pay appearing on the paystubs that were provided through a records request totaled $163,486, ranged from $32 to nearly $8,500, and averaged $1,969 per recipient.

In October 2014, Murphy convinced the commission to amend his five-year contract a third time since his hiring in 2012. With just more than two years under his belt as a City of Hobbs employee, he was approved to accrue PTO at the same rate as employees who’ve been employed by the City of Hobbs for more than 20 years – 20 hours per month.

In January 2015, Murphy’s balance of PTO resulted in a cap payment of $11,418 (before taxes). Including Murphy, 93 employees shared in payouts totaling $216,191 in gross pay, an average of $2,324 per recipient. Payouts ranged from $33 to Murphy’s $11,418.

In January 2016, Murphy’s before-tax payout was $12,242. Including Murphy, 90 employees shared in payouts totaling $232,967 (before taxes), ranging from $21 to Murphy’s $12,242. The average gross pay was $2,560. Who else out there wishes they received an after-Christmas bonus? Anyone else out there currently looking for a job?

An article in the Hobbs News-Sun on December 30, 2012, quotes Murphy as saying there were 148,000 hours of sick leave on the books and that, after the conversion to PTO, “we will see 20,000 hours of sick leave less per year” and “annual savings to the city will be about $400,000.”

Have these savings been reported and verified since 2013? Does the commission plan to review these findings and hold the city manager accountable? It appears that the payouts are only getting larger individually – particularly Murphy – and in total. If the numbers are getting bigger each year, how is this not just another boondoggle?

Byron Marshall Courtesy Photo

Byron Marshall

Marshall is a Hobbs High graduate and former NMSU student. In 2013, Marshall returned to Hobbs from Las Cruces to support and improve his community through activism and enhanced public dialogue about important — and often overlooked — issues that merit the community’s consideration.