COMMENTARY: Let me start with what should be the conclusion: The Hobbs City Commission must not take action on any proposal to extend its relationship with Hobbs City Manager John J. “J.J.” Murphy. Not a contract extension that keeps Murphy in place as city manager for any amount of time past his current contract. Not a consulting contract that keeps his nose in city business and involved with city staff. Nothing. Just let the contract lapse on Aug. 23.
If one looks into Murphy’s past before Hobbs, it’s obvious that Hobbs was Murphy’s opportunity to press the reset button on his career. Controversies related to his tenure as the city administrator of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., have lingered years after his departure in 2010. His salary when he left Wilkes-Barre was $81,120, and yet the Hobbs City Commission found him qualified enough to offer him an initial base salary of $140,000, as well as a five-year contract.
In less than five years, the commission increased his base salary to more than $180,000 and agreed to a slew of additional benefits. Few government employees in New Mexico make more than Murphy – cabinet secretaries and even Gov. Susana Martinez don’t make us much as Murphy!
Such a salary and such a contract term look very good on a résumé when applying for other manager positions. But, what’s more, the City of Hobbs has funded Murphy’s résumé-building with tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of training and conferences, from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Senior Executives in State and Local Government to the University of Virginia’s Senior Executive Institute. Hobbs has gone from springboard to cannon for Murphy’s job prospects. (You’re welcome, J.J.)
It was in 2015 that the Hobbs News-Sun first reported on Murphy’s candidacy for a manager position outside of Hobbs – Palm Beach County, Fla. Since then, Murphy has been an applicant, semifinalist or finalist to at least another 14 municipalities. As anyone who’s been in the job market knows, it takes time to apply for a job, but when Murphy has been so far in the selection process to be a finalist, that has required travel for community meet-and-greets and interviews.
He was in Brighton, Colo., on July 6 and 7, for example. I can’t help but do a little math that, for about a dozen communities (that we know of) for which he’s been a publicly announced contender, if the average time required is three days to travel and interview, that’s more than a month’s worth of days that have been spent looking for a new job and weren’t spent in Hobbs. Again, those are only the cities we know about!
But, I would urge my fellow residents to look at his job search another way. There have been at least 15 communities of various sizes in a number of states that have vetted Murphy’s background, interviewed him and checked his references and not hired him. Despite the expensive training that Hobbs taxpayers have paid for. Despite his exorbitant salary and benefits (what could be portrayed as value). Despite his prominently promoted military background. Despite the Hobbs City Commission’s decision to send Murphy to another Harvard course in January – months after the mayor said publicly Murphy would need to move on. Despite a $13 million golf-course renovation and a $65 million rec-center build that were started during his tenure.
It seems the Hobbs City Commission did little, if any, vetting of Murphy’s background before hiring him in 2012 and locking itself into a one-sided contract for five years. There are now 15 communities that we know have done their homework on Murphy and opted against hiring him. That should inform the Hobbs City Commission’s decision whether to continue its relationship with Murphy after the end of his contract. It should also inform residents how engaged they need to be during the selection process of the next city manager. If the commission doesn’t know how to use Google, we do.
Only a handful of people have stuck their necks out to challenge the city’s direction and to account for Murphy’s dealings in Hobbs. In addition to those few Hobbs residents, earlier this year, New Mexico State Auditor Tim Keller told NMPolitics.net, “perhaps the citizens of Hobbs could be better served with new leadership.”
I believe that without a doubt, and at such a critical juncture, I believe more residents must add their voices to the calls for a change in direction and an end to Murphy’s tenure. Remember: silence is consent! Please, fellow Hobbsans, contact your respective city commissioners or all the city commissioners and implore them to make a decision that will cause Hobbs’ relationship with Murphy to end with his contract. Their contact information is provided here.
Byron 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. Agree with his opinion? Disagree? We welcome your views. Learn about submitting your own commentary here.