Chistopher Mills

$200,000 contract rejected, Murphy could still get $306,000

LEVI HILL

NEWS-SUN

Sparks flew at the Hobbs City Commission Monday night as commissioners split 4-3 over giving City Manager J.J. Murphy a modified severance contract that would have had him coming back to the city as a consultant until June 30, 2018.

It appears Murphy will be out the door either way on June 30, 2017 as the commission cannot come to an agreement over offering Murphy a new contract. His first five-year contract ends at the end of the fiscal year.

J.J. Murphy
Chistopher Mills
J.J. Murphy

Monday’s modified severance package would have had Murphy leaving his post by June 30, 2017 or when he finds new employment, whichever came first. It would also have retained him at this current salary for one year as a consultant, paid him a vehicle allowance and some insurance coverage. It was a package Mayor Sam Cobb said after the meeting would have cost the city somewhere in the neighborhood of “a little less than $200,000.”

However, if the city and Murphy can’t come to an agreement, Murphy’s severance clause in his current contract will kick in Aug. 1, 2017 and he will take home roughly $306,000 over the next year and not be available to the city as a consultant.

“If we don’t offer him a contract that is acceptable with him, we have to pay his salary and benefits, and health care,” Cobb said. “That’s roughly $306,000 for one year.”

Monday night the commission couldn’t agree on accepting a modified severance contract with Murphy, with commissioners exchanging words over the contract and, seemingly, over whether Murphy should be kept or cut loose.

The commission voted against the contract with commissioners Jonathan Sena, Pat Taylor, Gary Buie and Marshall Newman voting against it. Cobb, Don Gerth and Joe Calderon voted for the modified severance package.

“I better calm down before I say things I shouldn’t,” Commissioner Joe Calderon said, before chastising the rest of the commission. “This is unbelievable. I have been involved with the commission and hiring four city managers and I think some of us look at the negatives. We can’t take back this ‘no’ vote. I want JJ to stay, but I don’t think it is going to happen. I wish you the best J.J. I have been behind you 100 percent and there are others who have not have been behind you 100 percent.”

“I am disappointed in some of you,” Calderon added.

Buie fired back at Calderon, adding his reason for voting “no” was because he did not like the length of time Murphy would be paid by the city in the severance contract.

“I respect your position and Jonathan’s position. I hope you would respect my position. My personal view has nothing to do with the Internet, it has nothing to do with Facebook. It has all to do with people I talk to on a daily basis and what I have seen occur within the City of Hobbs, New Mexico. I voted ‘no’ because I did not agree with the agreement that was written up.”

Sena said he wants to keep Murphy, calling him “one of the best city managers in the state” and commending what he called Murphy’s track record for standing up for employees.

“I have never seen anyone go to bat for employees like him,” he said. “I want J.J. to stay here and I feel I have to vote ‘no.’ I want him to stay, I like the work he is doing.”

Newman said his vote against the new contract reflects the wishes of his constituents and city staff.

“I understand your comments Mr. Calderon and I have to go with my constituents and my city employees and I will stand with them,” Newman said.

Taylor said Murphy’s work has benefitted the entire community and she voted ‘no’ because she felt he should stay.

“There are grants and things that came to this community that people don’t know about because of JJ,” she said. “The man has been good for the community. Very few people think so, because they have their issues.”

Gerth said he feels the opposition to Murphy’s continuance as the city manager stems from the state of the Hobbs economy, although he did cite ongoing negative media and social media Murphy has received.

“All of you know what happens to Hobbs in a downturn. It is not a good thing,” he said. “I feel J.J. is a casualty of the downturn. He has put up with a lot from what has come from out there from different individuals.”

Gerth added he voted “yes” because he feels it is time for Murphy to move on.

We need to end this now and let him move on. It could be affecting him, maybe it isn’t,” he said.

Cobb called for a motion on the contract and Calderon made it. After a short pause, it was seconded by Buie.

After the vote Murphy thanked the city’s staff and said he’d be back to work Tuesday.

“No matter how the vote went, the good news is I’m still your city manager tomorrow,” he said.

Cobb echoed the statement, saying the city manager and the commission will continue to work in the best interests of the city despite the division shown Monday night.

After the meeting Cobb acknowledged that closed-door meetings between Murphy and the commission to draft a new contract had been difficult.

“As you can see some want him to stay and some do not want him to stay,” he said. “When you have that situation, it is difficult to draft an agreement.”

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Levi Hill can be reached at 391-5438 or managingeditor@hobbsnews.com.

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