After Hobbs commissioners approved to hire City Manager J.J. Murphy as a special consultant after his city manager’s contract ends on Aug. 23 some commissioners shared why they approved the deal and some Hobbs residents expressed their disappointment via social media.
During Monday’s City Commission meeting commissioners approved in a 5-2 vote an employment transition and settlement agreement with Murphy where he will transition as a special consultant to the mayor and city commission until June 30, 2018. Commissioners Gary Buie and Marshall Newman voted against the transition agreement.
In the new agreement, Murphy will be paid a lump sum of $93,000 at the time of his transition, which is about $20,000 less than his current contractual benefits. He will also be paid $183,976 in wages through June 2018 and will be entitled to any accrued PTO and military leave as of Aug. 23. His city-provided health insurance, dental and vision insurance will continue until the end of June 2018. His legal fee will also be paid up to $10,000.
Mayor Sam Cobb has been advocating for a transitional employment agreement with Murphy since last year, and after an executive session meeting on July 24 Mike Stone, city attorney, and Murphy’s attorney negotiated the terms of the finalization of his contract.
Commissioner Cynthia Calderon said she voted for the transition and settlement agreement because Murphy’s severance payment that was in his former city manager’s contract is fiscally irresponsible for the city to pay.
“If we didn’t do what we did last night, we were going to have to pay the severance,” Calderon said. “Mr. Murphy’s contact is a legal and binding document that the city would have to adhere too. My concern was if we would have given him the severance and he moved away, the city would have to incur a lot more travel expenses for him to come to take care of all the legal issues that are pending and things of this nature.”
“I, nor Commissioners Pat Taylor or Don Gerth had anything to do with writing his contracts,” Calderon added. “I have never been a fan of Mr. Murphy’s contract and he knows my feelings about it. I felt in my heart, and in the city’s best interest that we need to be fiscally responsible as the best as we can with these circumstances and we needed to do it the way we did it.”
Murphy’s former severance contract had the city potentially paying him his current $182,000 salary in one lump sum and including health insurance for Murphy and his family as well as short and long-term disability for one year unless he found employment. In all, the severance package had the city paying to the tune of some $300,000 for Murphy’s departure.
A modified severance package that was voted down in October would have retained him at his current salary for one year as a consultant, paid him a vehicle allowance and some insurance coverage. Cobb said after that October meeting it would have cost the city somewhere in the neighborhood of “a little less than $200,000.”
Murphy told the News-Sun there are more than 20 pending lawsuit he will assist with. Cobb said there are several projects that Murphy will work on as a special consultant.
Calderon said he will be utilized to help complete those projects to help the Hobbs continue in a “forward progress.”
“My deal is we have millions of dollars invested in our community in numerous projects that still need a lot of his expertise and knowledge,” Calderon said. “I haven’t had any problems with Mr. Murphy in the short time I have been a commissioner. I would say 99 percent of the time things were taken care of. Murphy would go to the residents and meet with the constituents and be there for them and help them with information or whatever was needed. I don’t recall any past city managers ever going out and doing that for the community. In my opinion I thought that he did a good job for them and took care of what I asked of him.”
Commissioner Joe Calderon said it was not a difficult decision for him to approve Murphy’s transition employment contract because he’s satisfied with the work Murphy has done as city manager.
“You get to know people and how to work with people and so far I look at his leadership,” Calderon said. “He’s honest, a good man and people in the community like him. For me, trying to find one of his weaknesses was really hard. When we hired J.J. I told him the minute you lie to me either you need to be gone or I need to step down. Nothing like that has happened. You have to have faith in people and I have a lot of faith in him.”
Calderon and Commissioner Don Gerth both said Murphy and his family have been suffering through this process and should have not been subject to any of these issues.
“I voted for J.J. for one reason and that is because he’s suffering and not only that his family has been suffering from this and no person should be subject to any of this,” Gerth said. “One of the things I’m concerned with is if we just let him go and let his contract end it was going to cost us $300,000 or plus. I like J.J. and there’s no doubt about it the guy has done some wonderful things for the city of Hobbs but he has been subject to so much social media and to me it has to be wearing on him and his family. I think he needs a change of scenery.”
Commissioner Buie said he had no comment on his no vote after Monday’s city commission meeting. Commissioner Marshall Newman and Pat Taylor were not available for comment before press time Tuesday.
Hobbsans shared their opinions on the city commissioner’s vote on Facebook on the Hobbs Commission Cameras page.
Byron Marshall of Hobbs wrote, “No discussion by commissioners, no public input during meeting? I guess everything was already decided behind closed doors … Way to go to Hobbs … Business as usual.”
Shelly Appleton of Hobbs wrote, “These clauses are the distasteful icing on top of the icing! Unreal! Why would ANY commissioner agree to these terms? Time for change no doubt! Disgusted!”
Wanda Wheeler of Hobbs wrote, “He must have something I am not seeing. What are they thinking? Looks like we need to watch who we vote for. Let the citizens have a say on this office and let them vote. Clean slate of commissioners.”