WILKES-BARRE – It took a leap of more than 2,000 miles for former city administrator J.J. Murphy to land on his feet.
Murphy, 41, who has been working as a consultant with his firm Goals Inc., is the new city manager in Hobbs, N.M. Hobbs Mayor Sam Cobb said Tuesday that Murphy was unanimously hired Aug. 23 at an annual salary of $140,000 to replace the city manager who retired in June.
"This is a great opportunity to go to a community that has the resources to try progressive initiatives," Murphy said. "Hobbs is a very attractive city with a booming economy."
Murphy said the population of Hobbs is 43,000, making it similar to Wilkes-Barre. He said the major industry in the southeast New Mexico area is gas and oil.
Two of the Wilkes-Barre city administration's biggest critics, Bob Kadluboski and Frank Sorick, had anything but kind words for the departing Murphy.
"I want the alarm system taken out of his house," Kadluboski said. "As soon as he leaves, I want it back; it belongs to the taxpayers, or he should pay for it."
The reference was to the disclosure early this year that Murphy and Mayor Tom Leighton had city-funded alarm systems in their homes and that Murphy's was re-installed when he moved. The total tab came to about $14,000.
Leighton said the alarm systems were installed after he and Murphy received threats from anonymous parties.
Murphy is on the job for Hobbs, working for the past week from his Wilkes-Barre residence. He said he is moving to Hobbs next week.
His wife and five daughters will join him at a later date.
Sorick responded, "Thank God," when told of Murphy's new job.
"Does he need help packing?" Sorick asked sarcastically. "He will no longer be milking the taxpayers of Wilkes-Barre."
Murphy also came under fire for his role as a consultant during the city's attempt to privatize its parking assets. The parking authority retained as its consultant Fox Rothschild, a Philadelphia law firm where Murphy's brother, Patrick, is a partner.
Fox Rothschild hired J.J. Murphy's company – Goals Consulting – and paid him $300 per hour. Murphy received nearly $35,000 in fees before the authority capped consulting fees and the plan was later scrapped.
"J.J. Murphy has cost the city way more than he is worth," Sorick said.
The mayor has another viewpoint.
Leighton said Murphy is "a proven leader and effective administrator" who served the city and the community "with distinction" for years.
"He has served his country in the U.S. Air Force and was deployed to Africa in 2008 and Haiti in 2010," Leighton said. "His achievements extend beyond his service to the city government."
He said Murphy's GOALS Foundation, which he founded, played significant roles in the construction of two playgrounds in the city, and the organization has broadened access to sports for countless area youths through grants.
"J.J. was a trusted adviser as my administrator, and Wilkes-Barre's loss is certainly Hobbs' gain," Leighton said. "I wish him well in the next phase of his career."
Murphy said he met "some great friends" in Wilkes-Barre, and he said Leighton and former Mayor Tom McGroarty gave him the opportunity to develop his administrative skills.
"I learned from each of them," Murphy said. "I'm thankful to Mayor McGroarty for giving me my start in city government. And Mayor Leighton is an incredible leader and a good friend."
Murphy graduated from King's College and received his master's degree from Marywood University.
Murphy said the corruption scandal in Luzerne County that led to convictions and guilty pleas of elected and appointed officials has tainted the reputation of the entire region.
"Some people have painted all government workers with that same broad brush," Murphy said. "This area will have a real challenge to motivate people in the future to get involved with government."
Murphy said he is one of 30 people in Pennsylvania who have earned the highest level of expertise from the International City/County Managers Association – that of "credentialed manager."
A major in the Air Force Reserves, Murphy said he is most proud of his community work in Wilkes-Barre.
Murphy's new boss, Mayor Cobb, said Murphy was the unanimous choice of the city commission and himself.
"His administrative abilities impressed us, along with his military training and his responses to our questions," Cobb said. "We liked what he had to say about his vision for our community and its future."
Cobb said he did check out Murphy's background and his time in Wilkes-Barre. He said he was aware of the alarm system controversy.