December, 2013

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Improving the Community of Hobbs, New Mexico – By: JJ Murphy

As a child, I was taught about the importance of being an integral part of whichever community you lived in. The importance of community carried on with me throughout the years, as I attended King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to study Political Science. During my senior year in college, I took on an internship at City Hall. My internship led to a growing interest in city management. It was this passion for local government that prompted me to continue my education and pursue a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Improving the Community of Hobbs, New Mexico – By: JJ MurphyMarywood University.

Shortly after finishing my graduate degree, I was commissioned as an officer in the United States Air Force.  After spending almost six years on active-duty, I transitioned to the active reserves where I am fortunate to still serve today.   Once I left active duty in the Air Force, I began my role as City Manager of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

In 2012, when Eric Honeyfield retired, I took the opportunity to apply for the City Manager position in Hobbs, New Mexico.  After a national search of over 70 applicants, I was chosen to lead this wonderful community.   Hobbs is a very special place where the community has embraced me as one of their own.

As the City Manager of Hobbs, New Mexico, I will strive to improve public safety, create more housing, improve morale of our employees and foster a positive customer service mentality within all of our public offices.   I also plan on tackling the ongoing battle against drug use in the city.

In five years, I envision a city where residents will feel safe in schools, on playgrounds, and in their own neighborhoods. I am not just the City Manager of Hobbs.  I am a resident, parent, and neighbor and I want the absolute best for Hobbs, New Mexico.

My Time in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania – J.J. Murphy Hobbs

The City of Wilkes-Barre and I, JJ Murphy, go back a long way.

I started my freshman year at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 1989. I worked at King’s while attending graduate school from 1995 to 1997. I was the Deputy City Administrator in Wilkes-Barre from 2002 to 2004. I was the City Administrator of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, from 2004 to 2010. This community is an industrial city in the Northeastern Pennsylvania region. At the time I was there, the population of the city was 43,000. During my career as City Administrator, Wilkes-Barre had just over 300 employees.

While I was initially responsible for the operations of the city government, there were a few important issues that had to be addressed first.  Of immediate concern was the $11 million dollar budget deficit.

The Mayor, our team and I managed to eliminate this $11 million dollar deficit by combining various strategies.   I successfully negotiated changes to collective bargaining agreements with local labor unions, as well as reducing City staffing levels.  Mayor Thomas Leighton and I were of the shared opinion that local governments should be managed more like a business; thus, this was the management style applied under our leadership.  This new approach led to radical improvement in the City, and eventually ensured financial recovery.

In addition to the elimination of the financial deficit, I recommended changes to eliminate what I considered to be a “deficit” in the overall level of public safety.  Before 2004, Wilkes-Barre’s downtown area was suffering significantly.  There were streetlights falling down and the infrastructure was in bad shape.  To repair the infrastructure was going to require a large capital investment.   To that end, my team and I helped secure grant money which not only covered the cost of new streetlights, but allowed us to hire a total of 26 new police officers.

As a follow up to that project, we successfully pursued funding for a surveillance camera project and additional public safety equipment.  The grant money received for the surveillance project fully funded the capital outlay for equipment and three years of operational costs.  When I left, Wilkes-Barre had more surveillance cameras per capita than any other city in the United States.

During my tenure, we were able to create many public-private partnerships, and foster a business friendly environment which helped deliver over $150 million worth of economic development projects.

As City Administrator, I was fortunate to lead an incredible team.  Our team, along with City Council and the commitments from our labor partners, managed to improve the financial status Wilkes-Barre by having an audited $57 million dollar turnaround.

I am honored to now be the City Manager of Hobbs, New Mexico, where I plan to utilize lessons learned and exercise my leadership ability even further.  I am confident that my experiences managing the city of Wilkes-Barre will assist me with this endeavor.

J.J. Murphy – My Time in Wilkes-Barre, PA

Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania is an industrial city located in the Northeastern part of the state. It is a part of the Wyoming Valley region. This area has also been referred to as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area due to the two principal cities that are located in it.  The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metropolitan area is the fourth largest city in the state of Pennsylvania.

The Wyoming Valley is a part of the folded Appalachians. The Susquehanna River can be found in the southern part of the Wyoming Valley. In addition to these beautiful scenic landmarks, the Pocono Mountains shape the area from the east. The Poconos are an excellent travelling destination for anyone who loves nature and is perfect for anyone who enjoys camping.

The City of  Wilkes-Barre and I share a memorable history.  In my senior year of college I was hired as an intern for the City of Wilkes-Barre.  After leaving active-duty, I was hired as an Assistant City Administrator from 2002 to 2004. From 2004 to 2010, I served as the City Administrator of this wonderful city. During my time as the City Administrator of Wilkes-Barre, the Mayor, city staff and I accomplished quite a bit to improve the community.

Wilkes-Barre is a very nice place to visit. There are plenty of restaurants, shops, businesses, and parks to explore. However, before Tom Leighton became Mayor and appointed me City Administrator the downtown area was in a major rut. The downtown area of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, was stagnant and businesses were hesitant to return due to safety concerns. Downtown Wilkes-Barre had streetlights which were falling, insufficient infrastructure, and other hazardous activity.

During my tenure, with the help of Mayor Leighton, city staff, City Council, and many private partners who had all committed to investing in the community, the downtown Wilkes-Barre area transformed significantly.  By securing grant money we were able to make favorable changes for the City and even increased Wilkes-Barre’s police force by hiring 26 new police officers. Before I left, Wilkes-Barre had a safer environment for its citizens, business owners, students and visitors.

Because of all that I had experienced in Wilkes-Barre, beginning as a college freshman, intern, graduate student, commissioned officer, Assistant City Administrator and then becoming the youngest City Administrator in Wilkes-Barre’s history, I will always have a strong bond with the community.

I currently am the City Manager in Hobbs, New Mexico. Hobbs is a booming community located in Lea County and experiencing exponential growth. It is my hope that with my previous city manager experience, I can provide Hobbs with as much efficiency and leadership as I did for Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

A Thanksgiving Message by JJ Murphy of Hobbs, New Mexico

While a little bit late, I wanted to wish all of you a heartfelt Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families.

We have many choices in life… sometimes all of us look at the benefits, positions or money that others have and try to wonder what it must be like to be so fortunate. But sometimes we are all put in a place where we look in the mirror and realize how blessed we are and grateful for what we have, for there are others looking at us wishing they were as fortunate as us.

I say these words not to preach but to share a message. There have been special times in my life that are ingrained in my mind where I look back and realize how blessed I have been.

In the military five years ago, I knew there were terrorist outside of our gates who were being offered $25 dollars to kill or capture Americans. That does not sound like a lot to you or I, but that $25 could feed a man’s family in Djibouti or Somalia for a month. Many of us left the safety of our gates every week to spend time at the local orphanages. We did that not to get volunteer credit, we did it because we are Americans! We are very fortunate, we share our blessings and our freedom is a huge part of who we are. I will never forget those moments.

As a City Manager, one of those “ah ha” moments just happened the other day. I wish every one of you could have seen the look on the faces of the Morale Committee members and Department Heads when I, JJ Murphy, asked them if they would like to give up our opportunity for a holiday party and put one on for the community. I know we will have only 20 days from Monday’s first meeting to pull this off, but I know our team and nothing is going to stop us from showing our gratitude to this community. I will never forget the look on the faces in that room.

I personally need to do a better job of thanking the employees who go the extra mile.  I could name a bunch of you but let me take the time to point out two people who really have gone the extra mile for us.

Tara Wood has an incredible legal mind and has been working her tail off doubling her duties to assist in the transition in our Human Resources Department. While many of you think the work has been easy, I get to see how late she stays to insure our operations and employees have seen a seamless transition while at the same time keeping her legal duties churning.

For those of you who work in City Hall and come in the back door, we are greeted every morning by Jeff Sanford who often holds the door and shares his big smile with us.  I think he will share his bag of cheerios or frosted mini wheat’s if we ask as well.

These are two employees, and I know we have hundreds, who go the extra mile for us. Thank you Tara and Jeff!

So this week, let’s share the Attitude of Gratitude and may each of you have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Hobbs Approves Land Acquisition for Downtown Rehabilitation

As Hobbs’ City Manager, you do not always have the opportunity to have a significant impact working with public and private partners in remaking a significant part of your downtown. Fortunately for me, I have played a previous role in remaking downtown Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and now I may have the same opportunity in Hobbs, New Mexico.

Just last week, the Hobbs City Commission approved the purchase agreements I had been negotiating with three major property owners to acquire 85% of a complete city block in the heart of our downtown. This property is two blocks from our city hall and once developed, could potentially deliver an additional critical housing development adjacent to an over $10 million brand new Boys and Girls club. The $10 million facility will increase the space by 9,000 square feet and include an outdoor recreation area.

While not every development is ideal, it is not often that leaders have such a chance to rebuild such a key area of our downtown. The Hobbs City Commission and I want to let our residents know that they can rest assured that any development in this area of town will only improve our city.

Aside from approving the housing project, I am also happy to announce that commissioners also approved the annexation of the Zia Crossing subdivision phase one, the recommendation for the City of Hobbs to pick up the 4.9 percent increase of health insurance and dental insurance premiums, as well as the budget adjustment for the Western States Development agreement for $500,000 of phase two of the utility line improvements.

We continue to address our housing needs and hope this investment enables more residents and current workforce to have more permanent housing options available.

Hobbs, New Mexico: A Place Which Cares for the Safety for Our Children

As the city manager of Hobbs, New Mexico, I understand the importance of the community providing safety to our most vulnerable women and children. In fact, keeping all of the city of Hobbs safe is my primary goal. But keeping women and children safe is not just the job of our police department. This week I attended a special celebration honoring those organizations that protect those children whose parents for one reason or the other cannot take care of them.

I am pleased to announce that Option, Inc. has received a $30,000 grant from the Daniels Fund. The Daniels Fund was established by Bill Daniels to provide grants and scholarships in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

I am thrilled to know about this grant since it will allow the continuation of services and support for any victims of violence in Hobbs, NM.

The executive director of Options, Inc. named Dionora Carrejo Guthrie said that “The grant will enable our program to continue providing necessary services to women, men and children living in the fear and consumption that is domestic violence.” As the city manager of Hobbs NM, I could not be happier to know that victims of violence are receiving the help they so rightfully deserve.

With the funds, Option Inc. will continue to provide its services, including emergency shelters, a safe house for sexually abused children, and counseling for victims.  

Robert Guthrie, the operation manager of Options, Inc. is pleased to announce that the additional funds will allow the company the ability to provide more services in the community. Option, Inc. is a nonprofit organization which aims to prevent future domestic violence between adults and to reduce the incidence of battery and assault. There are many benefits to this additional funding. Robert Guthrie plans on using the funds to help them expand the organization’s shelter, hotline, offender’s classes and transitional program. Knowing that Options, Inc. received this generous donation for their nonprofit organization is a truly incredible gesture.

The overall safety of Hobbs, New Mexico means the world to me. My time in the Air Force serving overseas afforded me the opportunity to volunteer at an orphanage once or twice a week. Spending time with these children helped heal my own wounds of being away from my own children. The time I spent in Djibouti, Africa was very transformational for me as a leader.  I vowed to do whatever I could in my future positions to insure that more kids felt loved and safe in the communities I served.