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.

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