PALMDALE — Current Assistant City Manager J.J. Murphy will next lead Palmdale as city manager, an appointment made official on Dec. 3 when the City Council approved a four-year contract.
Murphy will take over from James Purtee, who is retiring as of Dec. 30 after a 30-year career in city government.
“I can’t thank you enough, you embraced this Philadelphia kid,” Murphy said. “I want to continue to be a collaborative servant leader for this organization, for this community.”
“The guy has already bought into the community,” Mayor Steve Hofbauer said, with his family settled here and involvement in numerous community organizations. “This is not a guy who’s coming in here to see how it’s going to go.”
A number of the community groups were represented at the Council meeting to voice their support for Murphy.
“He is a person that can help see this city into the future. We have a lot of confidence in his ability,” said Juan Blanco of Coffe4Vets.
Thanking Purtee for the work he has done over the past four years, Councilmember Juan Carrillo said he felt Murphy was the right choice to carry on that work.
Murphy will earn an annual salary of $305,000 under the contract, which was approved on a 4-1 vote, with Councilmember Austin Bishop dissenting.
“He’s been an asset to our organization,” Bishop said of Murphy, but he felt the compensation was higher than he wanted and expected.
“Being fiscally conservative is going to be critical to the health of our organization in the future,” Bishop said. “That would probably be the only issue I would have.”
The salary may be a bit of “sticker shock,” more than $30,000 a year higher than Purtee’s current rate of $270,353, but it is consistent with others in the region with the kind of background and experience Murphy brings, Hofbauer said.
Lancaster City Manager Jason Caudle, hired a year ago after a decade as deputy city manager there, makes $290,000 annually under his contract and is due a 1.5% annual increase this month.
Murphy’s salary as assistant city manager is $229,199. He joined the city in April 2018.
When Purtee joined the city in August 2015, he did not have prior experience as a city manager, although his career contained a variety of other city positions.
Murphy, in contrast, has been city manager for two municipalities: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and Hobbs, New Mexico. He also brings the experience gained in a 20-year Air Force career, Hofbauer said.
“That has a certain value to it as well,” he said of the Air Force experience, which has already brought dividends to the city. “That has opened doors.”
The salary also reflects what is a tight market for city managers in California right now, Hofbauer said he has learned from speaking with elected officials in other cities.
“It’s difficult to find that caliber of background and experience,” he said.
Murphy is eligible for “performance pay” bonuses at the Council’s discretion if he meets performance goals, and should he meet performance expectations his salary will increase at least 5% in 2021 and 2023, according to the contract.
In addition to the base salary, Murphy will be provided with medical, dental and vision coverage for himself and his family and the city will reimburse up to $1,500 annually for those expenses. The city will also reimburse up to $1,000 for annually for health benefit activities and/or equipment.
The contract also includes a $500 per month automobile allowance and $5,000 per fiscal year to pay down student loans as a form of tuition reimbursement.
Should the Council terminate Murphy’s contract, it calls for a 12-month severance pay, adding one month of salary for every year of service up to 18 months.
Murphy’s contract is effective Dec. 3, with the time between then and Purtee’s retirement allowing time for Murphy to prepare and transition to assuming the city manager position on Dec. 30.
Murphy has more than 20 years’ experience in various public service roles.
He brings expertise in public-private partnerships for municipal projects, serving on the Board of the National Council of Public-Private Partnerships.
Murphy was named New Mexico City Manager of the Year in 2016 for his work in Hobbs, a town in the southeastern part of the state near the Texas border. Among his projects there was the award-winning Rockwind Community Links golf course and the Center of Recreational Excellence, a $63.5 million recreational center with six public and private partners. The latter is the most comprehensive recreational center and economic development driver within 500 miles.
Murphy was a major in the Air Force Reserves, with the majority of his military service spent managing command and control centers in Africa, Haiti and elsewhere around the world.
Murphy is a 1993 graduate of King’s College with a degree in political science and a Master of Public Administration from Marywood University.
He completed the Senior Executive Institute at the University of Virginia and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Senior Executives in State and Local Government program in 2013 and Leadership in the 21st Century in 2017.