With only a day until the interview stage begins, just three finalists remain in the hunt to be the next Killeen city manager. But as the city prepares potentially to enter a new administration, many questions remain unanswered in the search — especially as troubling details continue to emerge on the finalists.
On Friday, a citizens advisory committee will get first crack at the three candidates to determine for themselves and the residents of Killeen whether former Corpus Christi City Manager Ron Olson, current Hobbs, N.M., City Manager John “J.J.” Murphy or Jefferson County, Ala., County Administrator Daniel Biles is the best fit to take over the city manager role.
Following that, the City Council will meet with the finalists at 9 a.m. Saturday in closed session and potentially reach a consensus on their selection. The contract details would then need to be agreed and voted upon by council and the new hire appointed.
With the possibility of council reaching a consensus on their selection during Saturday’s closed session, many details still are not known on the three men being considered, how they were selected and who gets a say in which one could be hired.
Over the past two weeks, more concerns have arisen on the finalists.
In a news release Saturday, Nick Maxwell with wethefourth.org, a New Mexico-based online government watchdog outlet, reported that Murphy had championed two city contracts while serving as city manager that the New Mexico state auditor’s office said raise “the appearance that the contracts may not have been at arm’s length.”
Of concern was the city’s procurement practices for contracts with Medico Consulting Group, for waste and recycling services, and from Zarwin, Baum, Devito, Kaplan, Schaer & Toddy, P.C., for legal services related to the police department’s video surveillance network.
Both of the firms are based in Pennsylvania. Murphy previously served as city administrator for the city of Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
In both cases, the city was pegged for possibly using noncompetitive procurement practices, particularly in the law services contract — and its exorbitant $475 hourly fee structure.
“Nothing in the supporting document reviewed by (the state auditor’s office) indicates the city took any steps to negotiate the law firm’s contract, and the lack of other quotes makes it difficult to assess whether the $475/hour billing rate was reasonable,” the state auditor wrote to Hobbs, N.M., Mayor Sam Cobb in an Oct. 17 email.
However, despite the concerns, the auditors said no state or local law apparently was violated.
The current issues in Hobbs echo Murphy’s time in Wilkes-Barre, where Murphy’s business dealings after he resigned as city administrator were probed by a federal grand jury.
In that case, documentation concerning a 2012 agreement between Murphy’s consulting group, Goals Consulting, and the Wilkes-Barre Parking Authority to aid in a leasing contract was subpoenaed as part of a widespread corruption probe into the city. Murphy’s company was contracted with the authority at the same time as the Fox Rothschild law firm, with which Murphy’s brother — Patrick Murphy — was a partner.
Patrick Murphy is the current undersecretary of the U.S. Army, appointed by President Barack Obama. Patrick Murphy previously served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2006 to 2011 and was the first veteran of the Iraq War to serve in Congress.
Meanwhile, the other two candidates have concerns of their own heading into the interviews, but none of the caliber of Murphy’s red flags.
Olson resigned in May from the city manager role in Corpus Christi after the city issued three water boil advisories in the span of 10 months, according to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Olson ultimately took responsibility for the advisories, which he said were major factors in his decision to leave, though it was reported that he had been looking for work elsewhere.
The circumstances of Olson’s departure left some scars among council members, as Olson fired off an email announcing his resignation minutes before a council meeting, missing the deadline to list the resignation as a discussion item at that meeting. He had recently accepted a three-year, term extension from the council.
After his resignation, Olson said that he became disenchanted after his ambitious plan to turn the city around slowed down.
“The first several years I was here, it seemed like we were on an accelerated pace of improving things, and that pace slowed down,” Olson told the Caller-Times on May 17. “And it just got me thinking about: Am I doing as much good as I’d hoped to be able to do?”
Olson arrived in Corpus Christi in 2011 as the city was mired in a financial downturn similar to the current situation in Killeen. He immediately launched a City Hall reorganization plan in 2011 that downsized the number of city departments from 32 to 25 and cut 66 city positions. Meanwhile, the city of Corpus Christi crept out of its financial mire.
Biles, a former assistant city manager under Olson in Corpus Christi, has served Jefferson County since 2013. Among the three candidates, he has the least city manager experience, although he told the Herald by phone that his role as county administrator is comparable in size of budget and population served.
Biles was hired as part of the administration following the meltdown of Jefferson County’s finances and 2011 bankruptcy, earning the county the moniker of “Bankrupt, USA” by the New York Times.
With so many red flags raised on the finalists — including the two who have already dropped from the race, Steven Norwood and Andy Bird — questions remain on how the original list of five was chosen.
In the past, Mike Tanner, senior vice president of Strategic Government Resources, the firm tasked with the executive search, said the finalists were chosen by the council before in-depth background checks and searches were conducted. However, the city, in multiple news releases, has said much of that background work had been done prior to the finalists being chosen.
Before the council was presented with an in-depth booklet of information on each candidate at its regular meeting Tuesday, council members were forced to do investigations of their own into the finalists’ pasts. The council was reportedly also limited in its original input into the search.
Councilwoman Shirley Fleming told the Herald that during the September executive session in which the finalists were chosen, she was directed by Human Resources Director Eva Bark to leave the search to SGR and Tanner, despite Fleming’s concerns over the lack of background information and the lack of ethnic and gender diversity among the candidates.
When reached Wednesday, Tanner said he needed to contact the CEO of SGR before responding to any questions from the Herald.
At the council’s Saturday session, the council members will refer to a booklet provided to them by Bark and Tanner with background information compiled by a private investigation firm contracted by SGR.
From that point, because the interview process constitutes a quorum, the council could come to a consensus on whom they want to select for the city manager role. That process, however, is complicated by the fact that councilmen Juan Rivera and Jim Kilpatrick are not expected to attend the interviews for personal reasons.
That would mean, by rule of the Texas Open Meetings Act, that council could theoretically come to an agreement without the attendance of two of its members.
Councilman Richard “Dick” Young said the absence of the two council members doesn’t necessarily mean the council won’t choose to reach a consensus and move ahead.
“I don’t think that will affect anything so long as there’s four people that can agree,” Young said. “If we decide to wait, we’ll give them the findings for when they’re back.”
If the consensus is not reached Saturday, the council could meet in a special closed session to reach a consensus, but Mayor Jose Segarra told the Herald the likelihood of that happening is low.
Regardless, the council would provide direction to SGR, who is handling the contract negotiations, and then would ultimately approve the contract at a later regular meeting.
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