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New Pasco County jail leader faced criticism in past jobs

John J. Murphy had come under scrutiny while in management roles in California and New Mexico.
Pasco County Administrator Mike Carballa tells the Pasco County Commission that he has recommended John J. Murphy as the new assistant administrator for public safety on Tuesday. The commissioners agree.
Pasco County Administrator Mike Carballa tells the Pasco County Commission that he has recommended John J. Murphy as the new assistant administrator for public safety on Tuesday. The commissioners agree. [ Pasco County ]
Published Nov. 16|Updated Nov. 19

DADE CITY — Pasco County commissioners appointed John J. Murphy on Tuesday as assistant administrator for the newly formed Public Safety Branch, a job that will have him oversee the jail that the county took over from the sheriff Oct. 1.

County Administrator Mike Carballa said Murphy was the top pick from a large field of applicants generated through a national search. Murphy has both administrative experience and military background and “he shares our leadership philosophy,” Carballa said during a commission meeting on Tuesday.

His annual salary will be $180,000.

Murphy was fired from his last job amid accusations of workplace wrongdoing and has said he had been the target of a smear campaign.

His most recent job was serving as city manager in Palmdale, California, from 2019 to earlier this year. He also served as an assistant city manager there beginning in 2018. Prior to that, he was city manager in Hobbs, New Mexico, from 2012 to 2017 and before that the county administrator in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, from 2003-2010.

John J. Murphy, Pasco County's assistant administrator for public safety.
John J. Murphy, Pasco County's assistant administrator for public safety. [ Pasco County ]

In each of those places, he gained experience but he also collected criticism. News media reports about Murphy raised questions about his management decisions. He was terminted by the Palmdale City Council in February amid allegations that included harassment, retaliation, creating a hostile work environment and bringing a gun to work.

The city’s assistant manager took Murphy to court over the allegations but in July the Los Angeles Superior Court dismissed the case.

“While there was a coordinated effort to undermine my leadership in Palmdale, the court not only determined the case had no merit, but awarded me my attorney’s fees,” Murphy told the Tampa Bay Times in a written statement. “I am confident there will be additional media coverage about my time in Palmdale, including the wonderful things our team accomplished.”

In media clips after the case was resolved, Murphy’s attorney said Murphy came under attack because he insisted on providing for the needs of neglected communities in the city. The attorney was also quoted as saying that he also stood up to the mayor and his friends, whom Murphy thought were engaging in improper behavior.

He also faced questions about his performance during and after his stint in New Mexico, according to social media reports. Those included criticisms of his compensation package, which topped $180,000 and included a housing allowance reserved for law enforcement officers, a trip he took to Italy to learn about water parks as the city was working on a recreation complex, and a decision to send himself and other city officials to Harvard University for leadership training.

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There were several investigations by the state auditor’s office concerning conflicts of interest by leaders of the city and other questions raised about Murphy’s efforts to secure vesting in that city’s retirement system and other employee benefits during his time as the city’s leader.

The criticism followed him after he left the job since he reportedly continued to collect the six-figure salary as a consultant to Hobbs after his departure.

John J. Murphy addresses the Pasco County Commission Tuesday as he is appointed the assistant administrator for public safety.
John J. Murphy addresses the Pasco County Commission Tuesday as he is appointed the assistant administrator for public safety. [ Pasco County ]

In his written response to the Times, Murphy didn’t comment on the issues raised in New Mexico.

“Over the past 20 years working in the public sector, I’ve had the privilege of serving in some amazing communities,” he said. “I’ve also been fortunate enough to be able to contribute to incredible teams who’ve delivered outstanding — even award-winning — quality-of-life enhancements to the people in those communities. I’m looking forward to providing that same level of servant leadership to people in Pasco County.”

When asked about the county’s vetting process and whether the issues Murphy faced elsewhere were part of their conversation with him, Pasco public information officer Sarah Andeara responded, “A national search for Pasco’s Assistant County Administrator for Public Safety attracted John J. Murphy, along with many other well-qualified, talented candidates.

“Following an extensive interview and vetting process, Mr. Murphy was ultimately chosen to serve in this role. He has the knowledge, skills and abilities required, and he embraces Pasco County’s leadership philosophy. We’re confident in his ability to effectively lead and administer our Public Safety Branch.”

Murphy has a master’s degree in public administration with a concentration in criminal justice from Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and a bachelor’s in political science from Kings College in Wilkes-Barre, according to the resume he submitted to the county. He also served for 20 years as an active and reserve officer for the U.S. Air Force.

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