After more than a week of heated exchanges between city councilors and Mayor Nikuyah Walker over the hiring of an interim city manager, there was 10 minutes of public notice before a 3-0 vote in closed session at 1:15pm resulted in Assistant City Manager Mike Murphy taking the job effective 5pm today, just hours before City Manager Maurice Jones cleaned out his desk.
Councilors Wes Bellamy, Kathy Galvin and Mike Signer formed the quorum to give Murphy the thumbs up. Mayor Nikuyah Walker and Vice-Mayor Heather Hill were out of town, according to city spokesman Brian Wheeler.
Council had been threatening to name the interim city manager since last week, after the candidate who had been offered the job, Sidney Zemp, withdrew from consideration, listing Walker’s “contrived” controversy over how his name entered the process, “questionable motivations” and flaunting of state statutes on hiring practices. Both Murphy and the other assistant city manager, Leslie Beauregard, were interviewed for the position.
It’s unclear whether all five councilors would have voted to appoint Murphy had they all been there. “Who knows?” asks Galvin. “We needed three bodies to vote and we got a quorum.”
Says Galvin, “It was really important to have someone here before Maurice left today.” With the upcoming August 12 anniversary, “now we have all the bases covered.” The police and fire chiefs report to the city manager. “It’s a relief,” she says. “We’re very thrilled he took the job.”
Walker, reached out of town, says she still has concerns. “The hiccup was in the contract negotiations,” she says. “When Maurice was interim city manager he didn’t have a contract.” And a one-year contract Zemp requested was a concern to her, Walker revealed in a Facebook Live.
Murphy, she says, “should be able to keep things afloat until we get a permanent city manager.”
Hill says that had she been in town, she would have supported Murphy’s appointment.
Before taking the assistant city manager job in 2015, Murphy was director of human development.
When asked if he was surprised to be named to the job after so much public council bickering, Murphy said, “I’ve been here 24 years. Nothing surprises me.”
Council announced May 25 it would not renew Jones’ contract. He has taken a job as town manager in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.