Pasco County’s new jail chief has faced criticism in previous jobs

DADE CITY — Pasco County commissioners on Tuesday named John J. Murphy deputy administrator for the newly formed Department of Public Safety, a job where he will oversee the jail the county took over from the sheriff on Oct. 1 .

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

His annual salary is $180,000.

Murphy was fired from his last job amid allegations of workplace misconduct and said he was the target of a smear campaign.

His most recent job was as a city manager in Palmdale, California, from 2019 until earlier this year. From 2018 he also worked there as deputy city administrator. Prior to that, he was the city manager of Hobbs, New Mexico, from 2012 to 2017, and before that he was the district manager of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, from 2003 to 2010.

John J. Murphy, Assistant Administrator for Public Safety for Pasco County.
John J. Murphy, Assistant Administrator for Public Safety for Pasco County. [ Pasco County ]

In each of these places he gained experience, but also collected criticism. News media reports about Murphy raised questions about his managerial decisions. In February, he was fired by Palmdale City Council amid allegations including 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 at Palmdale, the court not only ruled that the case was without merit, but also awarded my legal fees,” Murphy told the Tampa Bay Times in a written statement. “I’m confident there will be more media coverage of my time at Palmdale, including the wonderful things our team has accomplished.”

In media clips after the case was resolved, Murphy’s attorney said Murphy was attacked for his insistence on catering to the needs of neglected communities in the city. The attorney was also quoted as saying that he also took a stand against the mayor and his friends, who Murphy believed engaged in inappropriate behavior.

He was also met with questions about his performance during and after his stint in New Mexico, according to social media reports. These included criticism of his compensation package, which exceeded $180,000 and included a housing benefit for law enforcement officers, a trip he made to Italy to learn about water parks while the city was working on a recreation complex, and a decision to back himself to send and other city officials to Harvard University for leadership training.

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There have been several State Audit Office investigations into conflicts of interest by city leaders and other issues surrounding Murphy’s efforts to secure the transmission into that city’s pension system and other employee benefits during his time as a city guide.

Criticism followed after he left the job as he reportedly continued to rake in Hobbs’ six-figure salary as a consultant after leaving.

John J. Murphy speaks before the Pasco County Commission Tuesday as he is named assistant public safety administrator.
John J. Murphy speaks before the Pasco County Commission Tuesday as he is named assistant public safety administrator. [ Pasco County ]

In his written response to the Times, Murphy did not comment on the issues raised in New Mexico.

“In the last 20 years of my public sector work, I’ve had the privilege of serving in some amazing communities,” he said. “I’ve also been fortunate to contribute to incredible teams that have brought outstanding—even award-winning—quality of life improvements to people in these communities. I look forward to providing the same level of servant leadership to the people of Pasco County.”

When asked about the county’s vetting process and whether the issues Murphy was facing elsewhere were part of her conversation with him, Pasco public relations officer Sarah Andeara replied, “A statewide search for Pasco’s assistant county public safety administrator drew John.” J. Murphy, along with many other well-qualified, talented candidates.

“Following an extensive interview and review process, Mr. Murphy was finally selected for this role. He has the knowledge, skills and abilities required and embraces the Pasco County leadership philosophy. We trust in his ability to effectively direct and manage our public safety department.”

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 degree in political science from Kings College in Wilkes-Barre, according to the resume he submitted to the county. He also served 20 years as an active duty and reserve officer for the US Air Force.