Kearny has filled a key administrative vacancy with a trusted old hand.
The town governing body last week named Kevin Murphy interim public works manager in place of David Hayes, who resigned as DPW head on April 29 after only two years in the job.
Hayes took a comparable position in Bergen County.
Murphy, a 29-year civil servant with Kearny, previously served as acting DPW head from November 2017 to April 2020 when Hayes was hired.
Murphy, whose Civil Service job title is assistant DPW superintendent, cannot be appointed as a permanent superintendent because he lacks a certified public works manager certificate, as required by the state.
However, as noted by the resolution passed by the mayor and Town Council, state law 40A:9-154.6(g) “permits the governing body to select a person who does not hold a certified public works manager certificate to perform the duties of a principal public works manager on an interim basis for a period not to exceed one year after a vacancy in the position.”
But Stephen Marks, the town’s business administrator, pointed out that the town “could request additional time” if it is “showing progress” in finding a candidate who meets the state’s qualifications for the job.
Marks said the job has been posted locally and that the town has placed advertisements in various regional newspapers — including The Observer — and government publications.
Because Kearny has a combined sewer system, its principal DPW manager is also required to have a sanitary sewer operator license – which Murphy also lacks – but that responsibility is covered by the town’s consulting engineers, Neglia Engineering, of Lyndhurst.
As part of Murphy’s new employment conditions, the governing body has agreed to pay Murphy a weekly stipend of $100 – over and above his annual salary of $101,000 – “in recognition of the increased functional duties” he’s expected to shoulder as interim DPW boss.
Also, Murphy will be permitted to retain his membership in the Association of Department Heads and Assistant Department Heads to preserve his union and pension rights. The stipend doesn’t count toward his pension, Marks said.
Whether the town will see fit to adjust Murphy’s annual pay level remains to be seen. Hayes was making $105,000 a year.
A Union City native who has lived the last 30 years in Kearny, Murphy started his employment in Kearny as a part-timer writing tickets for street sweeper parking violations.
He moved on to DPW laborer, truck driver, DPW repair crew and street supervisor before being appointed assistant DPW superintendent in 2012 and, following the retirement of DPW head Gerry Kerr, he was named interim replacement.
“We were down to 15 to 17 full-time employees when Gerry retired,” Murphy recalled. “But the budget opened a little bit and now we’re up to 35. If we get up to 40, we’ll be at full capacity.”
Those employees are tasked with the maintenance of 48 miles of roads, including street sweeping, snow plowing and ice control, traffic line painting and traffic and street name signs, plus overseeing three sanitary and four storm water pumps, 6,000 feet of drainage ditches, three Passaic River tide gates, 1,000 catch basins and manholes, 90 miles of sewers, the municipal recycling drop-off center, municipal buildings upkeep, overseeing and trimming of 2,000 street trees and park greenery and maintaining and repairing 100 municipal vehicles and rolling stock.
“Snow is always our biggest challenge,” Murphy said. “Every storm is different.”
In fall 2019, the DPW implemented a new leaf policy.
“We changed it from residents sweeping leaves into the street to having them place leaves in biodegradable paper bags for curbside pickup,” Murphy recalled. “We sell the bags at cost. The transition went smoothly.”
Maintaining the town’s tree canopy is another tough job, he said.
“We’re a ‘Tree City,’ so it’s important to the town. We average 150 to 200 trims a year on our street trees.”
For the work he’s done to date, Murphy drew kudos from Fourth Ward Councilwoman Susan McCurrie, who said she’s “always very thankful he’s stepped up to handle the duties of interim DPW head,” and from Council President Carol Jean Doyle, who said she was “very happy he’s there. He has years of experience and he knows the town well. He’s taken us through many snowstorms and hurricanes and we’ve survived those due to his expertise.”
Murphy faces a job Doyle characterized as “a monumental task and each season has its issues, whether its snow or playgrounds, to say nothing about residents dropping off their recycling. Plus, the DPW is on call for emergencies and, while we don’t have a real big staff, we do have very dedicated workers and residents are very happy with their work.”
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Ron Leir | For The Observer
Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc.
He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter.
He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based WHATCo. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, New York