First Posted: 4/16/2013 3:52:15 PM
WILKES-BARRE — Former city administrator J.J. Murphy has been paid $300 an hour since February as a consultant to a Philadelphia law firm regarding the possible leasing of the city’s parking assets, documents show.
Murphy, who left the city job in 2010, has been hired as a consultant by Fox Rothschild, the law firm where his brother, Patrick Murphy, is a partner.
Patrick Murphy, a former U.S. representative, is running for the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania attorney general in next week’s primary.
Charging an hourly rate of $300, ($5 per minute), J.J. Murphy has been paid $8,130 for 27.1 hours worked since Feb. 21.
Neither the city nor the parking authority has disclosed the written contract with the law firm. The Times Leader made a formal Right to Know request for that document Monday, and authority Solicitor Murray Ufberg said he would turn over the contract after that request was reviewed by the city and authority.
The parking authority had been scheduled to meet today at noon, but the meeting was canceled due to the death of the chairman’s wife.
Ufberg said Judy Delong Maher, wife of Paul Maher, died Saturday. He said the meeting has been rescheduled for April 26 at noon.
Discussed in December
The latest proposal to privatize the city’s parking assets was presented to the authority in December, said Ed Katarsky, authority member.
He said he and fellow member Mary Ann King at first opposed the idea, but later voted to pursue the Requests for Qualifications.
The RFQ is near completion and will be announced after the next authority meeting.
Mayor Tom Leighton revealed last week his plan to look into leasing the city’s 2,113 garage spaces, 160 surface lot spaces and 800 parking meters. The city operates the Intermodal Center and the parking meters; the authority operates the Park & Lock garages and all surface lots.
He said the city is seeking “a minimum” of $20 million up front and retention of the enforcement revenue from the parking meters.
Katarsky said he and other authority members are looking for a higher price.
“I don’t think we will pursue this if the numbers aren’t there,” Katarsky said. “I don’t think $20 million is enough up front. We’ll see what offers we get and see what happens from there.”
“If we don’t get the right offer, we can nip this whole thing in the bud,” he said.
Drew McLaughlin, the city’s administrative coordinator, said the city’s financial consultants originally proposed a possible lease of parking assets in 2004 as one of many revenue options for the city’s financial recovery.
Leighton said the city was faced with a $10 million deficit when he assumed office in 2004 and the city had lost its credit rating.
“It was not pursued at the time because the downtown parking assets were not at optimum value largely due to the state of the downtown business district,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin said the fiscal and economic portrait of the city has improved, making the parking spaces more valuable. He cited construction of the Intermodal Transportation Center and new lighting and sidewalk improvements downtown as key ingredients in making Wilkes-Barre an attractive investment opportunity.
“The city will be seeking bids on a lease of the assets from a position of strength and only if a good deal for the people of Wilkes-Barre materializes will a lease agreement be executed,” McLaughlin said. “This is the right time to pursue this initiative.”
So far the authority has paid Fox Rothschild around $83,000, according to its consultant Alan Wohlstetter. J.J. Murphy has been retained by Fox Rothschild, not the Parking Authority directly.
Since 2010, Wohlstetter and Fox Rothschild have donated between $5,000 and $6,000 to Leighton’s campaigns, according to the mayor’s campaign finance reports.
McLaughlin said the RFQ responses are to be submitted by May 15 and qualified bidders will be identified by June 5.
He said a due-diligence process will take place in June and July, with bid proposals due by July 31. Final and binding proposals would be due by Aug. 15 and selection of a vendor by the end of November.
According to parking authority minutes, Leighton came to the authority in December to pitch the idea of leasing the parking assets.
Murphy attended the March 20 meeting and reported on the RFQ process. He also recommended Desman Associated, a Chicago-based nationally known parking consultant that will analyze all proposals, and he set the minimum bid at $25 million.
Whatever amount the city accepts on the upfront payment, $7 million of it will be used to retire the remaining debt on the Intermodal Transportation Center, Leighton said.
On the bill from Goals Consulting, Murphy’s firm, charges range from .2 hrs (12 minutes, or $60) to seven hours, or $2,100. The bill references city officials by first name and in the case of Leighton “TML.”
The Wilkes-Barre City Parking Authority will meet April 26, at noon at the Park and Lock North garage office, North Main Street.