State Rep. Jim Murphy has been elected to four consecutive terms and is seeking another in the March Republican primary. This despite a continuing thrum of stories questioning his day job as general manager of Westchase Management District, a special taxing entity in west Houston.
The latest is a piece from the NBC affiliate in Houston, which notes his $312,000 annual pay pulled from a faux-government agency of the state.
From the story, which questions Murphy’s arrangement with Westchase:
The contract… lists him as a “consultant” even though the website for the Westchase District clearly says he’s the general manager. So what is the problem?
State law says, “No member of the Legislature may hold any other office or position of profit, except as a notary public.” In other words, a legislator cannot hold another taxpayer-funded job.
Murphy contends that despite what the Westchase web site says, he is a consultant, so the state statute provision does not apply. He is backed by a 2005 ruling from then Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office that “the Texas Constitution does not prohibit a member of the Texas Legislature from also working for compensation as an independent contractor for a municipal management district.”
Special districts have become controversial arrangements over the past decade, as both residents and watchdogs have probed the entities and found that such taxing entities have put big dollars in the pockets of developers, lawyers and the groups that run the districts, leaving taxpayers on the hook in many cases.
State lawmakers have undoubtedly read the stories and heard the complaints but have never come close to installing some form of oversight or reforming the special district system. Every session, dozens of new special districts are approved with little or no discussion.
Lawmakers last session created 50 such districts in 19 counties.
Murphy was first elected to the Statehouse in 2006, then lost his first reelection bid in 2008. His response to the defeat was to register as a lobbyist, representing special districts. Among his clients: Westchase Management District.
In 2010, Murphy ran again, this time with a primary challenger: Ann Witt. Witt put up a website, outlining alleged conflicts of interest being perpetrated by Murphy and his beneficiaries. Among those named was advertising and marketing firm, Rehak Creative Services, whose owner Robert Rehak, was a Murphy donor.
Rehak Creative filed a defamation lawsuit against Witt and lost both at the district and appellate level. The state Supreme Court declined to accept the case. Rehak was also made to pay Witt’s legal fees.
Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected]