The City of Liberty Hill recently hired the husband of a former City Council member to serve as water utility operator.
Brian Kirk, whose wife, Lisa Kirk, resigned from Place 5 on the City Council on Dec. 12, started to work Monday, Mayor Michele “Mike” Murphy confirmed this week.
She said she was not aware of the conditions of his employment, but confirmed that he is also the brother-in-law of City Secretary Tammy Kirk.
City Manager Manuel De La Rosa, who hired Brian Kirk, was not available to speak with The Independent this week.
The newspaper’s Open Records Request for information regarding Kirk’s employment had not been processed by the City by press time Wednesday.
“This is nothing I pay attention to,” said Mayor Murphy. “I don’t discuss day-to-day problems with Manny unless they become big problems. It’s not my job.”
Mayor Murphy added that she did not see a problem with the fact that Kirk was the City Secretary’s brother-in-law. De La Rosa will be Brian Kirk’s direct supervisor, she said.
“It’s what, three degrees of separation? I don’t see a conflict,” she said. “We have a chart on the wall at City Hall that’s very clearly labeled.
“We live in a town of less than 1,000 people. It’s hard to turn around without kicking somebody you know,” she said.
The job vacancy was not advertised in the newspaper as is typical of other City job openings. But, Mayor Murphy said she did not see a problem with that either.
“The Council created a utility department,” she said. “If Manny thought he was the best person for the job, then I’m okay with that decision,” she said.
“I know Manny had been talking to her husband about the utility job, but he couldn’t talk to him about it as long as she (Mrs. Kirk) was on the Council,” the Mayor said.
The position was previously held by Wendell McLeod, who was terminated Dec. 1. McLeod was a long-time member of the City Council before he resigned last summer to work for the City. The Council appointed Mrs. Kirk to fill McLeod’s vacancy in July.
McLeod had an employment contract with the City. However, the City was no longer obligated to honor it after a settlement agreement was reached in the City’s lawsuit against the Liberty Hill Water Supply Corp. where it obtained the water system through condemnation.
De La Rosa told The Independent in its Dec. 8 edition that McLeod was “discharged for cause,” and that filling the position was not high on the priority list.
“Outsourcing is the least expensive when compared to hiring personnel because of the cost of benefits,” he said.
De La Rosa said at that time that utility operators employed by Severn Trent would fill the duties of McLeod until the utility department could be restructured. He said there was no time frame for that. The City has a contract with Severn Trent to manage the water and wastewater systems.
Mayor Murphy said she was not completely familiar with Kirk’s background or qualifications. Nor did she know whether others had applied for the position.
However, she said Kirk was an “experienced water utility operator.”
In resigning from the Council last month, Mrs. Kirk announced that she no longer had the time to serve.
“At this time, I believe that I can not give the full time that is deserved to the Council and take care of my family, health and work obligations as well,” she said.
One week prior to her resignation, Mrs. Kirk was one of three Council members who voted against an ordinance authorizing the City to issue $2.28 million in water revenue bonds. At the time, she explained that she had not had time to study the material and did not know enough about it to support it.
Ater her resignation Dec. 12, the Council voted again on the issue and the ordinance was adopted.
In addition to Tammy Kirk and Brian Kirk, there are other city employees with familial ties, none of which violate nepotism laws, the Mayor said.
Mindy Nassour, who was hired in 2011 as a deputy clerk, is married to Police Captain George Nassour.
Prior to his discharge last month, McLeod and his wife, Mary Ann McLeod, were also employed at the same time.
When asked previously about the issue, De La Rosa told The Independent that in the case of the Nassours and the McLeods, family members were not supervising each other and were not assigned to the same departments.