State Rep. Kevin Murphy was named Lowell’s city manager.
State Rep. Kevin Murphy was named Lowell's city manager.

By Lyle Moran lmoran@lowellsun.com

LOWELL - State Rep. Kevin Murphy says he has always viewed the city manager's position as the role in Lowell in which a public official can have the greatest positive impact.

The City Council voted Monday night to select Murphy as city manager and give the longtime representative the opportunity to lead the Mill City as he has long desired.

"As city manager, you can do so much to help out the residents and accomplish so much for the city, so I really think being selected as city manager is the crowning achievement in my public career," Murphy, 61, said in an interview at his home Monday night. "I'm honored and humbled by the council's confidence in me, and I'm looking forward to doing the best I can to help out the city."

Murphy told The Sun that as manager, he plans to work quickly to tackle the major challenges facing the city, with addressing public-safety concerns as his top priority.

He pointed to shootings in the Highlands neighborhood, where he lives, last weekend as examples of the urgency of reducing crime in Lowell. Murphy said one approach he will take to boosting public safety will be seeking additional support from partners like the state police and the Middlesex District Attorney's Office.

"We have to deal with these shootings and other issues swiftly and severely, and that's what I plan to do when I'm city manager," said Murphy, who gathered with family and friends at his home Monday night to celebrate. The council chose Murphy on an 8-1 vote on the first ballot.

Only Councilor John Leahy voted for another candidate, casting his ballot for former City Councilor George Ramirez, his brother-in-law. Leahy later changed his vote to make Murphy's selection unanimous.

The council tasked Mayor Rodney Elliott and City Solicitor Christine O'Connor with negotiating a salary and determining a starting date for Murphy, who told the council during his interview he would not require an employment contract.

Murphy confirmed Monday night he will not seek a contract and said he hopes to start as manager in mid-April. He also said he will resign from the Legislature and leave his private law practice by the middle of the month before taking the reins at City Hall.

Murphy is a Lowell Democrat who has served in the House of Representatives since 1997, including service on the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee. He lives in the city's Highlands neighborhood, which he has represented along with the Acre neighborhood.

Before serving in elected office, Murphy worked for 13 years at Lowell City Hall as an assistant city solicitor, from 1983-1996.

Murphy has operated a private law practice, based in Chelmsford, since 1983. In that capacity, he has represented the management at the Lowell Housing Authority, the driver's union at the Lowell Regional Transit Authority and the Dracut School Committee.

Murphy will need to hire a new chief financial officer and new director of planning and development, and said the CFO hiring will be the most important one he will make.

Elliott said during the meeting one reason he voted for Murphy was because he was looking for someone who will bring together a good team.

Councilors also said both during the meeting and afterward that they supported Murphy because they believe he has the experience to do the job, a deep knowledge of city issues, and the passion to move the city forward in a positive fashion.

Councilor William Samaras said he believes Murphy has the ability to bridge the gap between different factions in the city, while Councilor Corey Belanger said he is pleased Murphy is making public safety his top priority and the council has high expectations for him.

"Certainly he brought a lot of passion (to the interview), and I'm optimistic he will bring that same passion to the job," Councilor Bill Martin said at Monday's meeting.

Leahy, who received clearance from the Ethics Commission to participate in the process despite his family ties to Ramirez, said he wanted someone for the job who has municipal experience. Ramirez is the executive vice president of Devens operations for MassDevelopment, a position in which he oversees the redevelopment of the former army base.

The other city manager finalists were North Reading Town Administrator Greg Balukonis, former East Providence City Manager Peter Graczykowski, and Blackstone Town Administrator Daniel Keyes.

Murphy will follow Bernie Lynch, who served 7 1/2 years and whose resignation was effective March 10. Murphy will be the city's 16th city manager since Lowell adopted Plan E government.

"He sees this as an opportunity to give back to the city and a capstone to his public service," said Murphy's wife, Ann.

Follow Lyle Moran on Twitter @lylemoran.