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KPRC Channel 2 News

State representative facing ethics questions

Rep. Jim Murphy is 5-time state representative
By
Mario Diaz

HOUSTON - It appears that state Rep. Jim Murphy likes taxpayer-funded hats. Channel 2 Investigates identified him wearing a couple of them. One is for the 133rd District on Houston's west side, and the other remains unclear.

Employment contracts between Murphy and the Westchase District, a governmental agency and political subdivision of the state, show Murphy banking a fixed monthly fee of over $26,000 a month. That is a whopping $312,000 a year. The contract also lists him as a "consultant" even though the website for the Westchase District clearly says he's the general manager.

State law says, "No member of the Legislature may hold any other office or position of profit, except as a notary public."So what is the problem?

In other words, a legislator cannot hold another taxpayer-funded job.

Murphy is a five-time state representative.

After several failed attempts to set up an interview, Channel 2 Investigates caught up with Murphy at the place he lists as the address for his consulting business, District Management Services. Coincidentally, it also doubles as his home.

When asked if he was an independent contractor, consultant or general manager, Murphy said, "I appreciate your interest and I know you are working hard."

When asked about appearing on websites and social media as the general manager, Murphy said, "Right, right, that is the role I play."

In 2014, Murphy's contracts began to include bonuses called "special projects." Some of the projects were categorized as "top priority" and some as "secondary priority." In some cases, the bonuses were awarded to Murphy for securing funding-- not for his constituents, but for the district that cuts his check. In fact, Murphy can earn up to $6,000 if he is able to secure $1 million or more from the Texas Department of Transportation for highway projects.

Lucky for him, his job as a legislator grants him plenty of access to lawmakers and agencies in Austin.

When Channel 2 attempted to get access to Murphy at his Westchase District office, Murphy left through a back door down 13 flights of stairs. A colleague said he had to leave due to a "scheduling issue."

Channel 2 Investigates found Murphy at his consulting office-residence a short while later.

Murphy admitted to getting paid $312,000 a year and receiving bonuses.

The bonuses are paid with taxes collected by Westchase.

When asked who he was representing at the end of the day, Murphy said, "This contract is for these services. We are proud to provide them and they are not in conflict at all with what I am doing with the state."

When pushed further as to whether he represents the Westchase District or the one that district bleeds into, the 133rd District of the State of Texas, Murphy said, "Well, clearly we are representing the district when I am doing district stuff or the state when I am doing state stuff," covering both sides.

Michael Wynne offered the following perspective: "The funny thing about this is that Mr. Murphy and the district want to be whatever they want to make themselves."

For 12 years, Wynne was a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of Texas, "A substantial amount of compensation depends on decisions of administrative agencies. One has to wonder why in the world he's even in the Legislature to begin with," he said.

It took Bay Scoggin three seconds to sum up what we uncovered: "Look, it's a tough thing to sell and I don't think it's right."

Scoggin is the director of Texas Public Interest Research Group, a government watchdog group based in Austin. When asked how voters in Murphy's district can know he is looking out for them if he has financial incentives to complete projects in the Westchase District, Scoggin said, "I don't think that they do. This is a situation of common sense. Any common-sense person knows that if you get a chance to make some money, you are going to try and get that done."

Wynne summed up the situation by saying, "This is just not the thing we elect our representatives to do."

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