Berryville hires Eureka Springs public works director Kirby Murray

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

BERRYVILLE ---- Mayor Tim McKinney has hired a new public works director, Kirby Murray, the longtime public works chief for the city of Eureka Springs.

Murray gave his official notice to Mayor Kathy Harrison Thursday after accepting the job in Berryville on Wednesday.

McKinney said Monday that he was pleased to have Murray on board, and added that he actively recruited Murray after reading about Murray's recent conflicts with a member of the Eureka Springs City Council.

He said that "as a courtesy, I talked to (Eureka Springs) Mayor Kathy Harrison before I approached Kirby Murray, and she said she had no problem with Kirby, or me offering him the job."

The public works position pays more than $46,000 per year, and has been vacant since Sam Goade resigned a couple of years ago to take a similar job in Springdale.

Since then, Dwayne Allen has been filling in part of the public works duties, and McKinney said Allen will remain with the city as an on-site supervisor under Murray.

McKinney said his goal in recruiting Murray was to bring the city's wastewater treatment plant up to higher standards, saying, "Nobody with Kirby's knowledge has been overseeing the plant operations, and Kirby has the knowledge to bring us up to date and make sure we can meet the water treatment challenges ahead."

Murray will start at the top of the pay scale, "because of his experience and the fact that he has about every license and qualification you can get related to water and sewage treatment."

McKinney said Murray will concentrate mainly on Berryville's water treatment plant, and will also be chief of streets and other municipal projects.

Murray was McKinney's top choice "because I am very much aware of his reputation as being very good at his job," McKinney said.

Murray's hiring was expected to be brought before the city council Tuesday night, McKinney said.

In an interview Monday, Murray said, "I have always loved this job and would have stayed in it forever, but this past year has been the worst year of my life ... My reputation has been severely damaged. Accusations were made about me and the way I was doing my job. Nobody bothered to check to see if the accusations were true.

"I like the idea of working in Berryville because there are not that many hostile people over there. Mayor McKinney has said I will not be in the public spotlight as much, and that's fine with me."

Murray was referring to accusations made by former Eureka Springs City Councilman David Wilson before he resigned from the council at the end of March last year, barely three months into Wilson's term.

Wilson was concerned about the way a sewer line repair and replacement project was being handled. He did not think the work was being done properly since the entire project had not been designed by a professional engineer or put out for bids.

Although the method of work had been approved by consulting engineers and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), other council members have since called the project into question on costs of equipment rental, materials and whether or not the work could have been contracted out for a better price.

Work has now been stopped and is waiting for engineering specifications and bids to be taken on the remainder of the project.

Wilson has apologized privately and publicly to Murray for his initial comments.

"We have had fights with councils for years over these projects," Murray said, "but this year was the worst it has ever been."

Murray started working for Eureka Springs on April 1, 1978, through an eight-week government-sponsored beautification work program.

"There were nine guys on the crew, one of whom was Dwayne Allen, the acting public works director in Berryville right now," he said.

After the program ended, Murray was hired by the city to work in the street department.

"The street superintendent was fired and they put me in his job," he said. "The street and water departments were separated then. After about four months, the fellow in charge of the water department left and I was offered the job as general works foreman.

"The departments were put together during Mayor Richard Schoeninger's term and I was named public works director.

"When I started, we had a building out here (on U.S. Highway 62 east) but that was about all. It was a new building, but it was full of junk. We didn't have running water or a bathroom or even an office. It was pretty primitive."

An office building has been built, the metal building cleaned up, the fleet of vehicles expanded, manpower increased and other improvements made during Murray's tenure.

He has also taken over maintaining the Tree City program for the city, which is more than 20 years old.

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