In 2009, the University of Washington faced an $81 million state budget cut, rising tuition and elimination of hundreds of jobs.
Its Office of Planning and Budgeting took one of the largest hits, with the budget slashed by 16 percent.
Nevertheless, the small department found money that fall to hire state Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, for a new post coordinating UW outreach to the neighborhood west of campus.
Initially advertised as a one-year post on a “time-critical” project, Murray’s job has been extended every year since, giving the Senate Democratic leader a steady second paycheck during the months when the Legislature is not in session.
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He was paid $50,000 last year by the UW, in addition to his $42,000 legislative salary and $8,190 in per diem payments while the Legislature was in session.
Now a leading candidate for Seattle mayor, Murray has taken indefinite unpaid leave from the UW.
The job placed Murray, a powerful lawmaker who chaired the Senate Ways and Means Committee in 2011 and 2012, in a position to craft budgets directly affecting his employer. In 2012, an alumni group recognized Murray as a “top Dawg” for his pro-UW budget work in Olympia.
Murray’s employment was cleared by the state Legislative Ethics Board, which monitors public-agency jobs taken by state lawmakers. The board found his hiring was competitive and did not represent a conflict of interest.
UW officials say Murray’s advice and his discussions with community groups have been valuable as the school considers future expansion and strives to improve its often strained relationships with its neighbors.
But Murray’s sometimes unpredictable legislative schedule at times interfered with his UW job, according to a review of hundreds of pages of emails and personnel records released to The Seattle Times under public-disclosure requests.
On May 24, 2012, Murray emailed an administrator with UW Educational Outreach, the department where he’d been assigned for the previous several months to work on a project to improve UW partnerships with state community colleges.
“I want to apologize for how my time with you worked out,” Murray wrote to Rosemary Sheffield, a senior director in the department.
Extra legislative sessions that year, plus a delay due to questions raised by the Legislative Ethics Board (the board eventually cleared the renewal of the contract) made it difficult for him to “see the project through,” Murray wrote.
He also apologized for failing to communicate about a plan for him to transfer back to the Planning and Budgeting office.
“No apologies needed. The timing etc. were beyond your control,” Sheffield replied.
In an interview, Sheffield said Murray had made “a good attempt to serve a need we had. I think it just got complicated by some of the demands of the Legislature that year.”
Although he rarely mentions his UW job on the campaign trail, Murray said he is proud of his work on building the university’s community relationships.
Murray said he has struggled over the years on a legislative salary, and noted his previous side job as a self-employed consultant dried up during the recession. “The Legislature does not pencil out,” he said.
The Legislature by design is made up of part-time citizen lawmakers, the vast majority of whom also hold other jobs.
Just like Murray, many lawmakers vote on matters that might affect their outside employers, noted Mike O’Connell, counsel to the Legislative Ethics Board.
“We expect the farmer and cobbler and the teacher and the lawyer and the newspaper reporter to all come here and do their thing,” O’Connell said.
Hired in 2009
Murray applied for the UW job in September 2009 and was hired in November, according to personnel records.
The job was advertised as a “part-time, one-year opportunity” for a coordinator of “time-critical planning and community outreach.”
The posted requirements included a bachelor’s degree in “a related field (urban planning, architecture, etc.)”
Murray has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Portland.
The UW listed as “desired” qualifications a master’s degree in business administration and experience as “an elected official or member of staff serving at the policy level.”
While not possessing an MBA, Murray fit the other desired qualifications as a state legislator since 1995 and a former Seattle City Council aide.
“Ed seemed the right person with his community involvement,” said Paul Jenny, vice provost of the UW Office of Planning and Budgeting.
The qualifications of others who applied for the job were withheld by the UW under an exemption in the state public-records law that keeps applications for public employment confidential.
Murray was the second state senator hired that year by the planning office.
The late Sen. Scott White, D-Seattle, had been hired in July 2009 to work on an overhaul of the university’s internal budget process.
Like Murray, White’s temporary job was extended after its initial one-year term. White died unexpectedly of a heart condition in 2011.
White and Murray’s jobs were considered “parallel” in responsibility and salary, according to personnel records.
UW officials said they did not create the jobs with the intention of hiring the state senators, but they were pleased to have them as employees.
“We’re the largest employer in the city of Seattle. I’m often surprised there aren’t more elected officials working here,” said Randy Hodgins, UW vice president for external affairs.
Extension not unusual
Jenny said his office was able to make the temporary hires despite ongoing state budget cuts by using money accumulated by leaving some positions unfilled. He added it is not unusual for the university to extend temporary staff positions beyond their original term.
Any employer of a state legislator has to deal with the unavoidable complication of having the person away during legislative sessions — which frequently have gone into overtime in recent years.
But, Jenny said, “When you look at what Ed has provided, and even more so with Scott, it was worth the conflict.”
Over the past few years, Murray’s role at the UW included meeting with community groups to listen to their concerns about the university’s impact on the surrounding neighborhoods.
“Ed was somebody who fought the good fight from the inside,” said Kristine Cunningham, executive director of the Roots Young Adult Shelter, a University District shelter that serves homeless teens and is funded in part by money Murray secured in the Legislature.
As part of his recent UW work, Murray met with deans of various colleges and compiled a brief summary of the UW’s involvement in the University District. He also headed a survey of UW faculty and staff about their involvement as community volunteers that drew 21 responses.
While Murray reported most of the time to the UW planning office, records show he has at times reached out to the university’s state lobbyist, Margaret Shepherd, when he had job-related difficulties.
“This is completely unworkable,” Murray complained to Shepherd in one 2010 email regarding a proposed change in whom he reported to at the UW.
Murray’s job was created as 75 percent of a full-time position. During legislative sessions, he was at times paid 10 percent of his UW salary, but this year he was on unpaid leave throughout the session.
His contract has been repeatedly extended since his initial hiring. Most recently, the UW extended his employment for another year in October 2012, two months before Murray announced he was forming an exploratory committee to run for mayor.
As a state legislator, Murray’s outside work — including a previous UW position — has been subjected to scrutiny before.
In 1999, an ethics complaint was filed against him over a temporary, $50-an-hour job he took at the UW working on issues related to light-rail planning. The UW did not interview any other candidates for the position.
At the time, Murray was a state representative and a member of the House Transportation Committee.
The Legislative Ethics Board dismissed the complaint, but ruled that in the future, all lawmakers needed to submit such employment contracts for prior review — something Murray had not done.
In 2006, Seattle Weekly reported the Port of Seattle had gone out of its way to hire Murray for consultant work, paying him $3,000 and lining up consulting work for him with major Port contractors. In an email, one Port contractor described the work as a “big favor,” the Weekly reported.
Earlier this year, on an apparent fishing expedition, the Washington State Republican Party submitted a public-records request for Murray’s UW personnel records.
Murray said he has never been wealthy and has been aggravated at times over the attention his pursuit of outside work has received over the years.
“I have felt there has been this sort of gotcha thing — why can’t Ed have a job?” he said. “For me to be in the Legislature, I have to work.”
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner