These days Richard Murphy is definitely enjoying life. He certainly earned that luxury. As Queens Borough Parks Commissioner for nine years he had the tough job of maintaining 7,000 acres of parkland with a paltry budget and a Manhattan-centric bureaucrat posing as a NYC Parks Commissioner breathing down his neck. However, he did his job so well that in 2004 Nassau County discovered what we knew all along and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: First Deputy Commissioner of Nassau County Parks. Murphy jumped at the chance for a new challenge and some fresh air away from the NYC Parks mess. Of course, Nassau County’s gain was our loss. We lost a friend who brought common sense and independent thinking to the job, a down-to-earth leader who knew how to work with people. Rich Murphy found bliss in Nassau County and hasn’t looked back. And we are happy for him.
We still recall Murphy’s response when we asked him for a parting quote as he got ready to embark on his next big role as First Deputy Commissioner in Nassau County. Richie stated: “If I were a resident of Middle Village I would be happy and thrilled to have you guys in the Juniper Park Civic Association represent my best interest.” Therein lies the mutual respect that we shared with Richard Murphy.
Richard had been in the NYC Parks system since 1970. He started out in forestry and worked his way up the ladder serving as Parks & Recreation Manager and Deputy Chief of Operations. In 1995 he took charge of the Queens Parks Operations. Richard’s job was varied and touched every aspect of park operations including being in charge of preparations for large events in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. He organized park improvement projects in other parts of Queens and he directed the largest forestry operation in New York City.
Much of the improvements you see in Juniper Valley Park came under Richie Murphy’s watch. During his tenure in Queens the ballfields in Juniper were rehabilitated with the modern improvements that teams are now experiencing. He was goal oriented and when you told Richie about a problem, he was quick to help you solve it, usually with his hands-on approach. For instance, the Department of Parks placed several picnic tables at the west end of Juniper Park near the field house. These tables, because they were so close to all the private houses nearby, were a huge problem. When the homeowners came to the JPCA for help we quickly contacted Richie Murphy who in his usual spirit of cooperation with the community, removed the tables.
Richie knew we had a problem with the unleashed dogs in Juniper Valley Park because of the NYC Parks Department’s initiation of the “courtesy hours” from 9pm to 9am when dogs throughout the city could run free in all the city parks. When we presented the problem to him, his common sense response was simple and productive. He told us to get a vote from Community Board 5 stating that Juniper Valley Park wanted to opt out of the so called “unleashed courtesy hours” imposed by NYC Parks. When we presented the problem to CB5, Board members recognized the dangers of unleashed dogs and they voted 36-0 to opt out of the “off-leash courtesy hours.” Unfortunately his boss, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, who lacks Murphy’s creative and social skills, derailed the plan by saying that Murphy did not have the authority to allow the community board to opt out of the courtesy hours. Obviously Benepe didn’t read the NYC Charter nor does he possess the common sense to solve problems.
After Richie left the NYC parks system to take on the job in Nassau, all hell broke loose. Current NYC Parks Commissioner, Adrian Benepe, who, based on our observation, hates the community board process and avoids it every chance he gets, denied the Community Board’s request to opt out of the so called “courtesy hours.” The result is the JPCA’s current lawsuit against the NYC Parks Department policy of allowing dogs to go unleashed in city parks from 9pm to 9am. This wouldn’t have happened under Richard Murphy. He would have found a solution had it not been for the meddling of the Manhattan-centrist commissioner, Adrian Benepe.
When Richard Murphy moved on from being Queens Parks Commissioner to become the First Deputy Commissioner with the Nassau County Department of Parks, Recreation and Museums his employment coincided with the launch of a comprehensive Parks “Come Back” program initiated by Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi. The goal was to turn around a long neglected county parks system.
As First Deputy Commissioner, Murphy quickly earned a reputation as an energetic, accessible and hands-on manager, and was able to meet a very aggressive deadline of Memorial Day 2005 for the completion of the renovation work.
In total, the county committed approximately $13 million on capital improvements and untold hours of labor to the “Come Back” campaign. Here are a few examples of the achievements Parks made under the leadership of Commissioner Murphy:
• Renovation of 49 out of 53 softball and baseball fields in the County Parks system. This included aerating, seeding, fertilizing and grading fields, in many cases for the first time in years.
• Renovation of 71 tennis courts, or close to 90% of the courts in the system, and more than half of the 46 basketball courts. Numerous courts are now outfitted with pro-style glass backboards as well as new surface color coating.
• In golfing operations, the county invested in significant improvements on the three 18-hole courses in Eisenhower Park, among the busiest public courses on Long Island.
• While the primary focus of the renovation effort involved the major parks, smaller, “passive” parks and preserves were also improved. Tanglewood Preserve in Lakeview, for years a blight on that community, was renovated with beautiful brick walkways around a rehabilitated pond and new landscaping and trails.
Under First Deputy Commissioner Murphy, the Parks Department also reorganized its management structure along geographic lines to create greater accountability and specific areas of responsibility. Additionally, public communications were improved, including a new Website and regularly published newsletters, and improvements were made in the area of technology.
On the personal side, Richard Murphy is a Vietnam veteran, having served from 1966-1968 in the U.S Marines. Nowadays he lives on Long Island with his wife, Gina, and two young children, Ricky and Gianna.
We in Middle Village and Maspeth salute Richard Murphy for his years of dedication and service to our community. We miss his remarkable creativity at problem solving. But most of all we miss his common sense approach.
Who knows, maybe the next mayor of our city is reading this article and may just remember the name Richard Murphy when he/she goes searching for a creative leader for Parks Commissioner.