Newport hires new city attorney


The Newport Beach City Council hired a new city attorney Thursday.

Aaron Harp, a senior attorney for Anaheim, will return to Newport Beach, where he worked as assistant city attorney from 2005 to 2009.

Harp will be thrust into the city’s defense against group rehabilitation home operators and will start work as the city prepares to negotiate John Wayne Airport’s noise limitations. He replaces outgoing City Attorney David Hunt, who resigned in June after a rocky nearly three-year tenure.

Harp starts Sept. 6 and will be paid $210,000 annually, with a $500 per month car allowance, according to the news release. That is $10,000 less than Hunt was paid.

In Anaheim, Harp managed the city’s civil division with about 11 attorneys, according to a Newport Beach news release. He also previously served as deputy city attorney for San Diego and worked for two private law firms.

“We are extremely pleased to have Aaron back with us,” Mayor Mike Henn said in a statement, adding that Harp’s experience in Newport and his management skills were selling points.

Managing both in-house and outside attorneys may be key for Harp, as the city explores outsourcing some of its legal staff. Tight finances and ballooning city attorney costs prompted a discussion in June about outsourcing.

One of the largest costs has been the city’s litigation stemming from of its controversial ordinance regulating the drug and alcohol recovery homes.

In early 2008, less than a year before Hunt was hired, the City Council passed an ordinance that required group-home operators to undergo an extensive review process. It was intended to limit the proliferation of the residences, which often anger their neighbors.

Taking the lead on the rehab homes issue, Hunt defended suits from several operators. The city’s law has been upheld by some courts, but the group-home operators continue their appeals.

Newport has spent about $3 million defending the law.

While the council scrutinized Hunt’s expanding budget, council members generally acknowledged it was a result of policy decisions.

Hunt was perhaps more under fire for his arrest in March 2010 on suspicion of domestic abuse, but he was never charged.

In December, the City Council placed him under what amounted to a six-month probationary period. At the conclusion of that time, and amid talks of outsourcing, Hunt announced his resignation.

The city’s news release says Harp will be asked to analyze the positions in the attorney’s office and to recommend some combination of in-house and outside counsel representation.