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Costa Mesa officially hires Lori Ann Farrell Harrison as its eighth city manager

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The Costa Mesa City Council voted Tuesday night to officially hire Lori Ann Farrell Harrison, center in white, as the next city manager. She is the eighth person to hold the position in Costa Mesa’s history.
(Courtesy of city of Costa Mesa)

It’s official: After a four-month search, Costa Mesa has a new city manager.

With a 6-1 vote Tuesday night, the City Council hired its top choice for the job — Lori Ann Farrell Harrison, currently assistant city manager in neighboring Huntington Beach.

“Welcome to Costa Mesa!” Mayor Katrina Foley exclaimed after the decision, to a round of applause.

Farrell Harrison will be the eighth city manager since Costa Mesa incorporated in 1953 and the first woman appointed to the post.

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“I personally am thrilled that you will be our first woman city manager, and I think you are the most qualified and the most experienced and you will lead us the best,” Foley told her.

Farrell Harrison will receive a starting salary of $260,000 per year, with an additional $141,185 in annual benefits. She is expected to start by July 1.

“I have been watching the city from not too far away … and been so incredibly impressed with the direction that you’re headed in, with the bold initiative that you’re taking to increase revenue, to reinvigorate the business community and help to attract new businesses,” Farrell Harrison told the council Tuesday. “Your commitment to transparency, quite frankly, is the gold standard in the county.”

“Under your leadership and direction, I can work with the executive team here at the city — some of whom I’ve met this evening — to lead us to new heights and to achieve incredible things,” she added. “I’m thrilled about the opportunity.”

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Council members were effusive in their praise for Farrell Harrison, saying her combination of intellect, financial acumen, wide range of experience, emphasis on teamwork and collaboration and leadership style made her an ideal fit.

“This is a really big decision, but it’s an easy decision and it’s a happy decision,” said Mayor Pro Tem John Stephens. “It was a long recruiting process; we looked at a lot of great candidates ... but one stood out above all the other candidates. … Ms. Farrell Harrison is going to be a great city manager.”

Councilman Manuel Chavez said he thinks Farrell Harrison has the well-rounded skill set necessary to lead Costa Mesa as it continues to grow and develop.

“There’s no better fit for our city,” he said.

Councilman Allan Mansoor cast the lone dissenting vote. He believed the council should have chosen Costa Mesa Assistant City Manager Tamara Letourneau for the job.

Letourneau has served as the city’s top municipal employee since the sudden departure of former city manager Tom Hatch in November.

Letourneau didn’t apply to fill the job long term, but Mansoor said he believes that’s because she knew “there were not four votes up here for her, and I think that’s sad.”

“She would have been my No. 1 choice and so I think we really dropped the ball as a city by not going with Ms. Letourneau and expressing our support for her as city manager,” Mansoor said.

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Other council members also expressed gratitude for Letourneau’s leadership the past few months and thanked her — and the rest of city staff — for their hard work and dedication. The audience at Tuesday’s meeting applauded that sentiment as well.

Before Farrell Harrison takes the reins in Costa Mesa, she will do so temporarily in Huntington Beach following the departure of current City Manager Fred Wilson, whose last day on the job is Friday.

Farrell Harrison will serve as interim city manager in Huntington Beach starting Monday and fill that role until a replacement is named.

Huntington Beach city officials have said they will launch a national recruitment effort and hope to appoint a long-term leader by this summer.

Farrell Harrison became Surf City’s assistant city manager in September 2017, when she was selected to replace Ken Domer, who left to become Fullerton’s city manager.

Before that, she was the city’s chief financial officer for seven years. She also previously worked as controller and chief financial officer for the city of Long Beach.

She received her bachelor’s degree from Barnard College of Columbia University and a master’s in public administration, also from Columbia. She is fluent in Spanish, and she and her husband have four teenage children.

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