Councilman confirms old DUI

As Huntington Beach works to crack down on its image as a per capita leader in drunk driving crashes, a city councilman on Friday confirmed an online report that he had been arrested for driving under the influence several years ago.

Councilman Matt Harper said he was arrested in December 2004 in Westminster near the border by Huntington Beach police for drinking and driving after leaving a holiday party in which he consumed seven drinks within five hours.

"It was a mistake," Harper said, adding that he had used bad judgment after a night of eating and drinking. "It obviously was not the right action to take and what's clear is that this is something I have not repeated again."

Harper was a Huntington Beach Unified High School District school board member at the time of his arrest.

Harper now works as deputy chief of staff for Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen.

The Surf City Voice, an online publication, first reported the news Friday, stating that Harper did not disclose his arrest when the city recently debated whether to post images of habitual drunk drivers on its Facebook page.

That proposal failed, with Harper in the minority that supported giving police the freedom to post DUI information on "habitual offenders."

"I don't think the City Council should be in the business, in general, of giving directions to the Police Department on the public relations decisions that they choose to take," he said. "I think we ought not to look like we're micro-managing and telling them what they should and should not do."

In his case, Harper, then 30, was booked into the Huntington Beach Jail for driving with a blood-alcohol level that exceeded the legal limit, .08%, and was released the next morning, according to Harper and court records.

He pleaded not guilty and the case was dismissed in 2008, court records show.

He was given three years' probation, paid $390, was required to attend a first-offenders program and had his license restricted for 90 days, according to the records.

Police Chief Ken Small said he had no idea Harper was once arrested for drinking and driving.

"I don't know anyone who hasn't made a mistake that they later regretted," Small said. "What's important is that he learned from the mistake and didn't repeat it."

Councilman Don Hansen said he was surprised and called the matter unfortunate.

Huntington Beach recently made headlines for its Facebook proposal and when it was reported that Surf City has more DUI-related accidents per capita than any other city its size in California.

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