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Former city attorney returns as Costa Mesa’s new city attorney

Former city attorney returns as Costa Mesa’s new city attorney
Kimberly Hall Barlow, a partner at the law firm Jones & Mayer, is returning as Costa Mesa city attorney almost eight years after leaving that post. (LinkedIn)

Almost eight years after leaving the position, Kimberly Hall Barlow officially retook the reins as Costa Mesa’s city attorney following a unanimous City Council vote Tuesday night.

“It’s good to be back,” she said with a smile after the council meeting.

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Barlow — a partner at the law firm Jones & Mayer, which Costa Mesa has contracted for city attorney services since 2004 — served in the position for more than six years until she resigned in March 2011, citing personal and business reasons.

Now she is taking back the post from the man who replaced her — Tom Duarte, another partner at the same firm. Jones & Mayer proposed the switch, according to a city staff report. The firm bills the city $215 per hour for legal services and $115 per hour for paralegal services.

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“I find her to be a very strong attorney, very strong-willed, which is good for the city,” said Mayor Pro Tem John Stephens. “[She’s] willing to take a position, willing to say when she thinks we’re going in the wrong direction, and I think this is a great move for the city.”

Councilwoman Sandy Genis agreed, saying she “always appreciated Ms. Barlow’s willingness to speak up and tell the council when she thought they were wrong.”

“She will keep us on the straight and narrow, and when we wander off, she’ll tell us,” Genis added.

Last year, Stephens and Councilwoman Katrina Foley — who is now the mayor — raised issues with the legal representation Costa Mesa has received, including instances of court documents being incomplete or not filed on time. Stephens and Foley, both of whom are lawyers, also questioned whether Duarte was proactive enough in providing legal advice and opinions.

At the time, both supported taking bids for the position to see whether another law firm could better serve the city. But Foley said Tuesday that she doesn’t think the timing is right for such a move, given the ongoing search for a city manager.

“I think this is a good interim and, when we have our new city manager come onboard, we can have a discussion about whether we want to choose something different at that time,” she said. “But I’m pleased so far with Ms. Barlow’s willingness to take on a lot of different challenges … and really help us and give us good advice.”

Committee formed for city manager search

Council members also voted Tuesday to form an ad hoc transition team to help recruit a new city manager.

The team — consisting of Foley, Stephens and Councilwoman Arlis Reynolds — will work with city staff; Ralph Andersen & Associates, a Rocklin, Calif.-based consulting firm the city retained for the city manager search; and former Newport Beach city manager Dave Kiff, whose services the council retained last month at no cost.

“I’m excited to see what we find in our search for a city manager,” said Councilman Manuel Chavez.

Costa Mesa’s former city manager, Tom Hatch, left in November after the council voted to terminate his contract. Assistant City Manager Tamara Letourneau has temporarily taken over the role since then.

The vote to form the transition team was 6-1, with Councilman Allan Mansoor opposed. He did not explain his dissenting vote.

Residents interested in giving their opinions on the city manager search can do so with a new survey available in English and Spanish at costamesaca.gov.

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