Hunt will be back at work in January

Council approves new contract for city attorney who was arrested on suspicion of domestic abuse, but there are stipulations.

December 18, 2010|By Mike Reicher,

NEWPORT BEACH — As the City Council continues to evaluate his performance, City Atty. David Hunt will resume work in January under a new six-month provisional period.

Hunt, who was arrested on suspicion of domestic abuse in March but was not charged, took a nearly three-month leave of absence and has been working to regain officials' confidence.

The council approved a new contract Tuesday with a number of changes, most of which are less favorable to Hunt than his original two-year agreement, which expires Tuesday.


"We're providing an additional time for evaluation," Mayor Mike Henn said after the vote. "This has nothing to do with David's personal situation."

"That's water under the bridge, and we've moved on," he added.

While Hunt will still receive an annual salary of $220,000, his contract term will be cut in half: for one year, including the six-month evaluation, rather than two years. Also, the agreement adds new stipulations for severance pay.

They require Hunt to waive his right to sue the city in order to receive severance, and the new rules say the contract extends indefinitely after one year, on an at-will employment basis.

Henn said the council started Hunt's evaluation in the fall, but didn't finish its assessment before the contract will expire, so it decided to continue the review into next year.

The city attorney's large budget has come under scrutiny during recent years, as the city spends more defending its group homes ordinance and other litigation.

"Sure, we're concerned about the total legal costs for the city," Henn said. "But we understand why those costs are so high. We are hoping to manage the costs down."

The city needs to decide by June if it wants Hunt to continue through 2011. If it does not, he would be relieved in January 2012 and would receive no severance pay. But if he's terminated before then, Hunt would get severance pay — either for three months' salary and benefits or six months, depending on the firing date.

To evaluate and negotiate Hunt's contract, the city hired an outside attorney from the Newport-based firm of Scott & Whitehead. The agreement is "well within the accepted realm of practice in public employment," attorney Craig Scott wrote in a staff report.

Besides the contract's shorter duration, its format would also be applied to the city clerk and city manager, whom the council hires directly, according to Henn.

Hunt did not return a call seeking comment.

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