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Newport attorney is a 'working machine'

City Attorney Aaron Harp takes over at a time of financial constraints, and officials hope he can help tame the budget.

September 17, 2011|By Mike Reicher
(Kevin Chang, Daily…)

This might not have been the best time to take up a new sport.

Aaron Harp started tagging along with his wife, an avid runner, just before he began his post as Newport Beach's attorney.

Now he's spending 12-hour days in back-to-back meetings, and barely making it home in time to see his two young children.

But Harp and his colleagues say this is nothing new. The 38-year-old works until all the details are done. It's an ethic, some say, that may compensate for his relative youth in this typically career-topping position.

"Every time I work for governments, I work pretty much as hard as I did in private practice," said Harp, who has alternated between firms representing Southern California cities and cities themselves.

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At his first council meeting Tuesday, his seven-o'clock shadow showed his hours of preparation. Usually, Harp is a bundle of energy with boyish looks. Tall, he wears wire-rimmed glasses and finely parts his hair. He carries a pen in his breast pocket.

Harp first worked in-house for Newport in 2005, and spent four years as assistant city attorney. In 2009 he left for Anaheim, where he headed the civil division as a senior attorney. With then-Newport City Attorney David Hunt announcing his departure in June, the City Council came calling.

"He has big shoes to fill," said City Manager Dave Kiff, "but because he's been here before I don't have any question he can do that, despite his youthfulness."

"He's a sharp guy," Kiff added.

Officials were looking for someone to tame a ballooning budget — in the two and a half years that Hunt was in the job, the city attorney's office budget swelled by 55%. Much of that was attributed to hiring outside counsel to defend the city's controversial group rehabilitation homes ordinance.

"We were looking for a manager who has a track record for spending restraint," said Councilwoman Leslie Daigle.

Harp restructured his division in Anaheim, bringing all work in-house and eliminating about three positions. While Anaheim is large enough to justify a full in-house staff, Newport has to contract out some duties. Harp managed a $2.8-million budget at the Anaheim civil division; Newport's complete attorney budget is about $2.3 million.

On a recent morning, Harp wore a stylish plaid dress shirt and khaki pants for a day in the office, while in more public settings he sports a dark suit.

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