My year as the Chair of the ABA's Section of State and Local Government Law is coming to a close. I'm in Chicago this week at the Annual Meeting, ready to hand over the gavel to my colleague, friend, and successor, Ron Kramer. Below is my 2017-18 report on the Section's highs and lows, just published in the State and Local Government News.
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2018-18 Chair’s Report: The Year of Living Creatively
It is my pleasure, as Chair of the Section of State & Local Government Law, to report on the 2017-2018 Bar year. When Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum entrusted me with the Section Chair’s gavel during the ABA Annual Meeting in New York in August 2017, I remarked that the upcoming Bar year would be challenging. It would be a year in which we could experiment; view fundamental organizational changes within ABA as an opportunity and try to minimize the downsides; see what currently works with the way we do things and what doesn’t; and emphasize what makes ABA and Section membership worthwhile.
Many of us strongly believe that the Sections are the backbone of the ABA, providing committed members, educational and publication opportunities, and a nationwide network of colleagues who practice in the same field. The breadth and reach of our Section goes very far and includes land use, public finance, government operations, education, public employment, and eminent domain, to name a few. It seems you can’t pick up a newspaper or consider the Supreme Court’s docket without coming across an area of law we cover. This breadth is one of our biggest assets, as our members include government lawyers, private practitioners, legal scholars, law students and judges. Increasing our membership and spreading the news about our Section is always one of our biggest goals.
This has been a year of both retrenchment and growth within ABA that has affected all the Sections. We experienced new financial restrictions, a reduction in ABA staffing, and other things such as the shift from “Committees” to “Communities.” Our Section has responded admirably to financial pressures. What might have been a budget crisis was averted, thanks to careful guidance from our Section’s Budget Officer, Steven Adnopoz, and our Section Director Tamara Edmonds-Askew, as well as the firm foundation established by our past Chairs and Council. In the present financial climate we are grateful for Past Chair Donna Pugh’s current leadership of our Sponsorship Committee.
Here are some highlights and challenges of the past year.
The Urban Lawyer—still going strong. Faced with the end of our 50-year editorial relationship with the University of Missouri Kansas City Law School, we immediately began an intensive search for a law school as a new editorial home for our Section’s law review, The Urban Lawyer. We have good prospects, and we hope to make an announcement at some time in 2019. In the interim, we continue to publish The Urban Lawyer, editing it in-house with the able assistance of ABA Publishing and Wendy Smith. Most importantly, we have avoided any break in publication. The first issue is Highlights from the 31st Annual Land Use Institute (Fall 2017, Vol. 49, Number 4).
Savannah—conference washed out but online. Due to the hurricane threat, we moved our Savannah October 2017 Conference online. While we were not able to produce several in-person CLE programs we had planned we were able, with the assistance of Amy Gelbman and the ABA’s Center for CLE, to transfer most of our Savannah programming to a series of well-attended webinars. Kudos to C. Elisia Frazier and Erica Levine Powers for putting the original Savannah program together, We also were able to produce two programs in-person in Savannah as planned. Several of us, including Jefferson Fordham Up-and-Comer award recipient Ashley Scott, hosted a session at the Savannah Law School on the value of Bar Association participation and career paths in state and local government law. The next day, we traveled to the Girl Scouts’ encampment on Rose Dhu Island, where Past Chair Ben Griffith led two programs so the Girl Scouts could earn their Civics and Voting Rights badges. Kudos to Elizabeth Peetz, our Young Lawyers co-chair, for setting up the Girl Scouts program.
ABA Midyear—highlighting our relationship with the Young Lawyers Division. We made a conscious decision not to have Section programming and a Council meeting at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Vancouver, BC in February 2018. To maintain a small Section footprint, we did sponsor our always-anticipated program on substantive diversity law. Professor Daiquiri Steele singlehandedly presented a session on Title IX issues at a well-attended tour-de-force session for the Young Lawyers Division. We also made a pitch to the Council of the Young Lawyers Division to remind our colleagues of all the reasons why the State and Local Government Law Section should be their next stop in the ABA.
Detroit is back! Our Spring 2018 Conference in Detroit was a resounding success in a rejuvenating city. We produced two concurrent programs: our annual Procurement Symposium with the Section of Public Contracts Law, and the 32nd Annual Land Use Institute, which is now a program of the Section’s Land Use Committee. Special thanks to Steve Stapleton, Past Chair Mary Massaron, and Dan Dalton for being great hosts in their resurgent hometown. Thanks also to the Detroit Mercy Law School for providing the Land Use Institute venue; to Frank Schnidman for assembling a great Land Use Institute faculty and agenda; and to Dennis Archer (former Michigan Supreme Court Justice, Mayor of Detroit, and past President of the ABA) for his keynote address to the Procurement Symposium and capstone address to the Land Use Institute.
Elizabeth Clark Scholarship. Other highlights include the creation of the Elizabeth Clark Scholarship as a Jefferson Fordham program. Our dear colleague Elizabeth was always looking for ways to mentor young lawyers, and with this scholarship we’re able to honor her memory. It is a yearly award of travel expenses and a tuition waiver to allow a member of the ABA Young Lawyers Division to attend one of our conferences. In return, we ask the scholarship winner to serve on at least one CLE panel, as either a presenter or moderator. One of our long-term goals is to increase young lawyer participation in our Section, and we think this is one way of doing so.
Expanding the planning horizon. One of my goals for the year was to extend our planning horizon. Being relatively small, our Section does not have the staff of many larger ABA sections. It has often seemed to me as though we are staying just ahead of the planning curve. I believe that with more advance planning, including vigorous promotion, we would be able to realize greater benefits from conferences and programming and our audiences would be able to plan and budget for them. We’re all volunteers, after all, and our work in the Section supplements our busy practices, so the more time we have to plan, the more successful we should be. I think we’ve already recognized some modest gains. We’re well under way with planning for the next several Bar years and our conferences in San Antonio (Fall 2018), Baltimore (Spring 2019), Minneapolis-St. Paul (Fall 2019) and Tampa (Spring 2019).
Welcome Back, Marsha Boone. One final item: it is my pleasure to formally welcome Marsha Boone back to our Section. Many of you will recall that Marsha was a vital staff member before she departed for the Family Law Section. Recently, thorough the initiative of our Section Director Tamara Edmonds-Askew, we were able to bring Marsha back to the best Section in the ABA, ours! It’s great having an old friend back with us, helping us to expand our reach.
Finale: Last August, I anticipated that the year would be one of experimentation, and it has been. Perhaps it would be better to call it “innovation.” The successes our Section recognized are the product of a great team—too many to name here in full—which includes Rick Bright, Kim Rosenfield, Bryan Kay, Brian Steiling, our Council, our Committee leaders and Officers, and all of you who have devoted hours of time to make this enterprise a success. Most importantly, thanks to our Section Director Tamara Edmonds-Askew, sometimes also known as Cat-Herder-In-Chief. We all know that without her guidance, our Section would not flourish – and we might be in a world of trouble!
Whether my attempt to have us take a new look at the way we do things has been successful or not, I leave to your judgment. I am grateful for the opportunity to have served you, my colleagues, and thankful for having been afforded this wonderful chance.