President's Message

Posted by: on Oct 1, 2009

The Future is Now                                                                                                                                                                                                        President's Message October 2009                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          By Patrick E. Kelly    

One of my goals as the Mecklenburg County Bar President is to place more emphasis on strategic planning. My experience in whatever organization I have been affiliated with - from the U.S. Army to my law firm to various nonprofit boards - is that each organization recognizes the significance of strategic planning, but few want to do it. Strategic planning is hard work. It takes a great deal of thought and effort, and it does not provide the immediate gratification we all crave.

The MCB is no different when it comes to strategic planning. Our organization, and in particular the President, is hard-wired to focus primarily on the issues at hand and let the next guy or gal worry about the future. There tends to be a "one and done" and "let's just make it through the year" mentality.

Let me make it clear that I am not advocating a repeal on term limits. The current one-year term for MCB President is just fine, thank you.  Although there are drawbacks to having term limits, there are also benefits. Term limits can empower elected leaders to make tough decisions.  To recommend bold action. To challenge the status quo. All without the constraint of being politically correct or needing to worry about re-election.

One of the foremost strategic issues facing our Bar today is the need for a newer, bigger and better Bar Center. There can be little debate that the MCB's existing 5,900 square foot Bar Center is no longer adequate. Since the current Bar Center was purchased in 1993, MCB membership has nearly doubled, as have demands for CLE and other MCB services. This growth has dramatically increased the MCB's staffing and space needs. The current Bar Center, as charming as it is, can no longer support our growing needs.

The situation has led us to ask whether we should continue to invest the Bar's finite resources to maintain an aging and marginally adequate Bar facility, or whether the Bar is better served by considering other alternatives. For the past two years, the Bar and the Bar Foundation have studied this issue and concluded that the Bar needs at least 13,000 square feet of office and meeting space, more than twice what we now have. Our Bar Facilities Committee has reviewed and considered various options from expanding our current facility to leasing, purchasing or even building a new Bar Center. The real issue is no longer whether we do something, but when and where.

Amidst these discussions, one question that has received less attention, but which is equally important, is how we pay for it. The answer to this question is one which strikes fear in the heart of every Bar President, including this one. It touches upon the "third rail" of MCB politics. Not since 2001-nearly a decade ago-has the issue been seriously debated or considered. A dues increase. There. I said it. A dues increase. The Bar needs to consider a dues increase to pay for a new or expanded Bar Center and to meet the ever growing needs of our Bar.

A dues increase cannot be imposed upon the Bar. Only the MCB members, at the Annual Meeting, can approve a dues increase. It is my goal at the next annual meeting in May 2010 to ask our members to vote to approve an increase in Bar dues (currently $150 per year). The specifics of the proposal have yet to be determined. I intend to rely heavily on input from the MCB Board of Directors, Executive Committee, Finance Committee, Strategic Planning Committee and Bar Facilities Committee. The Mecklenburg Bar Foundation will also play a significant role, as will the MCB Executive Director and Bar staff. The process will be as open and transparent as it can be.

In the interim, I expect there will be discussion and debate regarding the need for a dues increase, the amount and timing of the increase, and related issues. I encourage open and honest debate about what is best for our Bar. I hope that in the course of this debate we can all learn from the ongoing health care reform debate. Without full disclosure of the plan, there is fear and suspicion. Without respectful and honest debate, there is anger and chaos.

I am a one-term President. I am not seeking re-election. I do not have any hidden agendas. I am a fiscal conservative. I understand that not all lawyers have the same financial resources and that each may be impacted differently by a dues increase. I appreciate that lawyers of good will and good intention may have legitimate philosophical differences regarding the scope of the MCB's reach and mission (akin to the big government versus small government debate). However, I have a sworn obligation to protect our Bar and its members and to prepare for the future health and well-being of our Bar. The future is now.