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August 02, 2018 From the Chair

A Time to Reflect

By Karen L. Hawkins, Hawkins Law, Yachats, OR

In my first Chair’s letter last August, I wrote:

The Tax Section has been (and continues to be), for me, a major source of academic improvement, skill development, and strong personal bonding. It is no exaggeration to say that I am who, and where, I am today because of my 39-year engagement with the Section of Taxation and its members. In 2009, I was eager to give back to the Section in payment for all the benefits I had received as a member. My enthusiasm in that regard has not wavered with the passage of time. It is this history and relationships that I think of as I prepare to assume the Chair position in August.

Well, the Fat Lady is about to sing on my year as Chair. I’m told this is a time to reflect and assess.

First, given unforeseen interventions, on August 7th, I will have completed what I set out to do in August 2008: lead the Section of Taxation as its Chair. I highly recommend a less circuitous route for anyone interested in doing the same.

Second, I did not think it was possible, but I am even more impressed with Tax Section members every year. Our committees are loaded with talented, bright, enthusiastic people ready to step up and help on a moment’s notice. In light of the passage of the Tax Act of 2017, late in the year, there were, and continue to be, calls for comments, feedback, and informal observations throughout the public and private sectors. Numerous of our committees have done yeopersons’ work in responding to the numerous requests from Treasury and IRS on various aspects of the new legislation—all in a timely manner. The comments have been exceptionally well-received and continue to solidify the Section’s status as the premier professional tax organization in the U.S. Since last August, 28 formal comments have been submitted to Treasury and IRS on the Tax Act as well as other matters. All are accessible here. Further, informal participation in IRS focus groups has made the Section’s position known on important tax administration issues. Our courtesy calls with Treasury and the IRS resulted in needed adjustments to estate tax administration issues and in the Appeals process. None of this activity would have been possible without the corps of volunteers within the Section making their repeated contributions. I am proud to have led the Section during this time.

Third, the Tax Section has the best administrative staff on the planet! I know this has been a regular mantra of mine, but I mean it. Every member of the staff gives 110%. Our live meetings have been artfully orchestrated by Haydee Moore, Director of Meetings, and her staff, with able assistance from the entire Section staff who pitch in behind the scenes as well as onsite to ensure events run smoothly at every venue. My decision to increase webinar offerings to members (helped along a bit by the 2017 Act) was made technically and administratively possible by Chris Tank, Director of CLE, and his staff. To date, the Section has offered 18 paid or free webinars on a myriad of technical and practice-oriented topics with a viewership pushing 3,500. Council’s decision to shift The Tax Lawyer editorial collaboration to Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law’s Tax LL.M. Program has been undergoing a smooth summer transition under the watchful eye of Anne Dunn, former Director of Publications, and her staff. Several other Section publications in print and digital format were released this year as well. Anne, who retired at the end of March, has remained with us as a consultant through the end of August. Her contributions over the years have been invaluable, and she will be missed. Megan Newman joined us late last year as the Section’s Chief Counsel, a position consolidated from the legislative counsel and pro bono counsel positions of prior years. As such, her challenge has been to juggle multiple disparate projects on an on-going basis. She assists with nearly every aspect of Section activity from comment letters to pro bono projects. I couldn’t be happier with her responsiveness or her enthusiasm. Arnyae Neal also joined us late last year to tackle the Section’s essential membership and marketing needs, and we have already benefitted from her talents in increased attendance at our meetings. One of the least sexy, but most critical, aspects of Section business is managing the finances. Real time information is critical in the decision-making required for all aspects of Section activities. Ty Hansen, our steadfast Associate Director, works diligently to provide the officers with the information they need to make timely financial choices. Oversight of this phenomenal staff falls to John Thorner, Executive Director. John, who joined us in May 2017, encountered a steep learning curve (we are an eccentric group, after all) but has risen to the occasion and is playing a key role in the Section’s many activities. It has been an honor and a privilege to work with such talented and dedicated people.

Fourth, the Section Vice-Chairs ROCK! I cannot say enough about the support I have received from the Section’s six Vice-Chairs. Bahar Schippel, Vice-Chair (Pro Bono and Outreach), has worked hard to get the Section to the next level in its pro bono commitments by launching the Elder Tax Law Initiative, in addition to maintaining our many other on-going pro bono opportunities. Fred Murray, Vice-Chair (CLE), has done a stellar job of overseeing the Section’s phenomenally successful webinar series and generally overseeing all the Section’s many other CLE offerings. Scott Michel, Vice-Chair (Committee Operations), streamlined the Committee governance process to facilitate more active, meaningful involvement among Council Directors and the committees they oversee. He also accommodated my desire to eliminate the Incoming Chair/Vice-Chairs’ Breakfast Meeting traditionally held at 7:30 am during Section Meetings—an ungodly hour for those of us travelling from the west coast—in favor of adopting more modern methods of communications with the committees. Thank you, Scott! Julie Divola, Vice-Chair (Publications), worked tirelessly to bring about our new contractual relationship with Northwestern University for editorial support of The Tax Lawyer. The fruits of her labor will be seen in the Fall edition of our journal. Julian Kim, Vice-Chair (Government Relations), in addition to shepherding all the Section’s many timely comments through the COGS process, oversaw the arrangements and agenda for our government courtesy calls last fall which resulted in productive and continuing dialogue with Treasury and the IRS on a number of tax administration issues. Last, but certainly not least, Chuck Rettig, despite the distractions of being nominated to be Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, stayed the course as Vice-Chair (Administration), working to put a revised investment policy in place and creating an Investment Advisory Committee to support the VCA’s responsibility for sound fiscal management of the Section. I am indebted to each of these individuals beyond measure for ensuring that I not only survived my year as Chair, but that I actually enjoyed myself in the process!

Fifth, Council Directors play an invaluable role in the overall well-being of this volunteer organization. There are 15 Council Directors who rotate in/out in classes of five every three years. Each has responsibility for overseeing the smooth running of multiple substantive committees. I want to thank the class of 2018 as they rotate off Council (hopefully to play some other meaningful role in Section administration) for their enthusiasm, support, commitment and tolerance during my year as Chair: Carol Tello, Tom Greenaway, John Bergner, Roberta Mann and Gary Wilcox.

Sixth, our two members of the House of Delegates, Dick Lipton and Armando Gomez, are invaluable in ways too numerous to describe in this letter. Their continued involvement and support are critical to the future of the Tax Section. Thank you both, gentlemen.

Last, I want to acknowledge Eric Solomon’s role as Chair-Elect during this past year. While we collaborated on many issues as a team, I especially appreciate his responsiveness to my request for an updated Diversity and Inclusion Plan for the Section which, along with his establishment of a new Committee on Diversity and Inclusion in the Profession, ensures the Section’s long-standing commitment is properly documented and viable well into the future.

A year serving as Chair of this Section seemed like a long time in August of 2017. Now as I approach August of 2018, I feel there is so much I won’t have time to finish (or start). That’s why succession is so important. Building on the positive legacies of those who came before you ensures those coming behind you will do the same. As I said in my first letter:

Every chair wants to leave a legacy of some sort. And unquestionably each has. I don’t want to fumble my opportunity. Of course, much of what happens during my year as Chair will not be in my control. External forces: tax legislation, government allocation of resources, and unanticipated political events will all, no doubt, impact my personal agenda as well as the Section’s activities and involvement.

In retrospect, we have been nimble, responsive, thoughtful, relevant and timely. I am very proud about how the Section has performed over the past year. I hope many of you feel the same.