The Oregon State Bar has purchased itself a brand new building for over $20 million dollars (and counting) when millions of people are facing foreclosure. Last month they signed for the $13 million dollar loan to partially fund this white elephant. Bar leadership notables Dennis Rawlinson, Albert Menasche and Karen Garst have promised this $13 million dollar debt will not result in increased bar dues which in Oregon are already $100 higher than any adjacent state. So, I searched the Oregon State Bar Bulletins for information on this purchase and wonder of financing. I found the Bar has provided its membership with virtually no information on this multimillion dollar exercise in bricks and mortar. How did we get here?
1986 -- The Oregon State Bar (OSB) moves into its then-new $2 million dollar 1.4 acre, 41,379 square foot building in Lake Oswego. The mortgage balance remaining of $585,000 on this building as of 2005 would have been paid off by 2009. The Bar had about 9,000 members and 48 staff in 1986.
1998 -- OSB's Board of Governors "...prefers not to propose to members the need to build a new building..."
2000 -- OSB's President Ed Harnden authorized the Board to explore options to purchase a building to house the Bar and the PLF. The Bar building is appraised at $5.050 million.
2001 -- The PLF moves to another building freeing up 25% of the Bar's building space.
2002 -- The Bar completes a major remodel of its first and second floor. The Bar center has 13 vacant offices due to PLF move. There are about 12,000 Bar members and 84 Bar employees.
2003 -- The Bar's Executive Director, Karen Garst by memo dated 10/31/03 states "There is certainly still space in the current building for expansion should the Board decide to add any programs." She predicts Bar staff will only be 82.3 FTE in 2004.
2004 -- Karen Garst proposes that the Bar purchase her defunct church, The Living Enrichment Center in Wilsonville near her home which is listed for $16 million and consults Macadam Forbes on behalf of the Bar to explore this purchase. Ms. Garst is a creditor of this church for $22,000. A member of the Board of Governors (me) complains of this conflict of interest and is ultimately suspended from the Board of Governors. Bar membership growth in Oregon declines. The Board of Governors projects the present Bar building is sufficient for at least ten years.
2005 -- A study by the Bar indicates that there are no new or enhanced programs that will require an increase in FTE. A Bar staff survey revealed that 81% of the Bar employees "...felt that the need for a bar center relocation did not justify the cost." (Emphasis supplied) 73% of Bar staff felt that the Bar membership should be surveyed on the need for a new building. All attorneys on the Bar center decision-making committee are from Portland. No membership survey is made. Board member Eyerman expressed shock at the $20 million dollar price tag for the new facility. The Board of Governors executes a letter of intent for a 120,000 s.f. building on six acres for $28.920 million. The Bar will only occupy half of the space. The rest of the space will be rented to others in theory. The additional cost of this building to the membership over the old building is over $620,000 per year for twelve years.
2007 -- The Bar signs an agreement for a three story 73,000 s.f. building. There is no explanation as to why the square footage is at variance with the presentation to the House of Delegates in October, 2005 when Bar leadership said it was purchasing a 120,000 s.f. building.
2008 -- The Oregon State Bar moves into its new building on January 28, 2008 and signs for the $13 million dollar long term loan. The building is located at 16037 SW Upper Boones Ferry Road, Tigard, OR. "The Board of Governors is committed to funding the new building without raising membership dues."
It is hard to find information about this new building for the lawyers of Oregon. The skimpy updates in the Oregon State Bar Bulletin provided very little information. Most of the above information is from Board minutes. Ward Greene, Board of Governor's Member, took on the responsibility for orchestrating the matter after Dennis Rawlinson and Albert Menasche passed on the baton. His telephone number is 503 295-2668 and email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Current Bar Center in Lake Oswego -- Unless one is involved in Section, Committee or other Bar work, there is not much reason to visit the Oregon State Bar Center in Lake Oswego. A visit inside the Bar center is reserved to the anointed few. The doors are locked to the inner sanctum of the office beyond the lobby. Even Board of Governors members are not allowed a key.
Two salient features of the Lake Oswego facility are apparent upon a visit. All the office buildings on the Kruse Way campus are elegantly built of brick. The comely and convenient setting in Lake Oswego is one of the reasons why the vacancy rate is the lowest in the State. By the same token, the values of the land and buildings in this area have grown among the fastest of any office real estate in Oregon. So why would we sell? Our present building was built in 1986 for $2 million and it is almost paid off.
The other thing that strikes one about the present Bar center is that there are meeting rooms everywhere. There are multiple meeting rooms in the basement. There are two huge meeting rooms on the main floor right behind the receptionist area where BOG meets. There are multiple meeting rooms on the second floor including a huge meeting room in the center of the building on the second floor.
So, one must ask the question, why must we move? As a responsible shareholder of the Oregon State Bar has our leadership provided you with an explanation? In 2002 the Bar had 84 full time (equivalent) employees. In 2004 only 82 employees worked at the Oregon State Bar, so we were reducing employees instead of needing more office space for more employees. We haven't added any programs which required new space. The Client Assistance Office commenced in 2003 was supposed to reduce the number of employees needed in the Disciplinary Counsel's office.
We are going to pay $19 million for the "new building". Albert Menasche is your current President and the driver of this venture. He promises you no new dues. There is much information not generally known to the Oregon State Bar membership about this venture. More will be found here in the ensuing weeks.
The issue of a New Bar Center came up recently by Karen Garst, Executive Director. She appropriately recommended that the Board of Governors begin to explore future facility needs in a report to the Oregon State Bar Board of Governors in 2003. But there was a hidden agenda. Ms. Garst's church where she was a congregant owed her $22,000. This church, The Living Enrichment Center (LEC), headed by Mary Morrissey had other problems. The church and the Morrisseys were insolvent, owed their congregants over $10 million and were about to lose their property in Tualitan where the church was located. But this church had further problems. Mr. Morrissey had further problems. Numerous laws were violated in how the church went about securing these loans from their congregants and he eventually pled guilty to a money laundering from 1996 to 2004 in Oregon federal district court (See Case # 05-CR-132). Ms. Garst had a plan. She convinced several members of the Oregon State Bar Board of Governors to explore purchasing this LEC white elephant in 2004.
The only problem was the PLF had left the current Oregon Bar Center leaving thirteen (13) vacant offices as of 2002. Moreover, by 2004 the Oregon State Bar had less employees than in 2002 partly because the new Client Assistance Office had reduced the number of employees needed in the Disciplinary Counsels office. The disciplinary counsel's office workload went from 400 pending cases down to 200 pending cases in the interim.
The New Bar Center is an unnecessary boondoggle.