Editor’s Note: This is the last in a Daily News series featuring past winners of the Bobby Dunavant Public Service Awards, which annually honor one elected and one non-elected government official. The 2012 awards will be presented Wednesday, Feb. 22.
(Photo: Memphis Daily News File Photo)
Brian Kuhn is a veteran attorney who for years worked around politicians, issued opinions often born out of political questions and had an office Downtown – in the geographic center of political life.
Which is why he describes his current job, where he’s worked since late 2010 as legal counsel for the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, in such refreshing terms.
It’s been a change of pace for him in many ways. Until leaving county government about a year after his old boss and former Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. was elected as Memphis’ new mayor, management was a large part of what Kuhn did, in addition to the law work.
There were a few dozen assistant county attorneys, all part of an entire department that needed to be managed constantly. Whereas at the airport, the in-house legal team includes Kuhn and only one other person, a paralegal.
Differences aside – including what Kuhn said is an extreme amount of regulation in aviation law because of its federal governance compared to what he dealt with at the county – he likes the setting. His position now also is more akin to that of a corporate general counsel, and he contends the environment in which he works, Memphis International Airport, is one of Memphis’ best assets.
“I’ve found the airport to be one of the absolute crown jewels of Memphis, as far as the board and how it runs things,” Kuhn said. “They’re very oriented toward success and have good people here. It’s a refreshing place to work, quite frankly.”
Besides his many years spent in the law profession, Kuhn is a past winner of the Bobby Dunavant Public Service Award that honors one elected official and one non-elected official each year.
This is the last in a series of articles about past winners of the award, which will be given Wednesday, Feb. 22, by the Rotary Club of Memphis East and the Dunavant family at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis. The Daily News and the University of Memphis are sponsors of the awards named for the late Probate Court clerk.
Kuhn retired from county government around Sept. 1, 2010, and started at the airport about a month later.
The airport job came through happenstance. After his retirement, he’d already planned to look for either a part-time or fulltime position, if one presented itself, because he was only 62 at the time and wanted to continue to work.
“And it just so happened Sara Hall was the general counsel out here,” Kuhn said. “Sara was the city (of Memphis) attorney several years ago, and when she first became city attorney, I called Sara up and we had some lunches. I kind of gave her my advice, such as it was, about government law, since I’d been county attorney for many years.”
Kuhn went through two tours of duty as county attorney, first from 1982 to 1994, then again from 2003 to 2010.
“So Sara and I became acquainted through that route,” he said. “I called her up out here just to see if she had some sort of a need for an hourly or part-time person, because I knew she was the sole general counsel out here by herself. And it just so happened that the day I called her I learned she’d resigned either that day or that week to go take the position of general counsel at ALSAC-St. Jude.”
She suggested he think about applying for the job she was vacating, and one thing, as they say, led to another.
During his time with county government as its head attorney, he was on hand for major issues that included everything from opening a new Criminal Justice Center to building The Pyramid arena to the restructuring of county government into its current form, as well as failed attempts at consolidation.
He credits his father, a former president of the American Bar Association in the 1960s, as part of his inspiration for pursuing the law as a career. His advice to young lawyers is to find a specific area of the law in which they enjoy practicing, one that “inspires you to have intellectual curiosity, an interest in what you’re doing and a good feeling about what you’re doing.”