343 members of the American Institute of Architects' Chicago chapter attended a Zoom meeting the morning of Sept. 25 to discuss the recent dismissal of its leader for the last 14 years, former executive vice president Zurich Esposito.
During the meeting, 149 architects voted yes to recommend that the Chicago chapter's board of directors consider reinstatement of Esposito,104 members voted no and 57 abstained.
That afternoon a public relations firm representing AIA Chicago sent a message saying that the motion did not carry.
"Movant has a burden of getting a majority of the eligible voters present to vote 'yes," says Christian Erard, vice president of Green Target Communications on behalf of the board. "The default under the bylaws is 'no.' Only those who vote 'yes' help the movant meet their burden of getting to a majority. This is a fairly standard way to vote in meetings."
Erard says that members were told ahead of time that votes who abstain would be counted with no votes against a majority, as per the bylaws. 155 members would have needed to vote yes for the motion to carry, which would have been advisory as the organization previously told members that Illinois law prohibits it from allowing a membership vote on staff hiring.
It's the latest development in a saga that has captured headlines since Esposito was terminated in a one-sentence statement August 13 from the association that counts 4,000 Chicago design professionals as its members. On September 11, the board received a petition to hold a vote on whether the board should reconsider the separation before September 28th.
"I felt like our goals were achieved, because everyone was heard," says Mark Schmieding, the AIA Chicago member who petitioned for the meeting and who has organized a Change.org petition that has been signed by more than 800 people asking for Esposito's reinstatement. "That we got them to address the issue to membership and that a whole range of perspectives were heard, that’s democracy. We were listened to. My disappointment is with the process of the meeting. There was no rebuttal of the board's version of events and no instructions before the vote was taken."
Schmieding is director of digital practice at Goettsch Partners and was voted into AIA's College of Fellows in 2018. Members in favor of rehiring Esposito and those representing the board had speaking slots in the zoom meeting which several attendees said lasted three hours. Patricia Saldana Natke, the AIA Chicago chapter's former board treasurer who stepped down prior to Esposito's termination and supported Esposito’s reinstatement was on the speaker list but did not have a chance to speak at the meeting. Natke is the founding partner and president of UrbanWorks, Ltd. and an AIA Fellow.
Several architects who attended the meeting said that while there were many perspectives heard — including addressing the issue of a majority over-50 membership and a board comprised of younger members — about the process AIA Chicago went through to come to its decision, the initial reason for the vote of no confidence by the board that resulted in Esposito's termination was not discussed.
Crain's Chicago Business has reported that the reason for the initial disagreement between Esposito and AIA Chicago Board President April Hughes was a tweet sent by a third party that mentioned AIA Chicago and who should ask for its removal, Esposito or Hughes, and how forceful the ask for that removal should be.
Esposito was not invited to the meeting.
This story was updated to reflect that Patricia Saldana Natke stepped down from the AIA Chicago Board before Zurich Esposito's August 13 termination. An earlier version said she stepped down after it.