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RIBA London troubles: ousted ex-chair speaks out

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Former RIBA London Region figurehead Azar Djamali has revealed more details about the ‘unconstitutional behaviour’ which led to her resignation last month

In a strongly worded letter to the AJ, Djamali has spoken about the ‘increasing personal pressure… which verged on bullying’ from a small clique of London region council members urging her to stand down (see full letter below).

Djamali, who resigned before a proposed vote of no confidence on 29 April, claims her position as chair had become ‘intolerable’ in face of vehement opposition to her ‘legitimate appointment’ and following the refusal of both RIBA President Ruth Reed and chief executive Harry Rich ‘to intervene’ on her behalf.

She also lambasted the region for ignoring the ‘most basic procedures’ and criticises both the regional staff and the investigation procedure into complaints about membership behaviour.

‘[Investigator John Devlin] did not talk to me about any aspects of the London Region in the compilation of his report. His report is, so he told us on the 8 March, of such an appalling and worrying nature that he is not prepared to divulge its contents to the London Region membership.’

In response, Harry Rich has penned a robust letter of his own (see full letter at bottom of page), referring to numerous ‘factual’ inaccuracies in Djamali’s account of events. Branding claims he and Reed refused to intervene in RIBA London matters as ‘incorrect’, Rich also defended the RIBA staff - maintaining they ‘acted objectively and professionally throughout’.

Rich said there normal procedures had been followed in the run up to the crunch meeting on 29 April and argued that the Vice President Membership’s investigation (John Devlin) should remain out of the public arena to ‘honour [the] assurance of confidentiality’ made to those submitting evidence.

The chair of the London region is currently being held by Dolan Conway until an election next month (June).


Letter from Azar Djamali - former London Region chair

As the former chairman of London Region I wish to make clear the circumstances that lead to my decision to resign at the beginning of the London Council meeting on 29 April this year.

I left in protest against what was the clearly unconstitutional behaviour of a small clique of London Region council members, supported and advised, apparently, by certain paid staff of the London Region secretariat.

The most basic procedures to the proper conduct of a meeting (at the RIBA 29 April) were ignored with the agenda circulated only eight days before the meeting. Until it was e-mailed to me - after many requests - I was unaware that one of the items was a vote of no confidence in myself. This was not supported by any documentation or the names of either the proposer or seconder. I would also state that I was not consulted by any of the RIBA Secretariat as to the items on the on the agenda until after it was distributed and not even then. This is not to mention a mysterious item referred to as advance notification of ‘Any Other Business’!  

Since I was confirmed in the post of Chair last year I have come under increasing personal pressure from a small group of people to resign. This was put to me (in no uncertain terms) in a way that verged on bullying and was not in any way the kind of behaviour that one would expect of a properly regulated membership organisation.

It was clear to me that; given the vehemence of the opposition to my legitimate appointment, the lack of concern for proper constitutional procedures and the refusal of both the President and Chief Executive of the RIBA to intervene on my behalf, that to retain the Chair would be personally and professionally intolerable and stressful for me. Further, this unsupportable situation was obviously damaging to the interests of the Region, its members and the RIBA as whole.

This has to be viewed in the context of my request, last year, to the RIBA Membership Vice President to investigate the state of London Region. For the record, he did not talk to me about any aspects of the London Region in the compilation of his report. His report is, so he told us on the 8 March, of such an appalling and worrying nature that he is not prepared to divulge its contents to the London Region membership. I gather he is taking personal legal advice on its contents. The actions that lead to my decision to resign should have been put on hold until the results of this and the other RIBA investigations are revealed to the Members.

Letter from Harry Rich - RIBA chief executive

Some of the issues referred to by Azar Djamali are live and under investigation, therefore it is not appropriate to comment in detail. However I must correct a number of factual inaccuracies within the statement:

It is incorrect to suggest that the Chief Executive or President have refused to intervene in RIBA London matters. The Vice President Membership, John Devlin, at the Chief Executive and President’s request, has been involved in the process from the outset and RIBA staff have acted objectively and professionally throughout.  The shared aim at all times has been to lower the temperature of any disputes between members so that the Regional Council can fulfil its responsibilities to support activities that promote architecture in the region.

The RIBA London Regional Council meeting on 29 April, at which Azar Djamali resigned as Chair, was called and administered entirely properly with guidance from Vice President Membership and the Honorary Secretary.  The Chair was given a copy of the draft agenda and eight days notice is an acceptable time in accordance with meeting procedures in most organisations.

The motion of no confidence tabled for 29 April was proposed by RIBA London Council members, whose identity was clear on the agenda.  Those in elected positions in any organisation are naturally answerable to their electorate.  It would, of course, be utterly improper for RIBA staff to refuse any properly submitted motion to a regional council meeting. 

It is incorrect for Azar Djamali to state she requested an investigation into RIBA London issues by the Vice President Membership; that request was made by the Chief Executive. The Vice President Membership invited all RIBA London members to submit to him, in confidence, any concerns they might have. Honouring that assurance of confidentiality is the reason for the information not being shared. Azar Djamali was amongst those who submitted information, so it is odd to suggest that she was not consulted.  He is currently looking into the allegations but there does not seem to be any evidence of an ‘appalling’ nature.

The RIBA’s priority in this matter is and remains at all times the interests of the full membership in London and the need to promote activities that advance architecture.  We therefore hope to settle these matters as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, RIBA London continues to deliver a full and excellent range of activities, CPD and member services to engage its 12,000 members and the public.

Letter from Owen Luder - former RIBA president

I will leave it to others to comment on the RIBA chief executive’s ‘corrections’ of events prior to the 29 April meeting of the London Region Council as I was not involved from the very beginning of the London Region Council problems.

I have however seen emails and other documents from people who were involved relating to the way problems were escalating from November last year which set out the problems and the campaign against Azar by a small group in which it is said the regional staff were taking sides.

However as I was one of those privately and publicly asking the president to intervene to defer any motion of no confidence in the Chairman until after the result of the ongoing investigations had been completed I am able to comment first hand on the chief executive’s explanations dealing with the convening of that meeting which lead to the enforced resignation of the properly elected chairman of the Region.

Harry Rich makes the following points where he challenges the explanations in the former chairman’s letter. His comments are in italics my comments and corrections follow.

The shared aim at all times has been to lower the temperature ofany disputes members….’

But by allowing this motion to be put in this way it should have been clear to the President, the Chief Executive, the Vice president Membership  and others involved they were going to raise the temperature as indeed has happened.

The London Region Council meeting on 29 April was called and administered entirely properly….’

 The properly elected regional chairman was not only totally excluded by regional staff from being consulted on the contents of the agenda for a meeting she would chair - which included a vote of no confidence in her – but was not even allowed to see the draft or the final version before it was sent out to members. That is not only in conflict with normally accepted good governance but in this case denied the elected officer under attack advance knowledge that it would include a vote of confidence against her. 

‘The motion of no confidence tabled for April 29 was proposed by RIBA London Council members, whose identity was clear on the agenda.’

The proposers were identified only by initials. Extraordinarily there was no supporting paper to the motion identifying clearly the proposer and seconder and setting out in detail the justification for the vote of no confidence. This denied the subject of the vote the ability to prepare her defence in advance. To allow that was a denial of natural justice.

Those in elected positions in any organisation are naturally answerable to their electorate’

In the regulations covering regional council meetings there is no provision for removing a properly elected chairman. The normal remedy for Council members would be not to re-elect that chairman at the AGM.

‘It would be utterly improper for RIBA staff to refuse any properly submitted motion to a Regional Council meeting’

The vote of no confidence motion could have been ruled out of order by the staff and the chief executive on the basis that there was no provision in the Regulations covering regional council meetings for such a motion and it should be dealt with at the AGM.

If such a motion was allowable under the constitution there can be no doubt that the principles of good governance would require proper notice of asubstantive motion. Neither of which was the case here.

On that basis also the vote of confidence should have been rejected for that meeting because it was not properly proposed and seconded in the Agenda and particularly there was no supporting paper from the proposers setting out the reasons for the motion. Essential to give the Chairman and her supporters time to consider the issues and prepare her defence.

 he way this matter has been handled by the RIBA is not acceptable by any standards. It is clear that “The London Region Council meeting on 29 April was NOT called and administered entirely properly. The vote of no confidence should have been deferred until the result of the three enquiries were known and the confidence in the Chairman and all other issues in the three investigations dealt with transparently in accordance with the facts then available. 

Letter from Sam Webb - member of the RIBA’s professional conduct committee

In response to Harry Rich’s letter I can confirm that I asked, on more than one occasion, for some personal intervention by two presidents and the current CEO to speak to Azar Djamali the chair of the London Region to at least hear her side of the story. This was refused on the grounds that all three people had to remain independent and the problem had to be sorted out by the Regional Council notwithstanding the fact that the problem appeared to be emanating from certain members of the Regional Council itself. That did not appear just or sensible.

What has happened would be serious in any region but doubly so in London where local branches can have more members than some regions of the RIBA.

Just who within the RIBA put together and agreed the Agenda for the last meeting?

Certainly the Chair had NO input whatsoever and this was made abundantly clear when one item called for her resignation.

Is someone making the rules up as they go along?

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