With its incumbent president on temporary leave due to a “serious incident” now being investigated by police in North Ireland, and 30 percent of its staff furloughed as of early April, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has certainly picked a strange and challenging time to begin the nomination process for its next president. But the show, as they say, must go on.
As the Architects’ Journal reported, the first stages of the RIBA Council Elections 2020 will formally kick off next week with nominations opening for national and regional council member seats as well as the presidency, a title currently held by Northern Irish architect Alan Jones.
On March 31, it was announced that Jones had temporarily stepped down from his post as the institute’s 78th president and would be unreachable “for four to six weeks” when a “matter had arisen” in his personal life. Because potentially salacious goings-on don’t remain under wraps for the long in the scandal-obsessed United Kingdom, within a short time it was revealed that Jones was involved in an incident that had been reported to the Charity Commission, a non-ministerial government agency that regulates registered charities in England and Wales. Just days later, The Times reported that the matter in question was the revelation of extramarital activities, which prompted Jones to step down “fearing a woman claiming to be his mistress would reveal embarrassing details of an affair.” An investigation is now underway to determine if Jones used RIBA funds in conjunction with the alleged affair although, as of early April, there is “no allegation of financial wrongdoing” per The Times. RIBA honorary secretary Kerr Robertson is “overseeing presidential responsibilities” in Jones’s absence.
The Journal shed additional light on the matter in late April, reporting that authorities in Northern Ireland are currently investigating the “serious incident,” and that law firm Browne Jacobson has launched an internal inquiry on behalf of RIBA. Per the Journal, it’s “understood” that concerns being investigated by the firm include Jones’s potential exposure to blackmail, a potential breach of confidentiality, the potential misuse of RIBA funds by Jones, potential breaches in the RIBA code of conduct, and the potential abuse of Jones’s role as RIBA president, and, before that, vice president of education “in relation to the woman, who may be ‘vulnerable’ and may have been seeking career assistance.”
RIBA has remained tight-lipped about the matter considering its sensitive nature. When reached for comment last month, AN was provided with a statement from the organization’s chief executive, Alan Vallance, stating: “We will be working as hard as ever during the President’s time away to ensure minimum disruption to the RIBA business. The RIBA is led by a team of dedicated senior trustees and expert staff, who will continue to support our members and represent their interests at the highest levels.”
As for the upcoming election, Jones’s elected successor will resume responsibilities as president-elect on September 1, 2020, and transition into the presidency, a two-year role, the following year. Nominated candidates will be formally announced on July 1, followed by the election two weeks later. Results will be announced on August 11, and due to the coronavirus pandemic, the entire election process will be conducted online. RIBA hopes that, regardless of the online-only election format and the ongoing investigation involving Jones, voter turnout will not be as woefully low as it was in previous years. During the last cycle, only 18.9 percent of the institute’s membership voted for Jones, according to the Journal.