AIA-SWO chapter meeting at Sam Bond's Brewing Co., September 20, 2017.
The principal rationale favoring a single statewide chapter is that it would provide a better return for every membership dollar while strengthening the Oregon architectural community and the voice of our profession. The proposal on the table would dissolve the four present chapters (AIA Portland, AIA Salem, AIA Southwestern Oregon, and AIA Southern Oregon), retaining AIA Oregon as the sole chartered, corporate association in the state. Replacing the regional chapters would be five local “sections”: Portland, Salem, Eugene, Bend, and Rogue Valley. The proposed new structure would free up local leaders to focus on building community and sharing ideas through their local section “council.” Each section would serve as the primary vehicle for producing local events, education opportunities, awards programs, and more, much like each chapter currently does, while also enjoying access to greater resources.
The expected benefits include consolidating the structural functions associated with every AIA chapter, such as the obligations of being individual corporate entities and the onerous reporting and paperwork often associated with them. Consolidation would lessen overhead costs concomitant with paid staff and/or the duties performed by volunteer board members serving each separate chapter, as well as the duties and liabilities associated with maintaining separate corporations. Currently, with four chapters plus the AIA Oregon council, there are five boards of directors including 65 total board members. The proposed arrangement would simplify this structure, reducing it to a single board of directors comprised of five directors (one from each section), two at-large directors, plus five executive officers elected by the directors—12 total board members.
Additional reasons favoring the plan include the probability of a stronger, statewide advocacy effort, enhanced support for local events and educational programs (including significant investments in online presentation technologies facilitating high-quality productions accessible from anywhere in the state), and streamlined communications and decision-making. Each section would receive discretionary funds to be used to meet local needs (such as for programs like the recent Parklet competition or the Register-Guard Design Annual). A Statewide Allied Partnerships plan would benefit our membership through increased levels of sponsorship support while providing the allied partners with access to a larger audience.
Members would pay dues to only two AIA components rather than three as is the case now. The new dues structure would ensure as many members as possible have access to core member services (continuing education, professional development, and advocacy) meeting AIA National standards. The current rates for local chapter dues range between a low of $97 (AIA Salem) to the high of $250 that AIA-SWO members pay. Combined with our state dues, the combined local and state assessments range from $217 to $370. These would be supplanted by a single, across-the-board state dues total of $349. Under the proposed schedule, AIA-SWO members would actually pay less than before. According to the plan, the increase in dues for current AIA Salem and Southern Oregon members would be incrementally offset over a three-year period.
As important as the question of whether we should unite Oregon’s four AIA chapters should be for all AIA-SWO members, the turnout last Wednesday evening for a town hall meeting at Sam Bond’s Brewing was disappointingly small. Nevertheless, the discussion among those there was lively and thought-provoking, prompted by the tag-team presentation of AIA Oregon executive director Robert Hoffman, AIA Oregon president Alene Davis, AIA-SWO president Katie Hall, and AIA-SWO delegate Seth Anderson.
Change is often difficult to accept, and prompts anxiety and resistance, especially if you’re entirely comfortable with the status quo. No doubt underlying the concerns of some AIA-SWO members is a belief that a single AIA Oregon chapter would inevitably become Portland-centric. Portland is the 800-lb gorilla in the room. Would the needs and advocacy objectives of Portland architects eclipse those of members from Oregon’s smaller communities? Would educational programs primarily address the interests of larger firms? Robert admitted AIA Portland’s liabilities, which include the ongoing debt service for the Center for Architecture building, are an issue that must be addressed in a manner equitable for all AIA Oregon members.
The reality is our smaller chapters—AIA Salem and AIA Southern Oregon—have relied too much on the blood, sweat, and tears of too few, and are struggling to be relevant and of adequate service to their members. Both would likely fail to meet AIA National accreditation requirements for individual chapters if they sought charters today. AIA Southwestern Oregon members have enjoyed the benefits that accrue from being a larger chapter (relative to AIA Salem and AIA Southern Oregon), so the argument favoring a single statewide component may not be as compelling to many. On the other hand, what AIA does on behalf of each of us can only be enhanced when all members in Oregon have equal access to the organization’s full suite of support and services. As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats.
Other states, like Colorado and Wisconsin, are single component chapters (with local sections) and serve as models for us to learn from and emulate here in Oregon. Based on anecdotal comments (including those by Bill Seider, FAIA, and others) AIA Colorado and AIA Wisconsin have acted with efficacy as portals for their members to engage in all levels of AIA.
I support the proposed move. The advantages associated with consolidation make too much sense to me. I do believe the net result will be a stronger and more responsive organization, one that will attract an increase in AIA membership in Oregon. As a past AIA-SWO board member, chapter president, and AIA Oregon delegate, I also appreciate how the plan attempts to address the demands imposed upon volunteers by AIA service and the burden that commitment imposes on the firms they work for. Note that the proposal includes funding for a full-time AIA Oregon staff person here in Eugene.
Robert, Alene, Katie, and Seth have so far hosted town halls in Medford and Eugene, and will soon take their road show to Salem and Portland. The chapter boards will vote to adopt the plan for merger later this fall. If all the boards concur and ratify the proposed merger, the membership of each chapter will then vote sometime next spring on how to move ahead. If I understand correctly, a majority vote of “no” from any one of the chapters would result in the plan’s defeat. It’s an all or nothing proposition. If all the chapters support the merger, the transition would occur sometime in 2019.
Now’s the time to make sure you’re informed about the proposed change to a single AIA for all Oregon architects. If you have questions, call on Robert, Alene, Katie, or Seth for answers. Once you feel you adequately understand its intricacies, spread the word and encourage your colleagues to likewise educate themselves. Be prepared and vote wisely.