Probe targets misconduct claims at architecture’s top trade group

American Institute of Architects CEO Lakisha Ann Woods accused of misspending, retaliation

Misconduct Claims Probed at American Institute of Architects
American Institute of Architects' Lakisha Ann Woods and Kimberly Dowdell (AIANational/YouTube, Kimberly Dowdell, Getty)

On the heels of a national convening this month, the leadership of architecture’s top industry group is under fire for alleged misspending and retaliation.

Twenty-two past presidents of the American Institute of Architects signed a letter raising claims of misconduct against the leaders of the organization, Bloomberg reported. Chief executive officer Lakisha Ann Woods has denied the claims against her, including that she’s used her office to aid herself and her allies.

The board of directors retained an external law firm to investigate the accusations. The organization represents architects across the industry, serving as an advocacy arm and awarding prestigious honors.

One source of outrage is a recent all-staff retreat for AIA employees in the Dominican Republic. 

Woods said she worked with Marriott to fit the trip to a Punta Cana resort into the budget, but accrued points to her own Marriott Bonvoy account. The executive has said the benefits will be used for the AIA, which is facing annual deficits in the millions. 

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The investigation cleared Woods and another executive of booking the controversial retreat through Woods’ own events management company. The investigation, however, remains ongoing, and Woods believes it will ultimately vindicate her.

Another controversy rocking the AIA is its selection process for its highly coveted College of Fellows honor. 

Kimberly Dowdell, the elected president of the organization and first Black woman elected to the position, was rejected for the honor in February, people familiar with the situation told Bloomberg. Woods called on the selection process to be reevaluated with a focus on underrepresented groups.

Dowdell was still rejected, leading Woods to reorganize the awards department. The board of directors also eyed changing bylaws to allow for automatic honors for elected board members, drawing outrage from the rank-and-file members; the controversial provision was ultimately not adopted.

The organization’s former chief counsel, Terrance Ona, filed a lawsuit last week alleging discrimination, defamation and wrongful termination. Ona claims he was placed on leave for alleged misconduct after producing a report accusing Woods of her own misconduct.

Holden Walter-Warner

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