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A Community Divided

People have been screaming from rooftops for a month now about the PASS election process, ever since a beloved member of our SQL Server community was shunned in his bid to run for the PASS Board of Directors. The community has reacted vocally. PASS has reacted defensively. And unfortunately much of the back and forth has been speaking “at” each other rather than “with” each other.

Watching this has been almost as bad as watching someone burn bacon! Almost.

Kevin Kline (blog, twitter) has asked a number of leaders in the community to participate in the discussion through a series of guest posts on his blog. I believe that he’s trying is to bring the various sides together in a constructive way. With all of this passion in the community, we should be able to improve things. This is my contribution to the series.

Before going further, however, I’d like to first frame the discussion by describing the essentials of the debate as I see them. There are certainly a lot of nuances, however insomuch as the different facets can have one voice, I’ve tried to capture that. There will be, of course, deeper issues and varying opinions. And it’s entirely possible that I’ve missed the point altogether.

The Community Side

Steve Jones (blog, twitter) has proven himself time and again to be a staunch advocate for the community. His qualifications for community leadership are unmatched.

  • He’s a renowned SQL Server expert and Microsoft MVP
  • He has the media experience that PASS once coveted
  • He’s a good businessman with a proven track record of success
  • He’s a polished speaker and regular blogger
  • He frequently donates his time at conferences, SQLSaturdays, and User Group meetings
  • He’s wildly popular in the community

Steve would easily navigate the Nominating Committee (NomCom) and most certainly be elected. So I thought when I wrote a recommendation letter that accompanied his application.

Like most in the community, I was utterly shocked when I learned that he didn’t make the final cut. Many, if not most, in the community were outraged. And rightfully so. The NomCom rejected someone that the community obviously wanted, someone who would most certainly have been elected if allowed to be on the ballot.

But, this isn’t about Steve. This isn’t even about the election. This is about PASS putting itself before the community that it supposedly represents.

The PASS Side

For the past few years, PASS has taken quite a bit of heat from the community to be more transparent in its processes and decision making. The community doesn’t want a benevolent dictator; it wants peers who are willing to lead on our behalf because we don’t have the time or inclination . That message was made clear years ago.

Since then, PASS has worked really hard in this area and has made clear progress in many, many ways. Its finances are posted for all to see. Unabridged meeting minutes are published on the web just a few days after each board meeting. More of the board members and key volunteers blog about their PASS activities than ever before. We asked for transparency and we’re getting it. All we have to do is log on and look at the information as it’s made available.

The NomCom, which has bore the brunt of the community’s ire for the election controversy, is a prime example of the newfound transparency. The NomCom is charged with vetting each candidate and presenting a slate before the board. Before the NomCom was formed, the procedures and guidelines under which it was to operate were created and distributed for review. After a series of reforms and tweaks, the NomCom was given its marching orders and asked to do their job.

After weeks of work, the NomCom, a group of our peers that we’ve entrusted to do the grueling grunt work for us, reached a conclusion using the formulas and procedures given it. The NomCom members realized that their conclusion would be questioned and controversial. And they paused to reflect on that.

The question: Should the NomCom discard the quantitative results and replace them with on its own subjective feelings? Should it do what it felt the community really wanted by disposing of the pesky procedures that had been so carefully refined?

To do that would have really opened the doors to allegations of PASS being an old-boy-network . To discard the rules at its own discretion and pick the candidate it thought best would be the height arrogance.

The NomCom was in a pickle. Stick with the approved procedure and eliminate a popular candidate? Or dispense with the approved procedures and make a subjective call? You can’t win with those as your two options.

So they made the call to accept the wrath they they knew was sure to come. They stuck to the approved procedures set forth in the NomCom’s mandate. The integrity of the process is too important to toss it aside. It would be a huge step backward in the quest for transparency to do anything else.

I thank the members of NomCom for serving. I also commend them for doing what they believed to be the right thing even though they knew it may not be popular. That takes guts. It takes character. It takes integrity.

And it’s people who possess those characteristics that we want leading the community.

So Who’s Right?

To me the answer is obvious: both sides are right. On the one hand, I’m very frustrated that the candidate for whom I wanted to vote wasn’t on the ballot. I cast my ballot yesterday and it felt a bit hollow.

Yet I would have been equally, if not more, angered if the established process had been subverted to put Steve on the ballot at the expense of one of the other candidates.

The NomCom is not at fault here. The PASS Board is not at fault here.

At fault here are the procedures that governed the election process. I have every confidence that those procedures were far better than in prior years. Yet in this case, as extreme as it may be, they fell woefully short.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I think that the one thing on which we can agree is that we don’t want to find ourselves in this predicament twelve or twenty-four months from now. We want to learn from this, take corrective action, and move forward.

So what do we need to do to ensure that this doesn’t happen again?

  • Acknowledge that it was the process that failed and stop pointing fingers at our peers
  • Take heart that we have a slate full of good candidates even if our preferred candidate was left out
  • Accept partial responsibility for the community and get more involved

Should we throw the baby out with the bathwater and dispense with the NomCom? I don’t think so, but it’s a conversation that should take place.

Should we refine the existing procedures to handle situations like this? We must be careful in codifying too many things since situations will arise in the future where flexibility is required.

We need to have these conversations.

A Note About Transparency

Many years ago when Kevin Kline was the VP of Finance for PASS and I was Director of Logistics, we shared a cab to the airport after a Community Summit event. During the ride, we talked. I remember telling him that as a member of Ducks Unlimited, I receive an annual financial statement from the conservancy. It contains detailed information about the group’s finances. Knowing that makes me feel good about giving to the group.

I commented that as Directors of PASS, we should provide that kind of information to our members. And if we are not comfortable delivering that level of detail, we should do something about our finances so that we are comfortable with it. It took a while, but we did. We changed management companies and implemented a lot of other changes for the better. We took the first of many steps toward better fiscal and procedural transparency.

PASS is no longer a monolith that speaks with one voice. It has truly made great strides toward being a group of our friends and colleagues who are willing to freely give of themselves for our benefit. That’s not to say that PASS has completed its journey toward transparency. It hasn’t, but it is much further down the road than it was just a few short years ago when Kevin and I had that conversation.

And this is another opportunity to further refine the way PASS works, for the better.

Filed under: Community, SQLServerPedia Syndication


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