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Broken or Just Bent? #passvotes

Cross Posted from TimMitchell.net

Though things have died down a bit since the initial backlash, the recent development in the PASS board election process is still the talk of the town.  I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a number of folks about this, and have read some excellent blogs and other opinion pieces from those on both sides of the debate.  I traded some e-mails with Kevin Kline, a longtime member of the PASS board of directors, and he asked an interesting question:

“Many in the community seem to think that the PASS election process is badly broken.  Do you think that PASS needs to implement fundamental and far-reaching changes to its election process, or does it only need some fine tuning?  Please explain your thoughts?”

I’ve been careful not to write too often about this out of fear of belaboring the point, but I think Kevin’s question (and some of the other responses already offered up) illuminate a path to help the community heal its recent wounds and find a better way to do things in the future.  To that end, I’m glad to share my opinion.

It’s STILL The Process

I can’t emphasize this enough – I believe this to have been a process failure, not a people failure.  I blogged about this just after the story broke, and I pointed out that I believe this to be a deficiency in the institution rather than a bunch of folks making bad decisions, or worse, conspiring to keep a particular person out of the leadership of PASS.  It was, and still is, my belief that some personal biases contributed to the end result, but I don’t expect that there was a conspiracy to exclude anyone.  I greatly appreciate the work of the NomCom, especially the members who were selected from the community (those who are not board members).  They put in a lot of hard work, stuck to their guns on the decision they made, and took it on the chin for the sake of the integrity of the process.  While I still feel that their decision was not in the best interest of PASS, I thank them for their service and applaud their willingness to politely engage their critics.

Where Do We Go From Here?

With the blame placed firmly on the process, let’s get back to Kevin’s question.  Where do we go from here?  Do we rip out the plumbing and start over, or can we just repair the leaky pipes?  Before we answer that question, let’s look at…

The Good

Yes, there are things that I like about the current process <gasp>.  For example, let’s pretend for a moment that the election process has no vetting whatsoever, and  anyone who throws their name in the proverbial hat will appear on the final ballot.  Yes, you’ll find folks like Steve Jones, Jack Corbett, Geoff Hiten, Allen Kinsel, and others who are highly qualified, but you’ll also end up with folks who simply run because there’s nothing to lose.  The existence of a proper vetting process will encourage applicants to self-screen to some extent, but the absence of such a formality could greatly increase the number of unqualified applicants.  There are a couple of risks with having no qualification process: First, the truly qualified candidates will be lost in a sea of other names, and the voting process becomes as low-tech as “which one of these people have I heard of before?”.  Second, the odds of an unqualified person actually making it onto the board are quite high, which is a risk for the future of the PASS organization.  I am in favor of having candidates pass through a screening process, and I think the theory (not necessarily the current implementation) is sound.

Another positive is the amount of progress made towards transparency.  What used to be a black box now permits a good deal of visibility by the community, and even though some parts of the process are cloaked from public view, I think PASS as a whole is committed to improving the transparency of their processes.  There is still lots of room for improvement, but it’s safe to say that improvements have been made.

The Bad

We could go on and on here, but most of the dialog would be centered around once core question: Who is qualified to run for a BoD position?  Hopefully we can all agree that last year’s selection process was a mess, when candidates including Tim Ford were excluded while another with no knowledge of the PASS mission or community was deemed to have been qualified.  This year’s process resulted in the exclusion of a candidate who is the epitome of the SQL Server community.  So maybe he had a bad interview (we are allowed to know that “something happened” during the interview, but nothing more) – it happens.  Moving forward, the NomCom needs to have the flexibility – no, the responsibility – to look beyond just one interview to better judge the candidate’s abilities and contributions. 

The NomCom doesn’t need to go away – it just needs new rules of engagement.  The mission needs to be refined and simplified:  Eliminate the unqualified candidates.  Let’s set some reasonable minimum qualifications of education, leadership, volunteerism, and organization, and judge the candidates equally and fairly across those axes.  Beyond that, let the community decide whom of those qualified should be on the board.

Bent or Broken?

Bent.  I think there’s enough sound logic to salvage this process, but we must remember the lessons learned these last two years.  The process isn’t fatally flawed, but it does need to be resuscitated.

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