Transparency and PASS

Steve Jones, 2009-10-22

I hate to start a blog war, but maybe there’s one going on. The recent PASS 2009 election concluded a couple days ago and 3 new board members were elected.

That’s 3 from 4 candidates, which is a little silly, IMHO opinion. As Geoff Hiten said in his PASS Fail post, “The problem is four people and three positions is a final round of musical chairs, not a board election.” I tend to agree with it, and I’ve looked on in past years with a wary eye when I’ve seen three candidates for three positions (or two or four). That’s not even an election. It’s an engineered outcome.

To be fair I haven’t been involved in the election process, and perhaps there were years where only 3 people submitted applications.

Kevin Kline wrote a response on his blog about the nomination committee, the process, and the history. I think he make some great points in some areas, but misses the boat, or maybe steers it in a different direction in others.

I don’t think the nominating committee deliberately is seeking to do things poorly, or mislead the community. But I also don’t think they’re doing a good job. I know it’s a job, and I appreciate the efforts, but being a volunteer doesn’t excuse you from accountability, nor from poor performance.

Let me wander off the path for a moment. I worked for a guy years ago and we were examining a project that wasn’t going well. We were debating if we should continue on, what changes to make, or if we should scrap it and start over in a different way. One of the people in the room said that we couldn’t scrap it because we’d spent $200,000 on the project.

The guy I worked for said that was stupid. The $200,000 was gone, and we needed to move forward right now. Whether we continued on and fixed things or started over, the $200,000 didn’t matter. We needed to make decisions about our expenses and direction from this point.

PASS as an organization needs to do that. It’s helpful to look back at history and learn, but you cannot use history as an excuse for a lack of progress right now. To be successful, to have credibility, and to meet the needs of the community, the organization needs to disclose information on a regular and timely basis, and be accountable for mistakes and mis-steps.

The election process is a perfect example. How and why were these 4 of the 11 (or 12, can’t remember) picked? What scores were used? Not to harp on Tim Ford, but how is he not qualified to be on the slate? I just don’t get it. He’s passionate, he works for PASS, he’s intelligent. Whether or not he can answer questions to the nominating committee’s satisfaction in the interview seems wrong to me. As much as I like and respect the members of the committee as technologies, I’m not sure they’re eminently qualified to make that judgement.

And why aren’t we, the members of PASS qualified to decide? Does the board of pass and the Nominating Committee think that we can’t decide who’s a good candidate? We can’t judge someone’s ability to articulate themselves in a paper or interview? Heck, it’s the age of YouTube and blogs. Publish the applications, and the responses to the interview.

This is a popularity contest

That’s what an election is. It’s a choice, of the people (or populace), and the most popular ones, the ones with the most votes, get to serve. If we elect a bad candidate, then we deal with that, but we have minimal requirements, we publish those (something PASS hasn’t done) and then we allow debate, discussion, stumping, recommendations, etc.

I disagree with Andy Leonard’s litmus test for a board candidate, but I’m willing to listen to his ideas. At least he’s publishing his thoughts on the matter, and giving us a reason not to vote for Matt Morollo. I don’t agree with his reason, but I’m willing to listen.

When we elect leaders in government, there is plenty of debate, opinion, blogging, tweeting, etc. about their positions and thoughts. Why not here? Couldn’t PASS do a series of interviews like Brent Ozar? Or at least link to relevant items from people writing about the election? I would think that would be easy to do. Maybe even allow members to post links to articles and blogs themselves?

Behind the Times

There are many complaints I’ve had of PASS over the years. To a large extent I’ve questioned what the point of it is at times. Why not just let Microsoft run a SQL Server conference every year? A lot of years I don’t think PASS has done much  else.

Last year PASS introduced the PASSPort, a social networking idea to try to get members linked to each other. I think the concept failed, which isn’t a bad thing, but what has been done in the meantime? With the tremendous amount of tweeting during the Summit last year, how can the board and management company not expect wide, and extremely real-time, discussion of what happens?

The election ended on Tuesday noon, PST. I check the web site for PASS, saw no mention of the winners, and then noticed the they would be announced on Wednesday. At noon, PST.


We are SQL professionals, and while we might get mired in details, can any of us think of a reason to not announce the results as 12:01PST on Tuesday? We elect, arguably, the most powerful man in the world through a process where votes are tallied and we can see the candidates’ success in real time. A winner can be “announced” even with all the votes not in. The four candidates in this game of musical chairs are probably waiting and watching. There’s no need to contact them, no press release, no messaging needed. Just put the results of the voting up there.

Heck, give them to @BlytheMorrow. I think a tremendous number of PASS members follow her. She can post it and we’ll spread the word, no effort from PASS needed.

It’s a small thing, but it’s an example of where the board is behind the times. They’re not in touch with the members, and don’t (appear) to be willing to serve the electorate in an open manner.  We had a similar issue with the choice of speakers for the Summit, when choices weren’t disclosed in a very timely manner.

Remember Who You Serve

I live in the SQL community every day. On Twitter, Facebook, through blogs, articles, and I’d like to think that I’m one of the few people whose job it is to keep a finger on the pulse of the community. I’m fortunate in that way because like Brent Ozar, it’s my job to do so. I can interact with lots of people regularly without taking time away from other work. Or at least I can do it with a good excuse.

I have seen almost no publications, no releases, no accountability from the PASS board about what they have done for us. The highlights of the past year, from PASS, seem to be the conference, and the 24 Hours of PASS. Beyond that, I’ve seen very little transparency that explains what has been done.

What were the goals for 2009? Were they met? If so, what happened? If not, what happened?

It’s accountability, and transparency. It lets us know if we made a good decision electing board members, it lets us know where and how to give feedback. Without it, I, and many others, feel that PASS is not serving the community, and possibly not even acting ethically.

Are the board members enjoying the prestige and benefits of being on the board without actually doing anything? I’d like to think not, but I have no idea. I almost never see them update us, or disclose, what they’ve done.

It’s My Fault

To some extent, I think it’s my fault. Not just me, though. It’s also the rest of the community that has not demanded accountability. We as a group have not questioned enough the way that PASS has been run.

I’ll take a large share of the blame as I’ve been hesitant to write about some of the issues with PASS. I do business with them with the opening night party, and I know most of the board, past and present. They’re friends, colleagues, and I haven’t wanted to publicly denounce their efforts.

Especially when I haven’t volunteered or run for the board myself. However Andy Warren was right in his comment on my blog: “...there’s nothing wrong with you or anyone else making suggestions, commenting, or criticizing PASS. You don’t have to be run for office to be eligible to care! Not everyone has the time, passion, skills to run, but PASS is ultimately about people. We can use all the feedback we can get, especially constructive criticism.

So here’s my feedback for PASS:

Publish what you do, and why you do it. Every board member, and at least the head of the management company needs to regularly publish what they do. And why.  Be accountable, take responsibility for your actions, or inactions. Be transparent.

And for the community:

Get involved, you don’t have to commit to run the Standard, as Grant has, but do something. Give feedback to PASS. Comment on what they’re doing. Let them know what you like, what you don’t, and what you want. Post publicly when you don’t like something, and more importantly, post about the things you DO like. Volunteer if you can, run for the board if you want to, but at least give your opinion to the community a couple times a year.

I believe in PASS, and I hope I’ve convinced a few of you to do the same. I’ve also written an editorial today asking what you might want from PASS. Feel free to give your opinion there as well.





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