November 9, 2005

GNOME Foundation slashes board size

Author: Joe Brockmeier

In September, GNOME Foundation member David Neary put forward a proposal to reduce the number of GNOME Foundation Board members from 11 to seven. After discussion on the foundation list, Neary circulated a petition, and received enough signatures to hold a referendum. GNOME Foundation members were able to cast their votes on the referendum between October 24 and November 6.

The results are in, and it looks as if the GNOME board is going to be shrinking. The preliminary results show that 117 members voted for Neary's proposal, while 70 voted to keep the board at its present size.

Board member Owen Taylor said he wasn't surprised by the results. "I think the current board members that came out on record on the subject were more vocally in favor of the referendum than the opposite, and in the end, the foundation members saw it as a question that the board members were in the best question to decide."

Participation in the election was less than overwhelming. Out of 354 eligible voters, only 188 votes were cast (one was blank), or about 53 percent of the current membership. Neary said he was disappointed in the turnout, but that it was in line with previous elections.

Neary argued that the reduction was necessary to make the board more effective. Now that the referendum has passed, Neary said he believes "the change will revitalise the GNOME board, and get the foundation membership more involved in the running of the foundation."

A more competitive election

The vote will have an immediate impact, as the foundation is set to vote on a new set of board members starting November 25. With the board shrinking, it could mean a much more competitive race for the remaining seats.

Taylor, who said he doesn't plan to run for another term, said that he expected "a competitive election this year" but declined to make any other predictions about the new board.

Neary said that he thinks the smaller board will encourage members to "ask harder questions, and decide who to vote for based on what they feel is important for the foundation.... Part of the reason I support this change is because I think it will help us have a more honest election, rather than having people elected by default because they are well-known."

One objection to reducing the board size was that it would reduce the diversity of the board. For example, Luciana Bastos de Freitas Menezes, a member from Brazil, wrote that it would make it harder to elect members from Latin America with a smaller board.

However, Neary said that the board may actually be more diverse with fewer members. Neary said he would be "surprised if the board is not more diverse than it is now -- if only because the representation from any individual company will be reduced to two people."

The GNOME Foundation charter prevents any corporation or organization from having more than 40% of the board seats, regardless of election results. Given the seven-member board, a company like Red Hat or Novell would only be able to have two employees sitting on the board. Right now, four of the sitting members were affiliated with Novell at the time of the last election (Jody Goldberg, Miguel de Icaza, Luis Villa, and Federico Mena-Quintera) and three members were affiliated with Red Hat (Taylor, Jonathan Blandford, and Daniel Veillard).

The size of the board is also dictated, in part, by the charter. According to the charter, the board may determine the number of seats for the next year, and the board must have at least seven members, and no more than 15. If the reduction proves to be a mistake, the board can decide to expand its membership for the following year.

Neary is open to the idea that the smaller board may prove less effective. "I might be wrong, and we could be making a terrible mistake. But that's what's great about the future -- we just can't be sure of anything."

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