October 27, 2005

GNOME Foundation votes on board dispute

Author: Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier

The GNOME Foundation is holding a referendum through the end of next week to decide how many people will sit on its board of directors.

The GNOME Foundation Board currently seats 11 members, but board member David Neary has proposed that the number be reduced to seven. His petition was signed by more than 10 percent of the GNOME Foundation membership, putting it up for a vote.

The board is tasked with setting the direction for the GNOME Project, identifying areas where improvement is needed in GNOME, administering GNOME Foundation funds, hiring and overseeing GNOME Foundation staff, dealing with legal issues, and a number of other duties.

Neary said that he is in favor of reducing the board to seven members because it "has had huge problems being pro-active" at its current size. "Any issue which is slightly contentious has an opposition in a board of 11 people. It's inevitable. And when there is opposition, there are many voices, and when there are many voices, there is no resolution."

Neary said that contentious issues should receive opposition, but "the problem is when that opposition makes any change move slowly."

GNOME Foundation Board Chairperson Owen Taylor said that he hasn't seen "major issues in the ability of the board to make decisions." He also said that the board "works OK with 11 people, and it would work OK with seven people.

"The main problem I see with a large board is that it is simply a bit cumbersome -- it's hard to find meeting times that are good for everybody, it's hard to track who is on the phone during a meeting, and so forth."

Tim Ney, executive director of the GNOME Foundation, said that he doesn't support reducing the board to seven members. "There are other means to make more effective use of the board's time without cutting the number of voices."

Jeff Waugh, a former member of the board, said that he initially agreed with the proposal "some time ago," but he doesn't support the referendum. "I no longer think it's in the best interests of the GNOME Foundation, which must represent a broad cross-section of views in our community."

In fact, Ney pointed out somecomments from GNOME members in Latin America who say that there's not enough diversity on the board as it is.

"If reducing the number of board seats is equated with less diversity of opinion in the interest of fast decisions, then that seems against the premise on which the foundation was formed."

Board member Luis Villa wrote that some members run for election simply because "the first 10+X candidates contain at least X people who are, well, not good for some reason or another." According to Villa, "if we had a smaller board size, every person on the board would actually *want* to be on the board, and we'd actually have to think hard about who we want to vote for, instead of who we don't want to vote for. I think that would be a huge improvement on many levels."

Last year, 19 candidates ran for the 11 seats on the GNOME Foundation Board. In 2003, only 13 candidates ran for the board.

Alternatives to the referendum

Bill Haneman, a former board member, wrote that the problems facing the board are not its size, but "task assignment and delegation." According to Haneman, reducing the size of the board would "worsen task assignment/completion problems."

As an alternative to cutting the number of board members, Waugh said that he supports "a more structured decision-making process, with a standard four member 'executive,' consisting of an elected president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer." This would, according to Waugh, "greatly improve the Board's ability to execute, ensure that it represents the broad range of views in the GNOME community, emphasise its role as an administrative body, and demand service and responsibility from its executive."

Taylor said that he didn't see the problems that Neary was concerned about, but also suggested that an executive sub-committee of the board could meet more regularly "and only bring major issues to the full board."

Neary said that reducing the number of board members is not the only thing that the board needs to do, but that it's "a step in the right direction -- without that change, all other change becomes more difficult."

"I believe that the board needs to become more relevant to the foundation membership, and we will do that by delegating more, communicating more, and doing less. The board fulfills a role which is necessary, but we can do it better. And we can engage the community better."

Election process

GNOME Foundation members are eligible to vote in the referendum. Votes must be returned by November 4, and the preliminary results of the referendum will be announced on November 5.

If the referendum passes, it could heat up competition for board seats in this November's annual election. The GNOME Foundation will hold elections for new board members at the end of November. Any member of the GNOME Foundation as of November 4 is eligible to run for the board in the upcoming election.

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