July 30, 2007

SPI election results announced

Author: Bruce Byfield

Software in the Public Interest (SPI), the nonprofit organization that provides a legal infrastructure for such projects as Debian, PostgreSQL, Drupal, and OpenOffice.org, has announced the results of elections for its board of governors, which were held between July 1 and July 28.

Bdale Garbee was re-elected running as president of the board, while Joerg Jaspert was elected running asvice president and Luk Claes secretary. Technically, these positions will be officially voted on by the board on August 1. However, since only one board member has stood for the offices of president and vice president, the only actual vote should be for secretary, with a runoff between Claes and Neil McGovern, the current secretary (who did not have to stand for re-election this year).

Also elected to the board were Joshua D. Drake, David Graham, and Martin Zobel-Helas. Unsuccessful candidates were Robert Brockway, Christel Dahlskjaer, Rico Gloeckner, Richard Hartmann, Ian Jackson, M. J. Ray, and Martin 'Joey' Schulze.

With the exception of Joshua Drake, who represents PostgreSQL, all those elected had long-term ties with the Debian project, including former Debian Project Leader Bdale Garbee. Unsuccessful candidate Christel Dahlskjaer was the first and only woman to run for the board.

Election results were tallied according to the Condorcet method, in which voters rank at least two candidates in order of preference, and results for each candidate are compared against those for each of the other ones. An unusual feature of the vote was the tie between Joerg Jaspert and Joshua D. Drake, which rarely happens when the Condorcet method is used.

95 encrypted votes were received, or just over 24% of votes from all registered members of SPI.

Election issues and statements

After several years of minimal activity, SPI has spent the last year getting its procedures and financial records into shape and encouraging more free software projects to join it. The successful candidates expressed a variety of opinions about these efforts in their official statements during the election.

Garbee, who oversaw many of these efforts in his role as president, focused on the accomplishments of the past year. "Our treasurer and assistants have made significant progress towards bringing our financial records up to standards and into a maintainable state and caught up on our government paperwork filing," Garbee notes. "We no longer have routine difficulty in making board meeting quorum, we have better documentation and practices for handling resolutions of the board, and we're nearly caught up on publication of past meeting minutes." Garbee acknowledged that these efforts were not his alone, but suggested that "my focus on the fundamentals and effort to maintain a productive environment for action by everyone involved in SPI as a board member and as President helped these things happen." Voters evidently agreed, since Garbee finished first in the voting.

Other candidates expressed similar sentiments, promising to continue existing efforts to reform SPI and to expand them. Claes emphasized the need to overhaul SPI's bylaws in preparation for future growth, while Zobel-Helas urged the need for greater communication and contact with the media.

In a reference to the poor attendance problems that have caused the board to cancel meetings and postpone votes, Jaspert promised that "should I miss more than 2 meetings without prior notice, I will vacate my seat for someone who is more dependable." However, he added that updated attendance records will show that he attended 90% of the board meetings in the last year. Meetings are held online on SPI's public IRC channel, #spi, on irc.oftc.net.

Drake took a somewhat different stance, focusing on outreach. Describing SPI as currently being "a glorified PayPal" -- a reference to its traditional main function of providing an incorporated nonprofit venue for donations to member projects -- Drake said that "SPI has the potential to be an active and influencing source within the FOSS community. I would actively promote SPI as a way for FOSS projects to become a part of a larger community that is focused on the general well being of not only the project that has joined, but also that project's community." In practical terms, Drake suggested that this goal would mean "an aggressive increase in the number and quality of associate projects" belonging to SPI, and SPI promotion at trade fairs such as OSCON and LinuxWorld. In addition, Drake urged working with communities, businesses, and governments wherever possible and sponsoring talks related to free software "at every possible legitimate opportunity" -- promises that suggest a substantial change of direction for the largely inward-looking SPI.

Another of the more unusual campaign promises was made by longtime Linux.com contractor David Graham, who promised to step down after one year in order to help the board move closer towards its goal of electing three members each year. Unsuccessful candidate M. J. Ray made a similar campaign promise. However, so far, no other successful candidates have agreed to do the same, which suggests that the intended reform may not happen next year.

Looking at the list of those elected and their promises, it seems that SPI members approve of the changes to the organization in the last year, and would like to see them continue and expand. However, the continued dominance of Debian on the board suggests that one of the challenges for the coming year that was not addressed during the election is promoting the involvement of members from projects that have recently joined SPI.


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