PASS Update #47–Election Review Committee

As always, this represents my own views, I’m speaking only for me and not the entire PASS Board.

Early last week Joe Webb announced on this blog that he will be the chair of the PASS Election Review Committee (ERC). Read his post for some his thoughts, and then I want to share here some background on why we formed the committee and some of the challenges we face.

We heard clearly from the PASS membership that the 2010 election could have been handled better. As I’ve written previously we did a lot of work following the 2009 election with regards to transparency, but in hindsight we didn’t do enough to fix a more serious problem – a lack of details around the scoring and review process used by the Nomination Committee. We can’t undo the problems we encountered, but we can work on doing better in 2011, and now at least we have a deeper understanding of the core problems that need to be addressed.

It took a bit of time to get things rolling on the ERC. It started with a good discussion within the Board about who should lead it. Not whether we should do a review, that was easily agreed to, but I felt strongly that appointing someone from outside the Board to head the committee would send a strong signal about our intent to do better in 2011. Some on the Board argued that we would be derelict to do that, that we were elected to lead. It’s a fair argument and in general I agree that the Board should lead in almost all cases, but for this I thought it was worth bringing someone in. The compromise was to look at former Board members, and Joe Webb was the most immediate and obvious candidate. He’s still involved in PASS and the SQL community, and he’s been off the Board long enough to be able to let go of ‘this is how we do it’ type thinking. He also has a great reputation, and we wanted someone that would be trusted by the members.

We interviewed Joe, and vice versa, to make sure everyone was comfortable. One big point was to reassure Joe that we neither wanted or expected a rubber stamp of existing policy, we wanted a careful and thoughtful review followed by recommendations that would serve the organization well.

Next we had to pick the committee. How do you pick the committee and avoid an appearance of bias? One thing we knew going in was that we wanted someone from the Board on the committee, but we wanted more of our members. It’s important to have someone from the Board present to look at things from their perspective, they are familiar with the by-laws, the process of changing them, as well as the practical side of how things work in elections and at Board meetings. Joe invited me to join the committee and after some thought (I have a lot on my plate as it is), I decided to accept, as did Bill Graziano. The remaining members were drawn from a pool of candidates generated from the committee that selected Joe, and we did a call with Joe to discuss their attributes and try to come up with a good mix. It’s entirely subjective, but I think it’s a list of people that want PASS to grow and succeed, and that means having good elections. Here is the final list:

We met as a group at the 2010 PASS Summit to discuss process and transparency (largely all will be transparent, but there may be times when we interview someone and we discuss a third person where we may treat things as confidential), and then we met again later in the week to interview Rick Bolesta from the current Board as well as Kevin Kline who served 10 years with PASS. We had hoped to do more, but with the pressure of getting the committee formed and last minute Summit prep we just couldn’t get more into the schedule. Our thought was to do what we could, rather than doing nothing until we were perfectly ready.

Our charter is to review the entire process used to elect members to the Board. That means starting at the announcement that the nominations are open, and all the way through announcing the winners. All of us on the committee have some early thoughts on what we thought went well, or not. Joe identified that those biases might be present, his challenge was not be biased about how we might solve problems. I think that’s fair and realistic, anyone passionate enough to put in the work is going to have some views on the topic, and we can’t expect them to be robots. We want to hear as many ideas as we can, and we’ll come back to discuss some of them as we get closer to ‘maybe’ solutions. Joe will be asking for comments from the community and we’ll be inviting some of those to speak directly to us, beyond that we’ll have to evolve and see what works.

As we work toward a solution we have to find something that is firm yet flexible. For instance, we might implement some crystal clear criteria that ends up eliminating all of the candidates during an election year. What would we do then? We have to explore the edge cases without getting fixated, and realize that the needs may change over the years, but we want to change slowly. We don’t want to have someone be ‘close’ to eligible one year, go and out work hard for a year, and then return to see that the line has been moved.

There’s lot to look at and I’m looking forward to the discussions. I’m hoping we can be critical yet constructive, and in the process unify the vision of what we all consider to be a fair way to elect our members to the Board.

Having a committee doesn’t guarantee a fix or satisfaction, but I hope you’ll appreciate that the Board of Directors has taken action to address concerns, and tried to do so in a way that will be seen as deliberate, open, and fair. If we all do our part and take time to listen to each other, I’m confident we can return some recommendations that will make 2011 a much better election year.