Unless you’ve spent the last two days hiding under a rock, you’ve heard the uproar around this week’s development in the PASS board election. The Nominating Committee (NomCom) published the list of candidates who will be on the ballot for this year’s three open board positions. Five candidates made the cut; two did not. The buzz – mostly negative – wasn’t around who made the final list, but who didn’t.
Let me first give props to candidate Jack Corbett, one of the two candidates who were eliminated with yesterday’s announcement. I’ve known Jack for a couple of years now, and consider him to be a friend so you can take my commentary with a grain of salt. I’ve spent a good deal of time with Jack (including rooming with him during last year’s PASS Summit), and I have found him to be a wise person with strong morals who is not afraid to speak up when he sees things out of place. Jack runs a large PASS chapter, is a frequent speaker and volunteer for PASS and non-PASS events, and has a passion for the SQL Server community. He is highly motivated and qualified, and I believe Jack would make an excellent PASS board member. I say that as a reminder to all that, in the chaos surrounding the other excluded candidate (more on that momentarily), let’s not forget that another good man was eliminated yesterday. I would have liked to had the opportunity to vote for Jack; I hope that opportunity comes up again in the future.
The elimination of Steve Jones sparked a firestorm around those of us who are, shall we say, vocal in the community. Based on the rejection letter he received from the NomCom (he has shared it here), it seems that Steve was rejected due to his inexperience engaging with voluneers and PASS committees. I can’t speak to Steve’s involvement – or lack thereof, if that’s the case – with PASS committees, so I won’t argue that point. Perhaps he wasn’t qualified according to the rules given to the NomCom for candidate selection. Based on comments from Stuart Ainsworth (read his blog post on the subject here) and Tom LaRock, the NomCom feels that they followed their commission to the letter. Maybe they did – again, there’s a bit of secrecy surrounding the proceedings, so unfortunately we may never know how or why exactly this happened. Still, it’s hard to imagine that a man of Steve’s accomplishment – cofounder of the largest SQL Server community in the world, prolific speaker, frequent volunteer, and industry visionary – wouldn’t be qualified to present to the PASS membership as a candidate for a board position. Steve is a friend so I confess some personal bias, but for a reasonable person, an evaluation of the facts just doesn’t add up.
NomCom: “It’s The Process”
I applaud Stuart and Tom for standing up and defending their position. As members of the NomCom, they could have ducked the questions or simply told inquisitive members of the community to take a hike. They, and most especially Stuart, answered many questions from the community and did not try to assign blame or back away from their decision. Still, their default position seemed to be “It’s the process”. This is how things are, so who are they to change things, right?
So if this really is how things are done, at what point do we ask, “Does this process still work for us?” For those who were engaged in last year’s election, you’ll remember the controversy when at least one strongly qualified candidate was rejected while another was included with little to no knowledge of the purpose or goals of PASS. It’s hard to describe the last two PASS elections without using the word cluster. Doesn’t anybody stop to think that maybe, just maybe, these pants don’t fit anymore? I’d have hoped that last years debacle would have left a lasting impression, but sadly those lessons appear have been forgotten. When common sense frequently gets overruled by The Process, it’s time for change.
Power to the People
So here’s my suggestion: For next year, have the NomCom continue to exist, but take a far more conservative approach in elimination of candidates. Do the candidates have a history of service and experience within PASS? Do they have a sense of passion, and some level of leadership experience? If so, put them on the ballot and let the community make the decision. Remember, the NomCom doesn’t decide who will be on the board; they choose who may be elected to the board by PASS members. This organization should be focused first on the constituency. Let’s get back to that place.
For this year, however, we still have a problem. This will not die; if nothing is done, the election will be the dominant hallway topic at the PASS Summit in November. So, does PASS admit the flaw in The Process and invite all 7 (or even the original 9) to be on the ballot? Or do they allow for a write-in vote as others suggest? In my opinion, the former would go a long way toward smoothing things over with the community. The latter is a half-measure and would be an insult to the excluded candidates without an acknowledgement that The Process is broken. These aren’t the only two options, of course, but anything is better than hiding behind The Process.