How I was kicked out of the Zope Foundation in eight small mistakes.
Today it came to my attention that I was no longer a member of the Zope Foundation. Let me explain how this happened. It’s pretty interesting, if for no other reason than being an exhibit in how you can make mistake, after mistake, after mistake, any of which would have prevented the problems.
Edit: It has come to my attention that I didn’t make sufficiently clear that I did talk to several members of the board before this post, and that they claimed they had made no mistakes. This post is mostly a response to that, to explain what the mistakes where. The Chairman, Martijn Faassen, has now in a post of his own admitted that the board made mistakes. But he calls them “our mistakes, my mistakes”. And I want to also make clear that these are not his mistakes. It was the boards mistakes. Chains of human errors like these are never done by one single person. You need a committee. And that, I guess, is what you can learn from this.
The Zope Foundation was created a whole bunch of years ago, like back in the Stoneage, when I worked for Nuxeo, uhm, 2006 or something. It’s bylaws was inspired by the Eclipse Foundations bylaws, and it quite quickly became obvious that that wasn’t a good idea. They were too complicated. So, a process started to replace them with some better bylaws. Bylaws that are supposedly more agile and based on the Python Software Foundations bylaws was created, and adopted in December. So far, so good.
Because the types of membership is different in the new and the old bylaws, membership needs to be transferred. That sounds like an easy deal, right? The members under the old bylaws should all be nominated members under the new bylaws, unless they want to sponsor the foundation. So, reasonably, the board should transfer the members and also ask for a funding drive to make people cough up the dough. But, here is the interesting thing, they did not do that. No, they decided to send out an email, asking if you want to be a nominated member or a sponsor member, and also noting that if you don’t answer at all, they will make you an “emeritus member” which has no voting rights. In other words, they decide to send out an email, which you have to answer within two weeks, and if you don’t, you are in practice no longer a member. That’s of course mistake number one. There was no reason to make anyone an emeritus member unless they specifically asked to be. It’s not like the Zope Foundation is hampered by having excessive membership.The Zope Foundation does not need to be a small exclusive club that keeps people out.
And mistake number two was sending out the email with the topic “Zope Foundation Membership Changes”. I did not read that email. I didn’t even react to it. There is nothing in that headline to give you any inkling that if you don’t open and read that email, your voting rights is going to be removed. That email, still today, does not sound like it has anything to do with me. It sounds like we have more members. Or less members. Or possibly that the membership type is changing. It does not sound like you are about to lose your membership. I’m sure I would have reacted it if said “Your membership in the Zope Foundation is about to expire.” Or at least “Your Zope Foundation Memebership Changes”. But nope.
Mistake number three was the deadline. The email was sent January the 21st. The deadline was January the 31st. Ten days. Ten days of which you may spend several skiing in the alps, or on a conference. Ten days.
Also the only way to become a member by approval of a majority of members. This approval can only happen once a year. This meant that once you missed the deadline, you need, as I understand it, to wait until the next yearly meeting until you get approved. Thus, if you failed to answer within the given ten day period, would not be able to become a member again until the next special meeting. The special meeting in turn only happens after the new board election (more on that later) which means that if you do not respond, you will not be able to vote in the next board election. The email completely lacks this information, which is of course a fourth mistake. In this case it was just a matter of answering the email, so if I had seen it, I would have done so immediately. But maybe somebody wanted to check if they could sponsor the foundation. Then they needed to rustle up the 400 dollars, maybe from an employer. In that case, you put it on the todo list, and promptly forgets about it, and hence couldn’t vote.
Of course, you think, when they notice that some members of the Foundation doesn’t answer the email, they send out reminders, reasonably, right? Wrong! Mistake number five. No reminders. Nothing.
Then it was February, and they made me and six other into emeritus members. This was mistake number six. You see, according to the bylaws, this can only happen with a two-third majority vote of the members. There was no such vote. There was a vote amongst the board, but the bylaws does not say the board, it says the members. I was transferred along with the other members that hadn’t answered, to “Emeritus Member” status, which basically means you aren’t a member any more. The only difference between Emeritus status and non-member status is that you don’t have to be nominated to become a member, you can apply directly. And I’m sure you can figure out what the seventh mistake was. Right. Nobody told me. Now, it doesn’t actually say in the bylaws that you have to tell those who get involuntarily moved to Emeritus status (to do so volontarily, I have to send in a signed note), but isn’t it common decency? To at least say “I’m sorry you didn’t want to be an active member any more, but thank you”? Apparently not.
In the middle of February, I got a notice that I was unsubscribed from the foundation mailing list. Here I did a mistake. I noticed that, thought it was odd, browsed through the mail quickly, and saw something about reorganisation. I thought they were reorganizing the mailing lists, and marked the email as todo, because I wanted to check up what mailing lists I was supposed to be on, and then forgot it. That was my mistake. I should have read that email more carefully, because then I would have figured out that this meant I was no longer a member. The email didn’t state this, but it kinda hinted at it, and when I read it properly today, I did understand that I somehow suddenly was no longer a member.
It doesn’t stop there. Oh no. There is an effect to all this. And an eight mistake. After, yes AFTER they have kicked out the members who didn’t answer, they announced that there was to be an election for a new board. This was a good idea, and no mistake. But they announced it only on the foundation members list. They made no attempt to tell the rest of the world about this. So the seven ex-members has no chance to know that there was an election in the works. Basically, the board asked “is there anyone that is NOT here?”. And even if you had responded, then in fact you could not according to the bylaws get your membership reinstated until after the election!
It’s also interesting to see who was transferred to Emeritus status. It was seven people including me. Seven people, who all voted in the special meeting in December to approve the new bylaws. Of 48 committer members, there was 14 who did not vote. All of these 14 responded to the email and had their membership transferred. It is clear that not may of the old committer members are gone from the community. Yet, several of them may have been kicked out for not answering an email with a misleading subject line. Pretty amazing stuff. I say several, not seven, because I mailed the other six but I haven’t recieved answers from all of them yet. The two that did answer did resign voluntarily, but would most likely have done so anyway. There was therefore no reason to kick anyone out for not answering an email.
Well, I got my membership back today. As far as I can tell, in full violation of the bylaws. I can only be reinstated by a majority of the members. Then again, the fact that my membership was transferred to Emeritus status without a signed written notice from me requires two thirds majority, and that hasn’t happened either. But I missed the vote to the board. Now, if it was for some reasonable cause, that would have been just annoying. But as you can see from this post, this issue has been grossly misshandled from the start. If they had not done any of the above eight mistakes (well, except mistake four) this wouldn’t have happened. This is a completely astounding chain of mistakes. I’m flabbergasted.