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How I was kicked out of the Zope Foundation in eight small mistakes.

March 17, 2009

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.

Preamble

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.

The Happening

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.

The Effects

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.

The Aftermath

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.

From → plone, python, zope

18 Comments
  1. Martijn Faassen permalink

    Well, thanks for making us feel appreciated.

  2. Perhaps you should just talk about this in person and write it down to a mistake rather than throwing a fit in public. I know nothing about the issue (like most people) but just from your tone and behaviour you look in the wrong. If you were moaning about an abusive government you might be justified in using this type of approach.

    • Excuse me? You think that the right approach to an abusive government is a blog post?🙂 I beg to differ.

      I probably sound angrier than I am. People tend to do that over the internet. But it’s pretty tricky to talk about this in person with a bunch of persons that live on different continents. It would cost quite a lot of money, and take a long time.

      And you also think I should write it down to a mistake. That’s exactly what I am doing. Eight mistakes, in fact. I never once claim or believe that this was intentional.

  3. I didn’t say the only approach.. I just said you might be justified in talking like you did if it were about something like that.

    Well you know the internet, you should have though long and hard before posting because you know the embarrasment and hurt it would cause. My only conclusion is that it must have been your intention to do so in order to exact some form of punishment. To hide behind “It’s difficult to talk about things in person” when we have free international phone calls, video conferencing, chat and email is a bit low.

    So what exactly were you goals when writing this in public on your blog rather than engaging in a private discussion?

  4. Ah. Well, to me “In person” means you know, “in person”, not “in private”. You mention chat and email. I have of course chatted and emailed to several of the board members before I wrote this blog post. I find it strange that you would think that I have not.

    Their attitude was that they had made no mistakes, it was my fault, and that it might take up to one year before I got to be a member, although they backtracked on this later and offered to reinstate my membership.

    I made a mistake, that is clear. But that mistake was forgetting to check up why I had been unsubscribed from a mailing-list. Compare that to the list of mistakes made by the board above, and then tell me who is at fault here.

  5. It sounds like you and they were at fault for the mistakes and both admitted it and now your are at fault for posting this blog entry.. whats done is done though.. can’t take things back..

  6. No, that is not what it sounds like. It sound like that the board made a whole chain of mistakes, most small, some big, and that I made one small mistake. It also sounds like the board did not admit it’s mistakes, and claimed it was my fault.

    That’s what it sounds like. Because that is what I wrote.

    After reading this blog post Martijn has now admitted that the board made mistakes. I guess that means this blog post did what it was supposed to do.

  7. From my experience on the PSF board, mistake #1 is not actually a mistake; having too many inactive members eventually makes it impossible to reach quorum at member meetings and the group becomes unable to take action. The Zope Foundation bylaws seem to allow electronic meetings, which may help, but you do need to prune inactive members from time to time. It would be better to ask members to voluntary resign first, and only remove them if they don’t respond and continue to remain inactive.

    (A small paradox: since 1/3 of members is a quorum but 2/3 are required to convert someone to emeritus status, it’s possible that meetings could make quorum but still be unable to remove inactive members.)

    • Ah, so you say that the two-thirds majority you need is of ALL the members, not the ones that actually vote? That’s a funny rule. That means that all you need to change bylaws are a sixth of the membership, since that only needs a majority of the voters, while you need three times that just to add a new member. That a bit funny…🙂

      Anyway. Of 48 committer members, 14 did not vote in the last special meeting. And if the email was an attempt to get rid of these 14, then it failed, as they all opted to stay as members. The seven who got kicked out all voted at the special meeting in December. So this procedure was clearly not a good one to be able to keep a quorum.

  8. Further digging shows that this may possibly not be correct. There were a total of 16 previous committer members that are no longer listed as members. I was told seven. I don’t know what the discrepancy is.

  9. It seems to me like you just wanted to “wash the dirty laundry in public” to relieve your feelings of exclusion. But that’s only what it looks like to an outsider. Clearly you have your own motivations, and I am sorry if my assumptions malign you. As you say, the whole thing is a tale of human fallibility.

    This is hardly the stuff of international intrigue, though, is it? I am not sure what benefit the blog post was supposed to achieve, As a volunteer myself I know that the people whose mistakes you paraded will feel very demotivated by your apparent (and not necessarily real) hostility. In the end this could work to the detriment of the Zope community.

    • Well, I have many reasons, of course. And clearly one part of that is anger. Not so much of exclusion, but anger of being blamed for something that was clearly not my fault, I think.

  10. Sounds to me that you failed to read an email addressed to you personally. Claiming the email had a misleading subject line is a lame excuse. The subject line was right, if a bit general.

  11. You know, I find these persistent “addressed to you personally” comments very interesting. Unless I specifically filter emails to certain labels, they all end up in my inbox, in a big pile. If you mean that the are addressed to me personally because the to-address is my email address, this is true for most of the emails.

    As mentioned above, if i should carefully read through all emails I get that are “addressed to you personally” I would not have time to sleep, much less work. So I simply do not see how that is relevant. And yes, I try to keep my mailinglist subscriptions to an absolute minimum.

    The subject line might be strictly speaking correct. But so would the subject line “You can ignore this email” be. That is strictly speaking correct. But also grossly misleading. The subject line completely failed to convey the three main things about the email: That it was my membership, not membership in general. That it was a question. And that my membership was in risk of ending. These are the three main characteristics of the mail. None of the are indicated in the subject line.

  12. Since this blogpost is screaming all over Planet Plone, I would like to mention I sympathize with Martijn.

    > Well, I got my membership back today.
    > As far as I can tell, in full violation of the bylaws.

    So first you are whining you got kicked out, then you are whining you are directly reinstated.
    Then what exactly is the purpose of this post, except whining?
    I feel that all of this rather hurts the Zope Foundation, rather the helping it forwards. It hurst its reputation and the motivation if its volunteers.

    This was superb anti-marketing.
    A great gift for Microsofts anti-open source marketeers.

    • I know the post was long, but shouldn’t you read the whole post before commenting? Or at least the sentencences right after the one you quote?

      Also, nothing of this has anything to do with Martijn Faassen. It has to do with the board of the Zope Foundation. That’s in no way the same thing. These errors are not Martijns errors. No single person would do all this errors in a row. It takes a committee to make these many mistakes.

  13. Martijn Faassen permalink

    I didn’t mean to cause some kind of attack on Lennart from community members.

    I know Lennart pretty well, I like Lennart and I respect Lennart. This blog entry was very discouraging to me (it came at the wrong time). Even though I’m on a committee I do take responsibility personally as I believe that’s the right thing to do, especially as the chairman. Since Lennart went public I felt I needed to describe how I felt too.

    The Foundation did goof up; while we can quibble about *which* mistakes were made, we didn’t do due diligence and we didn’t go public well enough.

    I wish it could’ve gone the other way than in blogs. The Foundation board was doing some investigation after Lennart contacted us, but since he wanted us to redo the election initially (terribly discouraging!) we naturally felt rather defensive too. It’s quite natural Lennart thought we closed the case on him and decided to go public with his analysis.

    Anyway, we’re all people. We don’t always communicate very well – this case is rife with examples. We are figuring it out and I think we can close the case now. Lennart and I are going to have a beer and/or whiskey on this next week.

    Lennart cares about Zope and the Foundation, enough to spend quite a bit of time doing the analysis of what went wrong and to write a blog entry. Let’s all be friends.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Clarification and followup. « Lennart Regebro: Plone consulting

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