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Independent review of UK chapter governance; editor files motion against Wikitravel owners

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By Jan eissfeldt and Tony1

Independent review of WMUK governance and COI

Following considerable online and media reportage on the Gibraltar controversy and a Signpost report last week, the Wikimedia UK chapter and the foundation published a joint statement on September 28: "To better understand the facts and details of these allegations and to ensure that governance arrangements [are] commensurate with the standing of the Wikimedia Foundation, Wikimedia UK and the worldwide Wikimedia movement, Wikimedia UK’s trustees and the Wikimedia Foundation will jointly appoint an independent expert advisor to objectively review both Wikimedia UK’s governance arrangements and its handling of the conflict of interest."

Central to the debate have been Roger Bamkin's three simultaneous roles as English Wikipedia editor, WMUK trustee, and paid consultant for the innovative public projects MonmouthpediA, and more recently GibraltarpediA – projects that may have far-reaching benefits for the WMF movement, enabling on-the-spot access through mobile technology to the foundation's stored knowledge of locations of interest such as historical houses and monuments. The key to the innovation is the application of QRpedia QR code plaques (co-developed by Roger), which are installed at sites of interest under a trademark agreement with the foundation.

Roger declared his paid consultancy for Monmothpedia, in both his blog and candidature statements; nevertheless he was re-elected by the chapter's in May 2012 in the knowledge of his roles. He offered his resignation at least twice to the WMUK board to resign in relation to those declared conflicts. Questions related to English Wikipedia guidelines, especially those governing DYK, fall under the competence of the community and therefore will not be part of the review conducted by the advisor.

The organisations agreed that the WMF will take care of fundraising technicalities (processing) in the UK during the upcoming annual global fundraiser towards the end of the year. Under the new financial structure, this move has no direct consequences for the chapter's planned budget for the next fiscal year or for its five-year plan, and WMUK can apply for FDC funding. Thomas Dalton, the chapter's former treasurer, said this should be seen as an opportunity to broaden the chapter's financial basis and to become more financially independent of the WMF's annual campaign.

Editor files motion to strike Internet Brands' lawsuit

The San Francisco office of international law firm Cooley LLP is at 101 California Street.
Three weeks ago, the Signpost reported that Ryan Holliday and James Heilman, both English Wikipedia and ex-Wikitravel.org volunteer editors, have been sued by Internet Brands, the owner of the Wikitravel trademark. The lawsuit, among other things, alleges that Holliday and Heilman engaged in a civil conspiracy, as a result of which the editors "have been unjustly enriched and Internet Brands has been injured and damaged".

With the support of Cooley LLP, the WMF's attorneys, Holliday filed a motion on 26 September to variously strike and dismiss IB's complaints, asking for costs to be awarded against IB. The motion describes the original lawsuit as "a meritless action brought not to win, but to intimidate, threaten, and ultimately silence persons engaged in speech that IB dislikes but the Constitution protects." The motion contains 23 pages of legal argument, in which more than 40 US court judgements are cited. The motion sets out why IB cannot in this instance make prima facie cases of common-law trademark infringement, unfair competition, or civil conspiracy; and it accuses the plaintiff, among other things, of stifling debate, of cherry-picking email texts in its lawsuit in a way that distorts their meanings, and of "bluster".

Holliday had already filed papers the week before to transfer the IB lawsuit from the LA County Superior Court to the federal US District Court for the Central District of California. The motion will be heard on 5 November by Judge Stephen V. Wilson. The trial date for the original lawsuit has not yet been set. The Signpost understands that proceedings would, if it became necessary, relate also to the interests of Heilman, the other named defendant in IB's lawsuit.

Kelly Kay, the foundation's deputy counsel, said "We fully agree with Ryan’s position, and we hope his motion is successful. We think community volunteers like Ryan deserve our thanks, not meritless lawsuits."

What to name the new WMF travel site

The Wikivoyage site is the result of a fork from Wikitravel.org by German-speakers in 2006, later joined by Italian-speakers. Wikivoyage is set to migrate to the WMF's new travel project, and in anticipation has just added English and Dutch versions to its international coverage.
Since April 2012, the Wikimedia community has been discussing whether to set up a travel guide "sister" project. After the WMF board approved a formal proposal through an RfC last month, preparations have begun on Meta. Discussion is under way to settle the naming question. After a short initial straw poll established a need for wider consultation, the WMF designed a procedure to ensure open debate without making the process potentially subject to cybersquatting.

The community can vote on proposals that have been submitted according to proper process between 07:00 UTC October 2–16 to determine the name.

In brief

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Further news to hand just after Signpost publication:

  • The Telegraph has published a new story, "Wikipedia charity faces investigation over trustee 'conflict of interest' ", including a caption to a photograph of Jimmy Wales: "Co-founder Jimmy Wales said the frequency of Gibraltar-related material on the front page of Wikipedia was 'absurd' ".
  • A statement has been posted by John Cummings at a Gibralterpedia sub-page, that he and Roger Bamkin have signed an agreement with the Government of Gibraltar to run the GibraltarpediA project.

Tony (talk) 08:30, 3 October 2012 (UTC)[reply]

On Jimbo's talk page, I have been discussing the Monmouthpedia and Gibraltarpedia memoranda of understanding (MOU) with current WMUK Trustee John Bryne (User:Johnbod). This discussion has been going on for almost a week.

  • I was first told that there was no MOU being negotiated between WMUK and the government of Gibraltar as I had stated. Note that WMUK Chair Chris Keating stated the following in a 21 September blog post: "we have long intended to give more formal support to this project; before we can do so we would need a clear memorandum of understanding with the Government of Gibraltar setting out shared aims and objectives, and we are working on such a document".
  • When I asked with whom the Gibraltarpedia was being negotiated if not the government of Gibraltar, I was told that no such agreement had been discussed for months.
  • When I pointed out that John had himself had been present at a WMUK meeting earlier this month where Roger Bamkin made a presentation about Gibraltarpedia and discussed a draft MOU that he hoped to have finalized, John told me that he would have to "look into it".
  • After consulting three other people, John told me "I am trying to establish if anyone at WMUK has had the draft Roger refers too" although it is noted on the WMUK web site as being "available with board papers". This document was described by Roger Bamkin as an "updated copy of an MOU that Chris abnd I discussed", so presumably an earlier version of this MOU exists even if not circulated to the board.
  • During the course of this discussion, I discovered that a video (File:Signing_of_memorandum_of_understanding.ogv) described in part as "This video shows Roger Bamkin, Trustee of Wikimedia UK, introducing the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Wikimedia UK and Monmouthshire County Council" had been uploaded in April by WMUK staff member Stevie Benton. Roger was employed by MCC as a consultant by this time and the MOU was signed by then-Chair Ashley van Haeften (User:Fæ). Roger's recollection is that he was described in this document as a "member of the steering committee".
  • Thus far, I have been unable to get clear answers on the status of either MOU. Despite the video of the signing, there are still references to an MOU with the MCC being negotiated (although this may refer to a separate MOU for future projects like "Chepstowpedia"). I have yet to get an answer as to the availability of the MOUs to the public or to the members of WMUK.

Any investigation of activities of WMUK would be negligent if it did not also look at the actions of the board and individual Trustees following Roger's resignation. They do not appear to understand that it is in the best interests of the charity and Wikipedia to quickly address any questions that may lead to further speculation in the media or in the community. Being less that open and honest will only reinforce the impression that all is not well in WMUK. Delicious carbuncle (talk) 15:32, 3 October 2012 (UTC)[reply]

    • I am replying to the points above at my talk page here Johnbod (talk) 02:25, 6 October 2012 (UTC)[reply]
      • John, it is unfortunate that you were unable to reply just a few hours sooner. The discussion we were having on Jimbo's talk page has been automatically archived while awaiting your reply. That discussion can now be found here, but of course your reply is not part of that archive. I will quote it below so that that readers of this discussion will see exactly how far you have managed to get since we started discussing this over a week ago.

        Apologies for the delay. I was incorrect to say (the section is now archived here) that no MOU was being negotiated with Gibraltar, and have located what I believe is the latest draft. This was mentioned, and approved in principle, at the September 8th Board Meeting, where I was present, but the text was not discussed to any degree, and it was not in the printed Board papers, although it was emailed to the Board list on September 1st. The draft I have is a Google document that has a number of comments on it and was most recently commented on on September 4th. It is not available on the public WMUK wiki, and is a draft in progress, which to my eyes needs work. It seems to have been overtaken by events, & I can't get a clear view as to whether it will be proceeded with in the future. The parties are WMUK & a representative of a department of the Gibraltar government (not Tourism), and the text covers "management arrangements" for what it says is not a partnership. As to the Monmouth questions you added on October 2nd, I am not going to start on those because the signing on May 19 this year was exactly a week after I was elected a Trustee, and I was not involved in discussions of the document. All these matters are going to be within the scope of the expert being appointed to do the WMUK governance review, & I think they are now best left for that review. I've replied on the Gibraltar points because I intervened in that discussion, not very accurately I'm afraid, & needed to correct my earlier comment. I'm sorry it took so long, and for my less than total recall. Johnbod (talk) 02:52, 6 October 2012 (UTC)

        John, I understand that you were a very new Trustee when the Monmouthpedia MOU was signed, but I am not asking about the history. What is the status of that MOU, how is Roger described in that MOU, and is it available to the public or to WMUK members? Those are very simple questions and I would appreciate an answer. Whether or not this will be covered by the independent investigation does not seem relevant. Thanks. Delicious carbuncle (talk) 03:17, 6 October 2012 (UTC)[reply]
        • Please stop moving this discussion around. I am not going to start responding here. Johnbod (talk) 15:04, 6 October 2012 (UTC)[reply]
          • John, the recent news stories relating to Gibraltarpedia have tarnished the reputations of Wikipedia, WMUK, and the WMF. Whether or not you believe that there was any wrongdoing involved, it should be very clear that many editors are concerned by how this looks to the general public. One would think that you would want people to know the basic facts of the matter rather than relying on speculation or misreported summaries, but I think it would be difficult for anyone to read through our discussions and not get the impression that you are being far less helpful than you could be. My questions are not "gotcha" questions - they are simple inquiries about agreements negotiated by the WMUK board. You are a Trustee of a registered UK charity whose "core values" include being "transparent and open". You have refused to answer my questions here, and on your talk page you suggest moving the conversation to the WMUK wiki (which seems odd since you characterize my attempts to keep this discussion together as "moving this discussion around"). I am sure your actions will be noted by the independent reviewer, the media, and the Wikipedia community. Delicious carbuncle (talk) 19:41, 6 October 2012 (UTC)[reply]
                • If you want a reply to this post it to my talk or the water-cooler. Johnbod (talk) 21:30, 6 October 2012 (UTC)[reply]
                  • John, you know what the questions are, but if you want me to jump through hoops to get a reply, I will. I have posted on your talk page. Delicious carbuncle (talk) 23:59, 6 October 2012 (UTC)[reply]
                    • Johnbod has posted answers to some of my questions on his talk page and I thank him for that. In part his reply says "All I know is that there is a draft on the office wiki, which is a PDF of an unsigned document, described as not approved by the board. The draft lists the signatories as: a Monmouth County Council person, the then WMUK chair, and finally Roger Bamkin as "Wikimedia UK Trustee and Steering Group representative"; no individuals are mentioned in the text. It was uploaded May 30th 2012". Delicious carbuncle (talk) 15:43, 7 October 2012 (UTC)[reply]

Carbuncle, with all due respect, you *do* seem to be going after a "gotcha" situation here. I have been following this closely, but think trying to drag John in is pushing it. He has explained himself satisfactiory to my mind, Im not sure how constructive bleeding out this paricular thread anymore might be. Ceoil (talk) 11:07, 7 October 2012 (UTC)[reply]

Ceoil, I made a statement on Jimbo's talk page that WMUK had been negotiating an MOU with the government of Gibraltar, which was an assumption on my part based on what I had read. John started our discussion by coming to Jimbo's talk page and telling me that my statement was incorrect, which prompted me to ask who the MOU parties were. I did not drag John into this, he invited himself. As it turns out, WMUK is negotiating an MOU with the government of Gibraltar. John is a Trustee of WMUK and made an incorrect statement on a very widely read page - it is to his benefit that that error has been corrected before the independent investigation. There is no "gotcha" aspect to these questions - they are requests for facts that should be rather easy for a WMUK Trustee to obtain. I do not think that John has done himself any favours with how he handled this, but the questions themselves are innocuous. Delicious carbuncle (talk) 15:14, 7 October 2012 (UTC)[reply]
Regardless of what you mean, it definitely appears that you want the 'gotcha' situation. It's obviously your choice on whether to actually back off or not, but I'm just making sure you see what the perception from the outside is. Perception, in some ways, is the only thing that actually matters. If readers really would like to know more, there are links above for them to follow; I don't think we need subsequent commenting here. Ed [talk] [majestic titan] 18:50, 7 October 2012 (UTC)[reply]
What was the "gotcha" for John in answering my questions? To be frank, I am surprised that I am the only one who seems to be (publicly) asking questions. I am more surprised, however, that the WMUK has not made more of an effort to "clear their name", as it were, with the community by providing as much detail as possible. Many media reports have stated or implied that Roger Bamkin was involved with paid editing. This is simply not the case, as paid editing is generally defined. It is in the best interest of WMUK to be as open as possible about the actual circumstances to dispel speculation. I think that a very public discussion of what went on is the best way to prevent a future episode of the same sort (from WMUK or any other chapter) and I will continue to comment if there is anything to add. Thanks. Delicious carbuncle (talk) 21:11, 7 October 2012 (UTC)[reply]





       

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