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Jimmy Wales "shouldn't be kicked out before he's ready"

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By Tilman Bayer, Bri and Smallbones
Congress of Industrial Organizations poster, 1946 by Ben Shahn

WMF Board considering the removal of Jimmy Wales' trustee position amid controversy over future of community elections

The Wikimedia Foundation may be inching toward removing the board seat of its founder Jimmy Wales against his objections, amid a controversy over planned bylaws changes that according to Wales may greatly reduce community influence on the organization and risk "takeover by outside interests who do not understand our values."

As described in detail in last month's Discussion report, on October 7, the Foundation's Board had published a number of proposed bylaw changes for community discussion. These include an increase in the number of Board members from 10 to 16, and removal of the current requirement to hold a regular "community voting" process to fill three of the board seats, in favor of a more vaguely described "community nomination process" determined by the Board. This gave rise to concerns in last month's discussions, which Wales addressed by stating that "I will personally only support a final revision which explicitly includes community voting and I believe it is abundantly clear to everyone on the board that this is mandatory." It appears that he might have been overruled, as the updated bylaws draft posted after that feedback round still omits community voting. However, according to the same update, the item "Remove or change the structure of the Founder seat", previously not part of the proposed changes, was added to the agenda of the subsequent (November 17) meeting of the Board's Governance Committee. (The current bylaws reserve a "Community Founder Trustee Position" for Jimmy Wales on the Board, to which he needs to be reappointed by the Board every three years, with his current term expiring in September 2021. If he is not reappointed, the seat would remain vacant.)

Mike Godwin highlighted the issue earlier this week in the "Wikipedia Weekly" Facebook group, stating – as the former general counsel of WMF responsible for 2008 bylaws change that instituted the Founder seat – it "was designed to give Jimmy Wales a continuing connection to the Foundation and to tie the Board's activities more closely to its history and values ... More than almost any other non-profit enterprise, the Wikimedia Foundation depends on maintaining and honoring its originating culture, of which Jimmy is necessarily a part. In my view, he shouldn't be kicked out of the traditional position before he's ready to go."

WMF chair María Sefidari replied to Godwin that

"This is in response to the community petition to remove the Founder seat at the recent bylaws consultation. While it is not within the scope of the current proposed changes, it was well supported by multiple community members and is something that Jimmy quite calmly has said is open to considering, so it is being acknowledged as something that could well be explored in the future in several possible ways."

With "the community petition", Sefidari appears to refer to a talk page thread started by Liam Wyatt (User:Wittylama) during last month's consultation about the proposed bylaws changes (which up to that point had not included abolishing the Founder's seat). There, Wyatt had argued that "Now that the WMF is a mature organisation, I do not believe it is appropriate any longer for a single individual to have an infinitely-renewable and non-transferrable position on the board." Several other editors agreed, but former board member Sj objected that "Now strikes me as a particularly poor time to dissolve the founder's seat. To the underlying point, I agree that the WMF (specifically the roles of stewarding the brand, and channeling resources and public interest into support for the movement and the projects) is not currently trending towards ultimate control by the community. If anything, community involvement in governance has decreased and the scale of WMF-internal governance has increased, since non-WMF budgets were frozen and the FDC suspended [cf. Signpost coverage]."

In this week's discussion on Facebook, Jimmy Wales stated:

"In the past few years, there have been several crises that have made it increasingly clear to me: the biggest problem on the board is not a lack of professional expertise, but rather a lack of community representation and control. [...]

I am deeply concerned about the tone of some of the latest proposals from some quarters: a reluctance to be firmly clear that community control – in the form of voting and not just some vague "community-sourced board members" language that might mean anything or nothing – is not negotiable.

I believe that we need to be moving in a mildly different direction with the board expansion. I don't want to make a specific proposal but I will say this: rather than an expansion that keeps community in a slight +1 position, I think we need an expansion that gives the community an absolutely dominant role.

[... My] preference is not to step aside until I am sure that the "professional" appointed seats are absolutely always in service to the community, by making sure that their numbers are – relative to the community numbers – reduced.

Removing my voting seat – yes, it's a good idea in the long run, as I am just one person and not that important in the grand scheme of things. But for now, I feel that my role is to represent the moral conscience of the movement and to prevent takeover by outside interests who do not understand our values. So for those who ask when, I would say: when we are safe. And I don't think that's true just yet."

Arbitration Committee election

Voting in the Arbitration Committee election began November 24 and will continue until Monday 23:59 UTC, December 7. There are 11 candidates this year running for seven positions on the committee. The candidates with the largest percentage of support votes get a two-year term if more than 60% of those who voted either support or oppose (rather than voting neutral) voted support, but if the percentage of support votes is less than 60% but more than 50%, they are only eligible for a one-year term.

The candidates are Barkeep49, BDD, Bradv, CaptainEek, Guerillero, Hawkeye7, L235, Maxim, Primefac, Scottywong, and SMcCandlish. You don't need to register for any special process to vote. Any editor who meets the following criteria can vote.

As of about 16:00 UTC Sunday, 1,327 voters had cast their votes. If you change your mind after voting, you can vote again, but only the last vote counts. TonyBallioni withdrew his candidacy today, so you may wish to revisit your vote.


Brief notes

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Jimmy Wales / community board elections

  • I noticed this too. And for the record; I don't like it. I doubt I'm the only 1 who believes we have a well-functioning way off doing those things on-wiki and placing obstacles, like having to go to other social media, is unnecessary and even counter-productive as fewer will follow/participate. Even if they are aware of it. --Dutchy45 (talk) 20:20, 29 November 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • I've never had a Facebook account and won't be getting one. In a community full of opinionated and tech-savvy people, I can hardly be the only one to have made this choice as a matter of principle. XOR'easter (talk) 21:17, 29 November 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • It seems to me that a non-profit movement based on many of the principles of free software and following the principles of open copyright, should probably not be on Facebook, the antithesis of all of that. And I say that as someone who uses Facebook a lot. Definitely a bad idea -- Rockstone[Send me a message!] 01:40, 30 November 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
    Whereas I agree that it is generally not a good idea to discuss movement-related issues on Facebook, Meta as a discussion platform is a stone age technology compared to FB, and realistically we are not going to ever match FB even by setting up our own platform, so people will be always discussing these things on Facebook, Telegram and other venues.--Ymblanter (talk) 11:43, 30 November 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • @Ymblanter: We're obviously not going to stop discussion on a variety of platforms, but the WMF Board has absolutely no excuse for supporting GAFAM, or even worse, carrying out decision-making there under GAFAM control. For software technology, the Fediverse, with Mastodon (software) as the most popular, and the software and servers listed at https://switching.software are generally much more ethically compatible with Wikipedia.
As for throwing out Jimbo from his founder's position: I fully agree with Jimbo's comment stated above - yes, he should eventually lose power, but at the moment it's clear that he's necessary. Otherwise we'll end up with the Wikimedia community forking and effectively throwing out the WMF Board. Boud (talk) 14:07, 28 January 2021 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Re. "wait, we're holding governance discussions on Facebook now...?" – yes, apparently we they are. Rebranding brainstorming was on FBook, Movement Strategy drafting was in Google Docs, and UCoC draft review was via (I think?) weekly video conference with very brief minutes/summaries posted on-wiki. And there's a "consultation" about how to "improve movement communications", for which you can volunteer to participate in a hand-picked real-time facilitated session. Pelagicmessages ) – (14:36 Sat 05, AEDT) 03:36, 5 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
    In this specific case, the idea did start on-wiki at Meta, but the news that the Board and W?F were taking it seriously appeared on Wikimedia-l [1] (possibly cross-posted from Meta, but I can't find the original "Update from the Board") and spread to a similar in-crowd at Facebook. It's notable that Jimbo and Natalia replied at Meta but María only at FB. Thanks, Signpost authors, for bringing this to wider attention. Pelagicmessages ) – (16:43 Sat 05, AEDT) 05:43, 5 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Signpost article/ Founder's Seat / Makeup of the WMF board
Jimbo, you need to have two votes on the WMF board, not zero. You are the one that can be most trusted for keeping things from going awry. If you've ever made a big mistake, it was in approving that mess of of set By-Laws that the current ones are and which are facilitating the issue described in Signpost. They are basically the Constitution of WMF/Wikipedia. Just imagine if the US had a Constitution that said that congress could unilaterally change the constitution any way any time that they wanted. And that congress could make the rules any way that they want as to the makeup of congress and who gets to be in congress. And one of the rules that they made up is that half of the congressman are appointed by congress, not elected. The by-laws have fundamental problems that prevent self-correction and need repair. Sincerely, North8000 (talk) 15:23, 30 November 2020 (UTC) North8000 (talk) 15:08, 1 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Hi Ymblanter, and thanks for the link. But I think you have misunderstood me. I meant to ask whether anyone else believes that a portion of the WMF Board wants to remove some of Mr Wales' powers for some of their ulterior motives (maybe selling Wikipedia to Google? Or censoring Wikipedia to enter China?) and are using recent events as a front for their attempt. I know that it almost sounds like QAnon, but then again it is possible..... 45.251.33.78 (talk) 14:40, 2 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
The Board seems to be proposing a lot of changes that not everyone is comfortable with, which together would make it less responsive to the volunteer communities. Maybe I'm too willing to see conspiracies where none exist, but it's getting harder to assume good faith here. -- llywrch (talk) 22:53, 2 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Nosebagbear: Can you please give a link for that meta discussion? Paul August 14:26, 2 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
@Paul August: - m:Talk:Wikimedia Foundation Board noticeboard/October 2020 - Proposed Bylaws changes is probably the most suited page. The whole "board rubric", which is part of the attempted end-run around community election, is on a different page Nosebagbear (talk) 14:37, 2 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I'd be happy to register my opposition to these changes. However, the discussion on the page you've linked to seems to have ended (it was soliciting input back in October), & the primary center of discussion appears currently to be over at FaceBook, where many of us do not want to participate. It's as if the people pushing for these changes are moving where you can add input so to reduce the objections. -- llywrch (talk) 23:13, 2 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
FaceBook is a non-starter for me. Paul August 23:53, 2 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Well... at least to me, Enwiki feels like 'friendly territory' here in a way that Meta doesn't necessarily. —2d37 (talk) 01:28, 3 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Hmm. The only obvious reason why anybody would wish to eject Jimmy Wales and to ignore community wishes would be to enable whoever was left at the helm to drive the ship exactly as they pleased with no interference, i.e. a totalitarian putsch. Not a happy thought. Chiswick Chap (talk) 12:19, 6 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]

@94.175.6.205: - what policies would you say exist through "Jimbo's word" and are followed but have not been codified? Given the rate of technological change, I would be amazed if we saw out one century, though that doesn't break the underlying point about succession planning. However, as a community (and the one most tied in to Jimbo) we have already done that. Power has been released steadily over time, but always with the community deciding we wanted it to go. Nosebagbear (talk) 13:47, 10 December 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]

ArbCom election





       

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