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Kevin Kline

Why I Do Not Support The Current PASS ExeCo Slate

I read the PASS Officer Election announcement from June 15th with a bit of trepidation.  There was something about the announcement which made me uncomfortable, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

As a bit of background, the PASS "officers" are also known as the Executive Committee (ExeCo), as described in the PASS Bylaws in section VIII.10.  The ExeCo was added to the governance of PASS back in 2004-2005 as a check-and-balance against the extremely powerful office of president as described in the version of the bylaws PASS currently had in place at that time.  Prior to the ExeCo, the president could do pretty much anything they wanted at that point - sign contracts, make binding pronouncements, etc. - while the overall duty of the board of directors was to manage specific portfolios and to set strategy.  The ExeCo verbiage was added to PASS governance to ensure that there was a reasonable balance of power by requiring a 3 out of 4 vote to enact major initiatives before they were brought before the board of directors.  (I should point out that my job as an employee of a major vendor was directly responsible for bringing the ExeCo into being.  When I was first elected by the board of directors to serve as president, the PASS board also wanted to ensure that a president working for a vendor would not show his employer undue favor with perks like better spots on the exhibit hall floor, mentioning them by name in presidential communiques, and so forth.  So the bylaws were changed to establish the ExeCo so that the president, any president, could not govern by decree).  OK - so the ExeCo makes executive decisions, comprendo?

So in looking at the the slate put forward for the 2012 officers, I noticed that two members of said ExeCo will now be working for the same company and this is deeply troubling to me.  (As an aside, those persons are Rushabh Mehta with Solid Quality Mentors India practice and Douglas McDowell with Solid Quality Mentors USA practice).

Now don't get me wrong, this is not a personal attack in any way.  I know both Rushabh and Douglas personally and consider them both friends.  I have endorsed them for ExeCo leadership roles in the past, as individuals.  However, I have a deep conviction that the Executive Committee should not have any two members from the same company, even when they represent different business units.  Again, my feelings in this area transcend the current persons on the slate.  I simply feel like it's a dangerous precedent to set because we cannot know or control the character and ethics of future PASS leaders.

Consider that the ExeCo can govern with a 3 out of 4 vote.  That means that two members of the ExeCo, with either an implicit or explicit alliance, could block any initiative each and every time it came up.  Furthermore, they could pass any initiative they wanted by winning one other vote.

I also feel that the ExeCo and the wider board is responsible for securing the future of PASS, one of which includes reasonable checks and balances on executive leadership.  We cannot know and should be somewhat skeptical that all future board members will be as ethical and upstanding as those currently on the board.  By allowing a single company to hold multiple seats on the ExeCo, PASS would set a dangerous precedent for future boards.

The press release makes no mention of Rushabh's future plans.  It's possible that he intends to resign at the end of this year and not assume the role of Immediate Past President, thereby avoiding the possibility of two ExeCo members from the same organization.  There are probably some other ways to remedy this situation.  But with only the information of the press release, I'm sorry to say that I cannot endorse the 2012 ExeCo slate.

What are your thoughts?

Published Wednesday, August 31, 2011 11:22 AM by KKline

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Douglas McDowell said:

I want to say to the world that Kevin Kline has done amazing things for PASS and the community.  The degree that he moved PASS forward is nothing short of miraculous.  Kevin makes reference to the significant and necessary changes in governance that happened under his direction, I thank Kevin for this.  I have appreciated Kevin’s continued support and welcome his criticism and concerns.

While Kevin’s concerns might carry merit and create concern in the past when the ExecCo made many of the decisions on behalf of the Board and the overall organization, today’s ExecCo has very little power to manipulate the PASS Board, or for that matter to do anything without full Board support.  Today the ExecCo cannot govern with a 3 out of 4 vote.

The PASS bylaws are a living and maturing document and if you follow the link within the blogpost above you will see in section VII.10 (not VIII.10 as cited) the ExecCo is specifically limited in its power by the Board: “The Executive Committee shall not take action inconsistent with any resolution or action of the Board of Directors.”  For the record: all voting PASS Board members have equal voting rights.  The ExecCo does not vote on anything that is outside of the voting of the rest of the Board.  The entire Board is invited to all ExecCo communications.  

Somewhat different from the perspective presented in the blogpost, today’s ExecCo is primarily meant to offer a degree of strategic leadership to the Board while creating a succession path and vetting process for the role of president.  Other than that we have had a consistently increasing level of transparency—arguably complete transparency—between the ExecCo and the remainder of the Board.  So while it may sound suspect that two folks from one employer are on the ExecCo, this presents no different set of concerns than two folks from one employer on the overall Board.

August 31, 2011 3:04 PM
 

jonmcrawford said:

How does the sentence just prior to that play into this effect? "The Executive Committee may be called upon to exercise the authority of the Board between meetings, except as limited by the General Not‐For‐Profit Corporation Act of the State of Illinois. The Executive Committee shall not take action inconsistent with any resolution or action of the Board of Directors."

What if no prior "resolution or action" had taken place on the hypothetical situation that the ExecCo made a decision on, would the potential scenario outlined by Kevin be possible?  

August 31, 2011 4:28 PM
 

Bill Graziano said:

You would write this while I was on vacation :)

I think this is definitely something that our members should think about.  I know that it was debated among the Board.  You can review our May board meeting minutes (http://www.sqlpass.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=jsVGvo6_Qm0%3d&tabid=118&mid=792) and find a brief discussion of this on page 5 with some comments by Board members.

I know that a bylaw change was considered to address this specific issue.  We did make a bylaw change to limit the Board to two people from the same company.  At that time we chose not to make a similar change to the ExecCo composition.

I know that it was on my mind when I voted.  I weighed whether to vote for the people that I thought were most qualified or the people that were most qualified that didn’t work for the same company.  I also gave serious thought to how this might be perceived by our members.  I’m a little surprised that it took until now for someone to ask about this.  I’m glad you did though.  It’s something that I really should have addressed in a blog post at the time.

There are a number of other reasons why I’m not as concerned about this as I might have been a few years ago.

First, the second person your talking about on the ExecCo is the Immediate Past President.  Based on my experience, the IPP hasn’t been as actively involved in the ExecCo as the other three members.  I know there has been discussion about eliminating this position.  I’m not sure I’m ready to go that far yet.  I think the role has value.

As you stated in your blog post, authority was transferred from the President to the ExecCo.  That authority has continued to transfer from the ExecCo down to the Board.  Decisions that used to be made by the ExecCo are now handled by the Board.  This is one of the biggest changes I’ve seen over the last few years in how the Board works internally.

One of the key reasons behind this is the better budgeting we’re doing.  Our budget now has thousands of individual line items.  Any changes to the budget need to be approved by the Board.  This really ties the hand of the President and ExecCo in making any major changes throughout the year.  There just isn’t a hidden pool of money that the ExecCo can spend.

As best I can tell, the only transaction between a Board member’s company and PASS would be for advertising or sponsorship at the Summit.  Those transactions are all handled under standard pricing and aren’t something the ExecCo would be involved in.

You also talk about voting in the ExecCo.  I can’t remember the last time there’s actually been a vote.  Typically issues are discussed and then handled in the appropriate portfolio or presented to the Board.  To me the biggest benefit in the ExecCo meetings was knowing that was the one time I could get the other members together in one place to address whatever the issue of the day was.

We’ve also opened up the ExecCo meetings to any Board members that want to participate.  The challenge for Board members is that it seems like we cancel every other ExecCo meeting so I’m not sure how they’d know when to participate.  That’s another thing we’ll have to work on.  We’ve attempted to take minutes and email those out but have done a horrible job doing it.  

The last thing that works in our favor is our improved transparency.  All votes of individual Board members are public now.  You can review our June minutes and see how each director voted in this election.  You can ask each individual Board member to explain and support their vote.  You can find those votes in the June minutes.

While I think this may have been a concern in years past when there was significant authority vested in the ExecCo I don’t believe it’s the case today.

August 31, 2011 5:04 PM
 

Richard Bolesta said:

Kevin brings up an interesting topic and one that was debated and discussed between the board members.  Currently, I have the longest tenure on the PASS board and have seen many changes over the years.  Even before this was put to a vote, the board discussed the possible implications and sway the Executive Committee (ExeCo) could have given that two people are from the same company.  With all due respect to Kevin, I do not agree with his assessment on the ramifications of the slate.  The power and workings of the ExeCo has changed significantly over the years and is more for succession planning than consolidation of power.  Every board member is invited, as an observer, to the ExeCo meetings.  Board members may introduce motions and topics to the board.  The ExeCo does not have more voting power that any other board member.  What they do have is more responsibility to lead PASS.  This is not done through strong-arm tactics or backroom votes.  This is done by having a vision of where PASS needs to be, bringing together the different voices in the community to move PASS forward and support from the community via the elections.  

Kevin stated that, “By allowing a single company to hold multiple seats on the ExeCo, PASS would set a dangerous precedent for future boards”. Since the vote was based on the capabilities of the individuals, I put forward that the precedent that has be set for future boards is one that has the board’s primary consideration with the candidates abilities rather than their current employer.  This is not dangerous.

I have complete confidence in Douglas and stand with the board on their decision to put forward this slate.  

August 31, 2011 5:27 PM
 

Richard Bolesta said:

Jon Crawford asked a question in his response that is related to specific text in the bylaws and how the intent of the bylaws can be subverted.  Without responding to the specific question since it is more a legal question, I would like to offer the following:  If a person is not ethical, regardless of the controls put in place, they will find a way to abuse their power.  This is why we have board members voting for a slate that will be put forward to the community.  It is incumbent upon the board to put forward a slate that is ethical and has PASS’ best interest at heart.  There are years of service in PASS before one makes it to the ExeCo and this is used to vet candidates for the ExeCo.  Is it bullet proof? No.  Can there be abuse of power?  Yes.  As Kevin stated, this is not about the candidate since he knows Douglas personally.  Kevin’s concern, in part, is for setting a precedent for future boards rather than expecting Douglas to abuse his power to the extent he has additional power as a director.  In other words, hypothetically anything can happen…but will it?  

August 31, 2011 5:52 PM
 

Geoff Hiten said:

I agree with Douglas' comments on how much Kevin has done for the PASS community.  I appreciate his sincere efforts to improve PASS governance.

This was a difficult vote for me, given the business relationship between Douglas and Rushabh.  Ultimately I decided NOT to limit PASS's ability to benefit from demonstrated leadership ability simply because of an employment relationship.  I believe the existing protections on multiple co-employees on the board are adequate.  

As for the nature of the current oversight structure within PASS, we now have a very active board that takes its oversight duties seriously.  The biggest reason we were so late with a budget this year was that Board members demanded more details on expenditures than ever before.  To me , this active board is a far stronger precedent than any ExecCo membership rule.  Rules will not protect PASS from unethical behavior.  Ethical and active board members will protect PASS from unethical behavior.

September 1, 2011 8:28 AM
 

John Colbert said:

If the ExeCo isn't as important as some of the responses here seem to imply/suggest or if the ExeCo doesn't really do much, then why even have it? To defend the current slate by de-emphasizing the potential influence/power of the ExeCo is not an effective defence in my opinion.

Even though individual integrity and high moral/ethical standards are ultuimately the foundation, we cannot count on that. In particular, we cannot count on that all the time. Nor can we completely count on transparency to ensure the integrity of a system because there is always information asymmetricity with people on the inside having a great advantage. If experience in other areas (e.g. political systems and financial regulations) is any indication, transparency in fact can easily become a tool to help give unethical activities a coat of legitimacy. In the end, check-and-balance is all about the system. It helps to increase the probability that the system will not totally collapse whether or not we always get highly ethical people or not.

I personaly do not have an opinion on the current slate as I don't really know them. But Kevin is talking about the system, and I think that should be the focus.

September 1, 2011 10:02 AM
 

Richard Bolesta said:

In response to John Colbert’s post…

First, there is a difference between “defending” the slate and “endorsing” the slate.  My response is an endorsement for the slate and it needs no defending as it stands on its own and the community determines if it is acceptable or not.  You may have meant to imply that my remarks were defending the way the slate was formed as opposed to defending the slate itself.

My main point is to correct the perception that the ExeCo can do whatever they want.  If that was the case, it would not matter that all the members came from different companies, it would still be dangerous.  My comments concerning the ExeCo were focused on their ability to “hijack” the board.  This is not to be confused with the importance of the ExeCo.  The ExeCo is an important function and prepares leaders of PASS.  There needs to be a core leadership team that coordinates the workings of the board.  It would be less effective if we did not have that core leadership within the board.  They work many more hours for PASS than the average board member because of their leadership responsibilities.  Please do not take my comments on the power of the ExeCo and transfer that to the importance of the ExeCo.  

Finally, I would not characterize Kevin’s questioning of having two people from the same company on the ExeCo as questioning the “system”.  He has not raised concerns on the structure of the board or the ExeCo.

September 1, 2011 11:20 AM
 

jonmcrawford said:

"Finally, I would not characterize Kevin’s questioning of having two people from the same company on the ExeCo as questioning the “system”.  He has not raised concerns on the structure of the board or the ExeCo. "

With all due respect Richard, yes he has (IMHO). If there is not something expressly prohibiting this situation, and there is the suggestion of potential impropriety, (not necessarily in the current situation, but in any future situation) then it should be specifically addressed in the by-laws.

To John's point, the responses have been more along the lines of "this isn't really an issue, everyone in place is a bunch of upstanding folks" rather than "hey, you're right, we should talk about addressing that".

September 1, 2011 2:14 PM
 

Richard Bolesta said:

Jon,  to clarify my statement:   When I say “structure” I mean the actual existence of the ExeCo within the board or the number of people on the ExeCo, etc.   This is contrasted against the eligibility requirements to participate in the ExeCo.  In reading Kevin’s post, I see objections to the eligibility requirements vs structure.  

The debate is around the eligibility requirements for the ExeCo and if they should be updated or not.  My responses did not address this.  It addressed the comments on the power of the ExeCo.  Please do not blend the two topics together.  The former is more of an opinion while the second is the way the ExeCo runs.

The debate on eligibility requirements will not be settled prior to the elections. My endorsement of the slate is not to be confused with the debate on the eligibility requirements.  The board minutes show that the board is not unanimous on their belief with regard to having two people, from the same company, serve on the ExeCo at the same time.  Hence, this continues to be actively discussed in the board.  There are those that do not believe that this is a conflict or danger.  These are smart people and understand the nuances of the debate.  They just have a different opinion.  So even though people are not saying, “Hey, you’re right” (because they are not convinced of this being “right”) be assured that this is being discussed by the board.

September 1, 2011 3:14 PM
 

andyleonard said:

The conversation in these comments is symbolic of the disconnect between PASS leadership and the SQL Server Community. The Community isn't interested in a legal debate. It (we) would just like the issue addressed.

Why is this so hard?

Andy

September 2, 2011 10:35 AM
 

Geoff Hiten said:

Andy,

What is the "issue"?  The fact that we allow ExecCo members to share an employer or the fact we voted in such a slate?  

The first fact is most certainly a "legal" issue worthy of debate.  I am very reluctant to change the by-laws without a lot of thought and public feedback.  The last thing PASS needs is the perception we change the rules as we go along so we always get a certain outcome.   Detailed explanations and context discussions are how we should address rule changes.  I am not saying I would or would not support such a change.  I am saying I want to listen and cogitate before jumping.

The second fact is a matter of opinion.  I think people are more important than where they get their paychecks.  My prior explanation of why I voted this way stands.  Feel free to vote me out in a few months if you disagree strongly enough.  That is how we board members are held accountable.  

And it is hard because we all care.  We all want what is best for PASS and the SQL Community (hopefully those are the same things).  That means we sometimes have to slog through technical or political discussions so nobody gets left out of the process.

September 2, 2011 12:09 PM
 

Linchi Shea said:

Geoff;

There seems to be sufficient concern (my impression anyway) about the first issue in the community for it to be openly and seriously debated, not as an issue about a particular employer but an issue about the rules governing the makeup of the ExeCo or even the board in general going forward. Perhaps, a survey of some kind can be put forward to the PASS community on the issue. A simple question on whether more than one person from the same employer should be on the ExeCo (or the board) may not be fair because we can expect most people to say no to that question. But if the exercise helps to highlight the pros an cons as the community in large sees it, it may just serve to 'connect' the leadership with the community and as a way to have the voice from the community heard. We don't know if the pros and cons as seen by the PASS leadership are in sync with those seen by the community in general, or do we?

Just my 2 cents.

September 2, 2011 1:23 PM
 

Richard Bolesta said:

Andy, your comment implies that you represent the voice of the community.  That is a bit grandiose.  I’m always open to individual comments but question the self-appointed community spokesperson position that you have taken on.  This stance is many times taken by those that want to bully a debate as opposed to add to it.  Also, you imply that somehow when a community member serves in PASS leadership they cease to be part of the SQL Server community and all of a sudden change their principals and convictions.  Regardless of the fact that the membership of the PASS board changes on a regular basis and even the management company has changed over the years, there is something that makes the elected member all of a sudden stop representing those that elected them.  The question you asked, “Why is this so hard”, implies that the board should just do what you think is right, given your self-appointed position as community representative, and be done with it.  It is interesting that not even the PASS board does that.  They debate, have split votes, and move forward based on a majority vote.  There is no one person on the board that claims to represent the entire PASS community even though their election puts them in that position.

The debate is on how people feel about having multiple candidates from the same company on the ExeCo slate.  So far the comments and replies, both public and private, have shown people are split almost down the middle.  Some think this is an issue and others don’t.  The number of responses hardly reflects what I would call a view of the community and I would not be so bold as to make that claim.

The focus should be on the question at hand and not sweeping statements of how one knows the pulse of the community.

September 2, 2011 2:04 PM
 

KKline said:

Some general thoughts and responses follow:

Douglas, while I appreciate your praise for my tenure on the board, it really goes to the team - Joe Webb, Kurt Windisch, Stefanie Higgins, Wayne Snyder and others. It was the team that deserved the praise.  I also appreciate your comment about the bylaws as a "living and maturing document".  This is one area I'd like to see the bylaws mature before PASS gets burned by not protecting itself from potential future issues.

Jon, you're correct. When taking the document at face value, the ExeCo has direct power.  Also, historically the ExeCo exercised direct power.  So the only thing preventing that in the future is a "tradition" as described by Douglas.

Bill, I can't tell you how thrilled I am to hear that the board is taking direct action. In the past, that was always a huge struggle to get directors to invest in the process.  I also think that it will continue to be a huge struggle in the future.  DBAs just don't think like business people, in fact, they're trained to temper the enthusiasm of business people leading to inertia.  Finally, your points about the IPP are well taken and, to me, point strongly toward the need for improvement in this part of the organization's governance.  Most IPPs, myself included, are simply exhausted after years of service.  It's no wonder they have trouble staying engaged.  I'm somewhat relieved to hear your description of ExeCo processes today.  They sound much more solid than in years past.  On the other hand, they're processes - not firm policies.  So that means they're malleable to the desires, good or otherwise, of future boards.  Perhaps these current processes should be codified into full-fledged organizational policies?

Rick, I hear you.  And I know that you're an excellent watchdog of the board and, frequently, its conscience.  You bring up a good point about appointing a slate based on good ethics of the candidates.  On the other hand, as far as I've ever seen, PASS doesn't do anything to actually track the ethics of a board member.  Finally, and as Geoff points out, we live and work in a rather small professional community.  So I think we have to tolerate some degree of multiplicity on the board.  Otherwise, we cut out many talented leaders in an industry where we always need more leaders.  But what is the right amount?

John, great point about information asymmetry! There are always backchannels.  As you rightly point out, I'm not trying to derail any election or eminent change of officers.  I'm trying to nudge the system towards what is IMO a better place.  The worse thing that could happen, again IMO, is to become self-satisfied and not try to continually improve the governance.  As Rick points out, one easy step forward would be to have better eligibility requirements.  There are other possible improvements too.

Andy, I think you jumped the gun just a bit. As Geoff points out, we've got to spend a little time figuring out exactly what the problem is.  (in fact, Geoff's words that "the people are more important than where they get their paycheck" rings in my ears.  There was a big debate back in '04 as to whether I could serve as president since I'd started my term on the board in corporate IT at Deloitte, but subsequently moved to the vendor, Quest Software).  But your wider point is well-taken, meaning it's so simple to for modern, internet-savvy leaders to take the pulse of their constituents with all kinds of tools like quick surveys.  "Disconnect" is not a word we should hear often.

Linchi, I think you hit on exactly what I am looking for.  We're a community.  What does the community want?  Well, we don't really know, do we?  I think some sort of formal limitation is needed (say, no more than 2 from the same company).  But maybe the community doesn't care at all?  Or maybe they think 2 is already 1 too many?  We'll never know unless we ask.

September 2, 2011 2:33 PM
 

Richard Bolesta said:

Thanks Kevin.  This will be my last post on this topic.  Not that I don’t care but I find myself going outside the PASS board protocol which is having people in the ExeCo represent the board.  One last comment… this was a split vote on the board (see the minutes) so not everyone had the same opinion. We continue to discuss this.  Most important, the PASS board is listening.

September 2, 2011 3:36 PM
 

Jack Corbett said:

Well-written and thought-provoking post.  A good discussion as well.  I applaud the sitting board members that I have responded.  In the past there has not been this good a response to posts like this.

I support the rule limiting a company to 2 seats on the board and I think that is enough.  I'm not against changing the by-laws to extend that limitation to 1 person per company on the ExecCo, but I don't find it necessary.

For me it comes down to trust.  Do I trust the people who have been elected to represent me on the board?  If I do, then I should trust them to put the right people on the ExecCo and to rectify the situation if they don't.  

I'm involved enough in the community to have gotten to know most of the board members personally and while I don't agree with them on every issue, I do trust that they are doing what they think is best for PASS.  

September 2, 2011 3:37 PM
 

K. Brian Kelley said:

Here's the scenario question I have:

If you had two out of four ExecCo from the same organization and they were able to convince a third member of the ExecCo to side with them, for instance, passing on consulting leads, outright bribe of cash, free cruise, etc., what could 3/4 of the ExecCo do within PASS and on PASS' behalf? What is the limit and scope of the power they wield where they wouldn't have to get the rest of the BoD involved and under what circumstances could that happen?

September 2, 2011 3:45 PM
 

Thomas LaRock said:

Kevin,

Thank you for the blog post. You have raised some very good points, and stimulated a good discussion as well. Your comment in response to all the previous comments was well done also.

Jack, thank you for noticing that several of the sitting board members responded to the post. In the past the Board has been criticized for not being vocal enough on matters like this. It is good to see that we have been able to step up, and I believe it helps to show everyone that we are listening to our members.

With respect to the slate, well, I am on it. So my opinion may be biased. I recognize the fact that we will need to add additional language to our bylaws in some manner to address this situation from being an issue. But rather than have a knee-jerk reaction I would like to solicit feedback and arrive at a decision that best serves the PASS Community as a whole.

I would encourage everyone to continue the debate. However I would ask one favor and that is this: assume good intentions. I know everyone that has commented so far, and I know that everyone here wants was is best for PASS. Unfortunately, some of the comments don't reflect that, and I know some folks feel the comments have become personal in nature.

The PASS Board is listening. Either you trust that to be true, or you don't. I hope you do. We do our best to make the decisions that are right for the PASS Community. Not everyone will agree with everything we decide. Regarding this matter it will be discussed by the Board as a whole between now and the Summit. There will again be a Board Q&A at the Summit this year. Please bring your questions. If you cannot make the Summit, send us an email or have someone at the Summit ask your question by proxy.

We are listening, and we are trying. Please do not suggest or believe otherwise.

Thanks,

Tom

September 2, 2011 3:56 PM
 

Allen Kinsel said:

I would like to echo what Tom said. When the siting board discussed the Exec Election that was one of the biggest questions that was discussed.  Prior to this year I hadn't considered running for the executive since I felt I should get a little more experience on the board first.  However, after looking at the options and seeing the list of "bylaw qualified" electable people I worried that we (the Board) could have no choice but to elect 2 members from the same company.  In the end that was the tipping point for my deciding to run for exec co.  Personally I don't like the perception that it has but, I am only one director and am very interested in hearing others opinions

September 2, 2011 4:26 PM
 

Bradley Ball said:

I just want to say Thank You to the board members for participating in the discussion.

I think what loses the community is that the internals of PASS as an organization is like the internals of SQL Server.  If you don't push yourself to learn about it, then you never will.

I've learned a lot in the last couple months and I've got a lot more to go. I'm sure to learn in the next few.  When I met Allen at SQL Rally I had a complaint.  To which he replied, you want to do it okay fix it.

To be honest it was worded perfectly.  I like to think that PASS has a secret headquarters where Paul Randal, Brent Ozar, Adam Machanic, Grant Fritchey,Andy Warren, and everyone else who posted on this page have secret decoder rings and discuss how to thwart world problems with SQL.

It made me realize that down in the trenches fighting the good fight sometimes it's just one person, because the rest of us are super busy with jobs, family, and everything else.

We forget or don't think about the fact that the President of PASS may have the same normal everyday issues that the rest of us face, because we see you guys as Icon's and not regular people.

Being part of the community it is easy to think "Well we should just do this.", when implementing it is a whole different thing.

The best way to solve any disconnect is to get involved and there is a Board of Directors Election coming up with some open seats :)

Reading everything at length this is a very healthy discussion, and every issue we are looking at could probably be solved over a couple of beers.

September 2, 2011 5:16 PM
 

andyleonard said:

Geoff, the issue is the subject of Kevin's post: There are two people on the PASS Executive Committee from the same company. I personally trust you or I wouldn't have voted for you to become a PASS Board member. I believe everyone when they say the decision was difficult and I accept your reasons for voting the way you did. Given all that, I still disagree with the decision and see it as an extension of a disappointing trend.

I'd like to think I have that option; that as a member of PASS, I can disagree with decisions. Perhaps that's not the case. If members of PASS are not permitted to disagree or if there are tolerances of or conditions and limits to disagreement, I think PASS Leadership should acknowledge that. Perhaps that's happened already in a way, earlier in the comments for this post.

I had to think some about being called a "self-appointed community spokesperson". My first reaction to the label wasn't positive. Reflecting, I believe that was the intent. Before commenting further, I'll share a true story:

A few weeks back I was riding into Farmville when the car in front of me suddenly signalled to turn right where there was no road to the right. I slowed down and as I was passing them, I noticed they had a flat tire. I turned around and offered to help the man and woman emerging from the car. The man said "No, we don't have a spare. I'll need to go get my pickup." "Where do you live?" I asked him. "Near the prison across town." "I'll take you." "Thanks!" As we drove across town I learned more about his situation. "Fred" (not his real name) had recently had serious surgery. He was on the way to a follow-up doctor's appointment when the tire blew. It was the only thing he was allowed to leave his house to do while recovering for the next bit. It was also very hot out - over 100 degrees. He thanked me profusely when we reached his trailer and I stuck around long enough to make sure his truck would start and that he could drive it ok.

Back to the label "self-appointed community spokesperson" - specifically the "self-appointed" part: In much the same way as I just happened to be following Fred's car, I've been following the PASS organization. Fred and I are part of the same community: Farmville Virginia. PASS is part of the SQL Server Community and is a community in its own right, and I am a member of both. When I saw Fred's car suffered a flat tire I didn't really think about it much. I saw someone needed help and jumped in. The same holds for the PASS community: I saw stuff happen that needed to be addressed and I addressed it.

Some have commented that many members of PASS don't appear to care. The same holds for other drivers on the road. I bet a lot of people who would normally help didn't stop to help Fred because someone was already helping him. I'd be willing to bet that happens in the PASS community as well; many don't speak up because they think "someone's already on this." I get private communications to this effect from many who never comment publicly, that's why I believe it's so.

I believe the self-appointed label applies in both cases. The shoe fits: Guilty as charged. If you want to look at it that way, I appointed myself to help Fred just like I appointed myself to help the community. If that's presumption, than I'm presumptious. I'll own that label; I'll wear that t-shirt with honor.

Am I a "community spokesperson"? I think so. I think it started when I connected with community in Jacksonville Florida. I witnessed a bunch of cool efforts and synergy between the technology community and local businesses. I thought "If I ever get back to Richmond, we should do something like this." I returned to Farmville in 2005 and engaged in the Richmond community shortly thereafter. To be clear, nothing I've ever done in community has been done alone or in a vacuum; it's always been a team effort. If no team existed when the effort began, an early order of business has always been to form a team. The Richmond Microsoft Developer Community is successful and has been successful for years. It's an honor to be part of that.

Later, I was asked by PASS to serve as a Regional Mentor. Coincidentally, Douglas McDowell approached me to step into the PASS Southeast Regional Mentor role he largely defined, and I was honored to serve in the role for two years. When I decided to step away from the PASS Regional Mentor role, I found community members and leaders continued to consult me about issues they face. After providing advice and serving as a moderator, I decided to label myself a "community mentor" to convey to those with whom I communicate that I am interested in serving the community in this way. I continue to call myself a community mentor and PASS itself played a role in my becoming a community mentor.

And so again, I find myself accepting the label of community spokesperson. Altogether, the title "self-appointed community spokesperson" appears accurate.

My earlier comment was pointed. Do I believe there's a disconnect between the PASS Board and the PASS Community? Yep. I also believe it's difficult to see from the PASS Leadership's side of the chasm. I know members of PASS Leadership are aware of this because I've seen their attempts at remedy by seeking outside perspective. Attempting to communicate these views from the outside remains challenging. Subtlety sometimes just doesn't work. That said, it wasn't my intention to offend and I can tell some took offense. For that, I apologize.

I don't think anyone expects communities, community membership, or community leadership to be perfect. I don't expect perfection. But this begs some questions: How is imperfection to be managed? Is it to be swept under a rug? Declared NDA? Discussion verboten? Is that how a healthy ______ (subsitute any institution here: community, family, business, church) functions? The answer to all of these questions is "No". As PASS has become more transparent over the past few years, even they have acknowledged these facts by their actions. It's a difficult and challenging process, but they have undertaken it. I believe it's been beneficial to the organization, its leadership, and the PASS and SQL Server Communities. I hope PASS continues to grow more open and more trusting and I sincerely hope that, in the future, they respond better to those in their own community who disagree with them.

Personally, I welcome the challenges of community. The rewards of watching - and participating in - changing lives and impacting careers for the better are well worth the effort, challenges, and occasional labeling. The PASS Summit is an awesome gathering of SQL Server technologists. As I blogged recently, the 2004 Summit changed my life. I want more people to share similar experiences now and in the future. A healthy and functional PASS organization will insure this experience is available for many and for years to come.

As for me, I paraphrase a friend and fellow community mentor: I reserve the right to express my opinion both now and in the future.

Andy

September 3, 2011 12:35 PM
 

Joe Fleming aka @MuadDBA said:

Andy, I'm a bit confused.  You say

"The conversation in these comments is symbolic of the disconnect between PASS leadership and the SQL Server Community. The Community isn't interested in a legal debate. It (we) would just like the issue addressed."

I'd say that statement is dead wrong.  This conversation exemplifies that the PASS leadership is very concerned about the opinion of the SQL Server Community.  I don't feel like anyone involved here is simply dismissing opinions without thought.  In fact, the Board Member posts here indicate that quite a bit of thought went into the elections this time, and that there is still ongoing thought about the process.  It is only with continuing, *productive* debate that the issue can become "addressed."

I'll put the question forth:  What would you have them do, and why?  You are obviously unhappy with the decision to move forward as is, and would like to see that changed.  Do you think the Board is obligated to act or reconsider based on the opinions of one member of the community, based simply on a blog post from a Past President and a 3 sentence comment from you?

So far each issue brought forth has been met with a reasonable answer as to what was considered and why that issue didn't tip the scale in the other direction for that Board Member.  This is EXACTLY the kind of conversations the community wants to see when these issues come up.  What was considered, why they thought it wasn't an issue, and how they proceeded.  You do a disservice to the community with your initial response.  In contrast to your story about helping a fellow Farmville resident, your comments here are the equivalent of shouting "You should have brought a spare!" as you drive by with the windows down.

I respect and appreciate the work you have done as a user group leader and a regional mentor.  I'd like to see that same sort of contribution from this discussion.  It will make it much more productive and informative for community members, and contribute to that healthy PASS organization that we all want.

September 6, 2011 5:00 PM
 

Karen Lopez said:

Does this mean that the IPP position is a voting position? On both the board and the Exec?

September 7, 2011 8:34 AM
 

KKline said:

That's correct, Karen. The IPP has a full vote on board decisions and ExeCo decisions.  

September 7, 2011 9:23 AM
 

Stuart Ainsworth said:

Joining the fray...

First, I think that the problem needs to be defined before we rush to decide what to do about it; I agree with Kevin that the BOD needs to be "securing the future of PASS, one of which includes reasonable checks and balances on executive leadership."  The question for me is: what are our options for reasonable checks and balances?  While constraints on Board and ExeCo qualifications based on employment seem reasonable, they also restrict our (and I use "our" to mean the membership of PASS) capability to choose qualified leadership.  When you make the pool small, you get to catch less fish; are there other options for placing checks besides restrictions based on employment?

Second, to Andy Leonard's original comment about "a legal debate", it's my understanding that PASS is a corporation, which means that any issue that involves long-term change requires a legal debate.  I agree that many members of the SQL community don't care about such issues; however, it does seem to be the curse of politics that when such discussions do become public, someone eventually says "we don't need so much discussion; we need action".

Third, to Geoff regarding PASS and the SQL Community; I think of PASS (including the BoD) as a subset of the community-at-large.  I'd guess that there are still a great many SQL People (sorry Andy for borrowing your term) that have little to no experience with PASS; however, I don't think that membership on the Board excludes you from the community.  To be honest, I dislike using the word "community" when it comes to discussions about PASS politics; I'd prefer talking about membership concerns with the BoD leadership (of course, that would be easier if there was a boilerplate definition for membership).

All in all, I think this discussion is healthy, and should continue among members (particularly as the election cycle is upon us).  I appreciate Kevin's raising of the question; I'm just not sure that limiting candidacy is the best solution.

September 7, 2011 10:02 AM
 

andyleonard said:

Hi Joe,

  I agree with you on many points but I disagree with the final decision of the Board to place two people on the Executive Committee.

  "What would you have them do, and why?" Excellent question! I would like for PASS leadership to behave as every other non-profit organization or corporation. Specifically, when presented with negative feedback about a decision, reconsider that decision.

  Is that asking too much?

Andy

September 7, 2011 12:00 PM
 

Joe Fleming aka @MuadDBA said:

Thanks Andy!  I hope I didn't seem too harsh above.  I really do respect you and your influence in the community, but I want to see this discussion move forward and not stall.

I don't think most non-profits or corporations reconsider decisions at this level without overwhelming feedback.  If they did, it would be remarkably easy to cripple them by calling for reconsideration.  PASS as an organization moves slowly already (by design) and I don't think we want them slowed even more because of the complaints of a few people, no matter their standing as Past President, Regional Mentor, Chapter Leader, or head of the Bacon Supply Department.

If you want to advocate for a way to allow for feedback on controversial decisions so that it could be measured, I would endorse that as well as a way to have a sort of open forum on such decisions.  Given the geographic dispersal of PASS members, such a forum would not be without its challenges and the cost would probably not be insignificant either, so I don't know if it would be successful, but I'd be happy to participate in an attempt nonetheless.

I also know that, as a Chapter Leader and volunteer in the community, there is only so much load I can bear before the rewards from my contributions no longer outweigh the annoyances I feel by red tape, negative feedback, and mistrust.  And I am small potatoes compared to the folks on the board running the show.  As Stuart mentioned, the pool of available people with the skills, energy, and interest in serving on the board is not very big.  I don't want to hold those who want to serve back needlessly.

September 7, 2011 3:41 PM
 

andyleonard said:

Hi Joe,

  Absolutely no offense taken here. The respect is mutual.

  I understand and, again, you make good points. I don't expect PASS to be flawless, but I do expect them to correct mistakes.

  When PASS Leadership makes a decision that's unpopular with the larger SQL Server Community and that decision happens to align with their processes (an election-related decision, for example), they hold up the process the more important and insist people must be subject to process. But when PASS Leadership makes a decision that abandons precedent (like a bad decision about two people from the same company on a governing body), we're told the people are more important than the process.

  That's inconsistent.

  My concern is for the stability of the organization and, while I understand and respect the reasons why Board members voted the way they did on this issue, I still disagree with the result.

  I *think* it's ok to disagree - regardless of the reasons. But I also think these are good reasons.

  As for moving forward, I'm all for it. I think the first step is reconsidering the current make-up of the Executive Committee.

Andy

September 7, 2011 4:29 PM
 

Joe @MuadDBA said:

Of course I think it's OK to disagree.  Which is why I disagree --again :) -- with your characterization of what has happened.

Process and precedent are 2 different things.  Process provides a framework.  Process is the method in which our courts arrive at precedent.  If process is not followed, precedent can be overturned.  To change our legal process, for example, takes a good amount of effort.  By contrast, precedent is set but is given consideration based on evidence.  For examples of this, I submit nearly 20 years worth of Law and Order reruns.  So in this case, I see no inconsistency.  The process does not prevent this situation, it was merely precedent.

If it is to be beleived that the ExeCo has too much potential for abuse with 2 members from the same company, then the bylaws should be adjusted to prevent it, and they will apply during the next election cycle.  For this cycle, I think what's done is done.

I'll sign off here, since I don't beleive our mete-discussion is really contributing to the issue at hand.  

September 7, 2011 5:00 PM
 

Sri Sridharan said:

Adding my 0.02c here.

While on the surface it might be a good idea to restrict Executive Committee to not have any two members from the same company, I am not quite sure if such a rule is really necessary.

Kevin, what you bring up is just a small possible variation and it could get lot trickier very quickly...

For eg, Partner network is huge in the Microsoft business and two people in the ExeCo would work for 2 seperate companies which have huge interest in each other( especially if one plan to buy the other ). Or what happens if the owners are the same people ?

Now lets take it to another level...

What happens if 2 members in the ExeCo decide to marry each other (could happen right) ? Then they start their own company and spin  off a sister company ( different name ) and the 3rd board member runs the show there.

Now did you say it takes 3 to tango ?

See now I am really getting creative.... What all variations are you going to take care with bylaws? Where do you draw the limit?

There are bylaws and there is the spirit of bylaws. Sometimes you really have to go by the spirit in which some of these bylaws are written.

It could very well happen that one of the ExeCo members has to change jobs and luckily through his network in the PASS Board, he might find himself his next job at another Board members company ( in this case ExeCo). But now he has to worry about these rules around his non-paying job that says "no two members work for the same organization etc... ".  It might be a bit too harsh on a person who is desperate for a job and looking to "put food on the table for his family".

While I support the spirit of why you bring  it up,  not sure if such a harsh rule is really necessary.

I suggest that if such a situation happens where the board begins to doubt "favoritism" has happened over  what the ExeCo decided , then a review be requested and can be done by members of the community that the board invites. That way it remains fair. This can be called for by a majority vote in the board and can be done quietly without too much publicity.   I say quietly not because I don't like transparency. I don't think it is right for someone to get publicy bashed over something that was not really intended or happened in poor judgement but it still happened. After all people make mistakes.. right ?

September 9, 2011 12:31 AM
 

Andy Warren said:

This is a good conversation, though perhaps one better suited to in person over coffee. A couple quick thoughts:

- Andy L, I don't always agree with you, but I don't have an issue with you choosing to speak up for the community. To me that's leadership of the hardest kind and I hope you'll continue to challenge us, but do consider that there are rarely perfect answers and lots of ways to see an issue.

- Brian K. I will try to write more soon, but the risk of two officers from a company is no more than one. An officer can sign contracts, speak for PASS, so it's not a case of opening up the org to fraud. That's not to say we may not need more controls, but we're a small org.

Andy

September 10, 2011 5:13 PM
 

Dave Schutz said:

I agree with Andy Leonard about the disconnect between the PASS board and the SQL community. I think the board, until lately, has done a poor job explaining what they and the PASS organization do for the community. I'm a chapter leader (CBusPASS, Columbus, Ohio) and it's difficult explaining to potential new members why they should join PASS. I'm not sure having these two people from the same company on the ExecCo is really a big risk. I believe they are interested in what's best for PASS. But if it was two people with agendas from a company it could cause issues.

October 2, 2011 8:10 PM

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About KKline

Kevin Kline is a well-known database industry expert, author, and speaker. Kevin is a long-time Microsoft MVP and was one of the founders of PASS, www.sqlpass.org.

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