[Wikimedia-l] Open letter: Issues needing addressing by the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees

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[Wikimedia-l] Open letter: Issues needing addressing by the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees

Chris Sherlock
Hello all,

I have finally decided to subscribe to this mailing list, but I will endeavour to keep my monthly post limits down, as requested :-)

== Who am I? ==

First, some background. My name is Chris Sherlock, and may be better known to some of you as Ta bu shi da yu (or Tbsdy lives) on Wikipedia. I was quite involved in Wikipedia many years ago, and I was involved in some fundamental aspects of Wikipedia during the time I was active - in particular, I initiated the Administrator’s Noticeboard and I created the [citation needed] tag. I was an administrator three times from memory, and attempted to fairly apply blocks, protect pages, mediate in disputes, and attempted to discuss and influence policy and guidelines, through consensus. I am a strong believer in the five pillars: Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, we write from a neutral point of view, we offer free content, we should treat each other with respect and civility, and we should use common-sense to achieve those ends.

I am no longer active within Wikipedia. This is largely because I suffer from quite bad depression, and in the past it caused me to make mistakes on more than one occassion. The last mistake I made was when I objected to a signature being wikilinked to a non-existent user account; I rather stupidly created an account for this person and then de-redlinked it by creating a user page. I immediately revealed who I was on WP:AN and what I’d done, but unsurprisingly this was considered an egregious violation of WP:POINT. I was subsequently desysopped, and will forever more be seen as having left Wikipedia “under a cloud”. I am not complaining about this, this was the correct decision by those who made it at the time, and it is I who must alone take responsibility for my actions. But I feel that I need to disclose this and give some background as to who I am as I’ve not been on Wikipedia for many years.

== Issues in the WMF ==

The Wikimedia Foundation has been going through a long period of turmoil. I have recently been critical of the direction in which it has taken and I feel that it is best if I put my concerns into writing.

The WMF is a force for good in society. It’s why many, many people donate to Wikipedia every year. It’s why the Knight Foundation gives us grants. I think it’s important to understand why we command such a level of trust. The WMF has a very clear position on our guiding principles [1] - we believe in freedom and open source, and we want to ensure that all projects are accessible to every human being on the planet. To do this requires us to be extremely transparent in the way that we conduct ourselves. We also want to be accountable to our volunteers, donors and to those who use our resources.

These are very, very important principles. They are non-negotiable, and without them the WMF cannot conduct day-to-day operations, much less have a vision for all of humanity to be given equal access to knowledge for the good of all.

We aren’t doing a very good job right now.

=== Issue 1: A lack of transparency at the Board level ===

Meetings by the Board of Trustees are held in secret. Whilst there will always be matters that must be discussed in confidence, this should in practice be very limited. I believe the problems with the openness of the board is highlighted quite well by reviewing the minutes of most of the meetings. Let’s look at the last meeting from November 7-8 [2]. This was the meeting in which James Heilman was removed from the Board. Yet I see absolutely no mention of any discussion of his removal whatsoever. To find anything, you need to look at the resolutions [3].

One of the issues that has been highly contentious has been the Knowledge Engine. This was a pivotal part of the vision and direction for the Wikimedia Foundation, and of course it was highly controversial. Yet I see *no* mention of it anywhere in any meeting minutes. This was a strategy driven by Lila and the Board, yet where is it mentioned? Was it discussed outside of these meetings?

If so, then there is a problem with the meeting minutes. Under Florida Statute title XXXVI, chapter 617 deals with non-profit corporations. 617.1601 handles Corporate records. It specifically states that:

> "A corporation shall keep as records minutes of all meetings of its members and board of directors, a record of all actions taken by the members or board of directors without a meeting, and a record of all actions taken by a committee of the board of directors in place of the board of directors on behalf of the corporation.” [4]


Note that a record should be taken of all actions taken by members or board of directors *without a meeting*. This means that if some action is taken, even if it’s not in the BoT meeting, it must be recorded. There clearly were actions taken around the Knowledge Engine, yet it is not documented! Aside from violating the statute, it’s very bad that action around such an important area weren’t documented anywhere. This is a massive failure of transparency.

In fact, the meeting minutes are awful no matter which way you look at them. They have limited to no information, they don’t explain what action was *actually* decided and they seem to be incomplete.

I would like to propose that all meetings be recorded, and that confidential portions be redacted and inaccessible from those who should not see them. But meetings should still be recorded. I believe that the current situation where James Heilman was removed could never have occurred if the meeting was indeed recorded. I am very, very suspicious that there is pressure brought to bare on members of the BoT and that certain members who are very influential can gain inordinate ability to push through their viewpoints to the disadvantage of other members.

At the very least, I believe something like Robert’s Rules of Order should be followed at a minimum. The way that meetings are run within the Foundation are dreadful.

=== Issue 2: Secrecy and denigration of other members within the BoT ===

I fear that there is bullying and deliberate obfuscation within the Board of Trustees. I, like many others, was shocked at the language and character attacks used against James Heilman after he was removed from the Board of Trustees.

Jimmy Wales wrote the *most* shockingly savage, uncivil, rude and frankly hateful comment [5] I have seen in all my time on Wikipedia, and I saw a lot of abuse:

> "[Questions asking why Heilman was removed from the board have] been answered clearly. As a quick review - my vote to remove him was because of a pattern of behavior and actions that I viewed as violating the trust and values of the community. One example emerged clearly after he was removed - he made a false claim about why he was removed, and I got a unanimous statement from every board member involved that it was false. The community deserves better than that. James has made a lot of noise about why he was dismissed which is utter and complete bullshit. He wrote a nice piece for the Signpost about transparency which implied that the board got rid of him for wanting more transparency. Utter fucking bullshit.”

When Jimmy was called out on this dreadful behaviour, he wrote that:

> "It isn't invective.  It is just a factual statement.  When I explain myself in clear detail repeatedly and someone keeps insisting that I'm dodging the question, I can only say: I've already explained that.”[6]


When James was removed from the Board, it was done in an incompetent and frankly appalling manner. Nobody advised James as to the exact incidents that caused him to lose their confidence. But yet members of the BoT felt that it was fine to cast aspersions on his character, yet did not answer questions why he was specifically removed. They are still refusing to tell him directly. Here’s an example email that was sent to this very mailing list:

> "I’ll tell you how I experienced it from my point of view: a few weeks ago, I had to turn to the Board in a confidential and important matter for me. And while writing my email, I felt that I probably should not write it as openly and frankly as I would desire; I was unconvinced that it would be held in confidence. I rewrote the mail because I had concerns about James' being on the Board, as I had lost my trust in him. This is, I think many will agree, not a healthy situation.” [7]

Yet here’s the thing. The one who wote this, Denny, cannot or will not point to any specific incident that led him or anyone else to believe that James couldn’t handle confidential information. And this is what he accuses James of violating - the confidence of the Board! Yet there has not been even a single incident that can lead anyone inside or outside the Board to believe this.

So now the question is: was there someone within the BoT who was white-anting James? It seems rather like it. If the majority of the Board felt that they could not trust James, this cannot have come about independently. It’s very interesting to see in that same email that Denny wrote that:

> Based on some of the comments I have read, I wanted to explicitly address
> these rather, say, interesting conspiracy theories, from my perspective:
>
> -- James was not removed from the Board because he was demanding more
> transparency.
> -- James was not removed from the Board because of a difference in opinion
> about the strategy of the Foundation.
> -- James was not removed from the Board because of difference in opinion or
> disagreement about the governance of the Foundation.
> -- James was not removed from the Board because he was insisting to see
> some documents that the Board was withholding from him
> -- James was not removed from the Board because any third party wanted him
> removed (like a big pharma company who was unhappy with James on the Board
> and was promising a big donation if he is gone - I am just listing this
> because it was indeed mentioned.)
> -- James was not removed from the Board because he demanded more community
> input or was fighting for NPOV.
> -- James’ removal had nothing to do with the role and composition of
> community-elected vs appointed Board members.
> -- James was not removed from the Board because he dared to ask too many
> uncomfortable questions.
> -- James was not removed because he didn’t want to sign an NDA.


So basically, James was not removed for any just cause. There have been no reasons given as to why the Board lost confidence in him. Yet there is a clear pattern of intimidation and bad behaviour from various Board members.

James, it appears, asked a lot of difficult questions about the actions of Lila and a number of others. This seems to have caused a lot of disquiet amongst the Board, but instead of taking action against Lila, et al. it was decided that James was to be the sacrificial lamb. Yet it appears now that James was entirely doing his duty correctly - his role was to ask these questions and ensure that the WMF was accountable.

=== Issue 3: Accountability of members of the BoT ===

The removal of James Heilman now puts a very public and unfortunate stain on the WMF. James was one of the few people on the BoT to ask Lila about the Knowledge Engine. It was always, it is clear now, that the Knowledge Engine came from her. James asked a lot of questions about what it was and wasn’t, yet from what I can tell he was never given a satisfactory answer. The KE was kept from everyone, and it was only at the end of 2015 that it was ever revealed!

In the transcript of the Discovery team post-mortem with Lila, we get the following:

“Lila: How do we explain the story now? The original idea was a broader concept. Never a crawler. We abandoned some ideas during the ideation phase, but we haven’t been clear what/when we abandoned."

Yet I believe one of the questions James (and others!) had asked was where this fit in to the overall WMF strategy. [8] From my viewpoint, James was trying to understand the strategy and direction of the WMF because *he was a member of the Board of Trustees*. That was his role! And yet it is clear now that by asking impertinent questions about the Knowledge Engine he made someone or several people very nervous. And so, it appears, he was removed.

This has been an absolute disaster for the WMF. There needs to be accountability. We need to know:

a. What was the scope of the Knowledge Engine?
b. When and where was it discussed within the BoT? What was discussed?
c. Why wasn’t it added to the strategy consultation report? Search is part of Wikimedia’s strategy, yet Lila says that original idea was a “broarder concept”. If so, then where it that concept expressed?

Someone must be accountable for this debacle. Wikimedia has processes and tries very hard to be open and transparent as it sets it’s strategy. Yet the Board of Trustees has now shown that they feel that not only must they set the direction, but they don’t even have to communicate the plans for going foward! And not only do they seem to be setting the direction for the WMF independently of things like the strategy consultation sessions, but they large ignore the many other issues that need to be addressed.

Lila, to her credit, sort of acknowledged this as a problem:

> "It was my mistake to not initiate this ideation on-wiki. Quite honestly, I really wish I could start this discussion over in a more collaborative way, knowing what I know today. Of course, that’s retrospecting with a firmer understanding of what the ideas are, and what is worthy of actually discussing. In the staff June Metrics meeting in 2015, the ideation was beginning to form in my mind from what I was learning through various conversations with staff. I had begun visualizing open knowledge existing in the shape of a universe. I saw the Wikimedia movement as the most motivated and sincere group of beings, united in their mission to build a rocket to explore Universal Free Knowledge. The words “search” and “discovery” and “knowledge” swam around in my mind with some rocket to navigate it. However, “rocket” didn’t seem to work, but in my mind, the rocket was really just an engine, or a portal, a TARDIS, that transports people on their journey through Universal Free Knowledge.”


From the start, it appears that Lila identified a problem, but then neglected to consult with those around her. All the strategy sessions on the planet won’t help if the person at the top will not openly communicate their ideas. And they cannot be corrected if they get it wrong, or at least have it wrong enough that it de-focuses from what is really needed to be done.

That last point is important, incidentally. Wikimedia has many, many issues. So far, all these issues have been seemingly derailed because Lila and others felt that they could focus on search. Search was *always* something that everyone agreed needed to be addressed. But it’s not a panacea.

The consequences of such secrecy and an inability to listen, or to consult properly, have now had tragic consequences. There have been over 12 people leave the WMF to go onto other paid jobs. Pillars of the WMF, such as Siko, have left because they don’t feel they can work in a place that isn’t open, transparent and with people who are accountable for their actions. There has been negative press, and many of our community feel deeply disenfranchised by the acts performed, directly and indirectly, by members of the BoT.

There must be accountability. To start with, James needs to be advised why he was removed. If there was no cause for him to be removed, which is legal under Florida law, then he should be reinstated. An investigation should be done about who knew what about the Knowledge Engine debacle. The various concerns of the Funds Dissemination Committee don’t ever appear to have been addressed properly, and I note that there was a complaint with the FDC Ombudsperson; so that needs to be addressed forthwith, and an explanation given to the wider community about problems around grants and grant applications.

I would personally like to see better accountability around direction and strategy. The BoT must be accountable and in all possible cases their discussions about WMF business should be known to the wider community. If some Trustees feel that they cannot abide by greater scrutiny, then I would like to see them vacate their position. Obviously for issues that must be confidential, then that is another matter. But it should be at the very least noted that confidential matters were discussed, and as much context given as possible.

I would also like auditors to go through Wikimedia to give us some assurance that funds have been spent and allocated correctly.


== Summing it all up ==

So to sum up the issues here:

1. The Wikimedia Board of Trustees is not meeting its own charter. There is a total *lack* of transparency, much of what is done by Board members is done in secrecy and without the input of the community. The Board does not publish adequate minutes. It has very little accountability.

2. There is intimidation and denigration of members of the Board of Trustees. This has very clearly happened to James, people are still slighting his good character and yet it has never been made clear, in any way, why he was removed from the WMF. The *founder* of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, thinks it’s OK to abuse James. At least one Board member has besmirched his good name, but will not or cannot give specific examples as to why he felt he couldn't trust James with confidential information. Denny says that others on the Board feel the same way, but yet again I say: James never gave anyone any cause to believe this.

This is a very important and serious issue. Staff have repeatedly mentioned they feel intimidated. This denigration and intimidation is beginning to permeate the WMF. It is a cancer eating away at the WMF. It is caused by closed-thinking, a lack of transparency and a sense amongst some in top-management that they are entitled to do anything they want, and that they don’t need to listen to anyone except their fellow board members.

3. The Board must be made accountable. The debacle that is the Knowledge Engine has done untold damage to the WMF, and it must be independently reviewed and a report given as to what happened, and who is responsible for the damage it has caused us. Those at the top should also be accountable for their actions. Jimmy should, at the very least, apologise for his dreadful behaviour on the Wiki towards James. The Board should be accountable for the removal of James Heilman, and in accounting for their actions should be able to clearly explain the cause of them to lose trust in him, and then subsequently remove him from the Board. Meetings must be made more open, and those on the BoT who don’t want more scrutiny should be asked to excuse themselves from the Board.

None of this will be easy. None of this has been easy to write! But I write this open letter to raise issues I feel I cannot keep quiet about, and to urge the community and those in the Wikimedia Foundation to do the difficult by necessary actions needed to restore faith in the WMF.

Regards,
Chris Sherlock


1. https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_Foundation_Guiding_Principles <https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_Foundation_Guiding_Principles>

2. https://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Minutes/2015-11-07 <https://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Minutes/2015-11-07>

3. https://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Resolution:James_Heilman_Removal <https://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Resolution:James_Heilman_Removal>

4. http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0600-0699/0617/0617.html <http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0600-0699/0617/0617.html>

5. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=User_talk:Jimbo_Wales&diff=701673700&oldid=701673178 <https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=User_talk:Jimbo_Wales&diff=701673700&oldid=701673178>

6. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=User_talk%3AJimbo_Wales&type=revision&diff=701942197&oldid=701941999 <https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=User_talk:Jimbo_Wales&type=revision&diff=701942197&oldid=701941999>

7. https://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikimedia-l/2016-January/080827.html <https://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikimedia-l/2016-January/080827.html>

8. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c7/2015_Strategy_Consultation_Report.pdf <https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c7/2015_Strategy_Consultation_Report.pdf>

9. https://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Minutes/2015-06-28 <https://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Minutes/2015-06-28>
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Re: [Wikimedia-l] Open letter: Issues needing addressing by the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees

Erik Moeller-3
Chris,

It's good to read you here and on WW. I think you're raising
legitimate points that others have also sought progress on. I would
just suggest one thing. Right now the Wikimedia Foundation is going
through an ED transition, impacting nearly 300 staff members most
immediately. The Board's primary responsibility at this point is to
identify interim leadership, set that person up for success, and renew
the Board's bridge to the staff. Painful as the situation with James
Heilman is, it is legitimate to address it later, in a professional
and civil manner.

I would encourage James, Jimmy, Denny and others similarly to not
shoot from the hip at this time. I know something about shooting from
the hip, and it rarely moves things forward positively. ;-) This
dispute may need a facilitator and a quiet, generous conversation to
be settled amicably. Given that Dariusz voted to retain James, I trust
James hasn't done anything so dastardly that this cannot be done.

Everyone has had an incredibly long week. I am sure
everyone--including Board members, who are all volunteers with other
obligations--is still stressed right now about what's to come. People
don't make the best decisions when they are too stressed, too tired,
too busy. It's important that the Board is given some space to focus,
to move forward one step at a time.

I concur with your call for greater transparency and involvement of
the Board in meaningful conversations with staff and volunteers. I
also think other steps of Board reform, including better training for
Board members, ought to be considered. I would love to hear more from
recently appointed Board members like Guy and Kelly, to understand
their perspective on the last few months. But all in due time.

Warmly,

Erik

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Re: [Wikimedia-l] Open letter: Issues needing addressing by the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees

Chris Sherlock
On 28 Feb 2016, at 6:51 PM, Erik Moeller <[hidden email]> wrote:

>
> Chris,
>
> It's good to read you here and on WW. I think you're raising
> legitimate points that others have also sought progress on. I would
> just suggest one thing. Right now the Wikimedia Foundation is going
> through an ED transition, impacting nearly 300 staff members most
> immediately. The Board's primary responsibility at this point is to
> identify interim leadership, set that person up for success, and renew
> the Board's bridge to the staff. Painful as the situation with James
> Heilman is, it is legitimate to address it later, in a professional
> and civil manner.

I hear you, and I would normally agree. However, I’m not entirely sure that it is James that is the person you need to be directing your email to.

Quite frankly, James’ reputation has been damaged by the words used by various Board members. Denny has, in my view, made certain allegations that James could not be trusted with confidential Wikimedia Foundation business, but there is no direct evidence this was ever, or has ever, been the case.

The Jimmy sent an email to the mailing list:

> It was written at a time when there were efforts underway by Patricio to
> get James to agree to a joint statement.  It is an encouragement to
> James to be honest with the community about what happened.  It is not a
> full explanation of what happened - he already knew that.

And yet, when he was advised by James that in fact that effort was spearheaded by James and not Patricio, he turns around and states that he didn’t know as he wasn’t involved. Jimmy has just now written that it was the Wikimedia Foundation that “encouraged [him] to be honest with the community”. Jimmy is saying, yet again, that James is not honest and is a liar. It was not James who wrote that he "made a lot of noise about why he was dismissed which is utter and complete bullshit”, nor was it James who wrote that "I was unconvinced that it would be held in confidence”, with the clear implication that James was someone who leaked secrets.

If civil discourse had have happened, and Board members were open and showed that they were able to give clear, factual information as to why he was removed, then this would of course not be a problem. It is very unfortunate that Jimmy and Denny made these statements, had they not made such inflammatory statements then I would of course bow to your request. It *has* been a very difficult time, and nobody is happy with this situation. Unfortunately, those who should have known better (in particular Jimmy) have as another member has described it, "been mauling each other politely in public” [1] this isn’t going to go away.


> I would encourage James, Jimmy, Denny and others similarly to not
> shoot from the hip at this time. I know something about shooting from
> the hip, and it rarely moves things forward positively. ;-) This
> dispute may need a facilitator and a quiet, generous conversation to
> be settled amicably. Given that Dariusz voted to retain James, I trust
> James hasn't done anything so dastardly that this cannot be done.

Dariusz has been nothing short of amazing in this whole situation. I have nothing but the greatest of respect for him, he is a true diplomat, and IMO he seems to have a very deep understanding of not only the Foundation’s mission, but how Wikimedia works in totality.

Shooting from the hip is definitely not what I’m aiming for though. I actually spent a long time working out what I wanted to say before I decided to wade into this mess by subscribing to this mailing list and sending that rather long open letter to the board. Of course, I know that’s not what you mean also, and I know that my timing is less than awesome, but given the things that have been written about James by people who should know better, they have now left us all in the rather unfortunate situation where these issues must be addressed before anything can be resolved at Board level.

Now I’m not saying that quiet, generous conversation cannot happen. I know James well enough to know that throughout all of this there isn’t even a single email, communication, Facebook post or Wiki edit that can be said to have been unfair, unfeeling, ungenerous, rude or abusive. Not one, and I challenge anyone here to point me to such a contribution. James has, and continues to have, a great passion for Wikimedia and its central tenants of openness, transparency, civility and great work.

Frankly, I’m amazed at James’ good grace. I have seen on Facebook certain people accuse him of not answering his phone when he was high on mountain slopes where there are limited opportunities to use the Internet, and VOIP is banned or else it uses up everyone’s bandwidth. I have now read the Founder of Wikipedia accuse him of being dishonest.

But, how, precisely, are we meant to take this? At the very least, surely those attacking James should acknowledge their accusations and their unbecoming, abusive language were way out of line? How can this possibly reflect well upon the Wikimedia Foundation? One of the five pillars is civility. Yet here we have the Founder abusing a former WMF Board Member. That same Founder claims that nobody is more compliant with these central tenants than himself. I can only imagine he forgot himself in a stressful situation; but now he refuses to even acknowledge his actions. I cannot see how there can be generous conversation whilst this stands.  


> Everyone has had an incredibly long week. I am sure
> everyone--including Board members, who are all volunteers with other
> obligations--is still stressed right now about what's to come. People
> don't make the best decisions when they are too stressed, too tired,
> too busy. It's important that the Board is given some space to focus,
> to move forward one step at a time.

Agreed. I think it would be very good for all Board members, and everyone else who has been badly stressed by this situation (which I include the many, many dedicated volunteers and staff members of the WMF!) to take a break over the next few days. It is definitely not a situation within which stressed, tired and busy people can easily make important decisions.

The issue, of course, is that this crisis has now caused an urgent need for something to be address the way in which James was removed. Now whilst a few days may go by with in which the Board regroups, there will need to be an accounting for it. The Board *will* need to publicly address this issue. The Board *will* need to look at their problems with transparency and openness. They *will* need to address the current climate of fear and intimidation within the WMF. They *will* need to address the situation that can occur when someone asks too many questions and is then removed from the Board, which to the mind of most thinking people is precisely what happened to James.


> I concur with your call for greater transparency and involvement of
> the Board in meaningful conversations with staff and volunteers. I
> also think other steps of Board reform, including better training for
> Board members, ought to be considered. I would love to hear more from
> recently appointed Board members like Guy and Kelly, to understand
> their perspective on the last few months. But all in due time.

Agreed also. I think that the Board is not well trained in their fiduciary duties. There seems to be a misconception that fiduciary duties mean that all matters must be kept confidential. There is clearly a problem with secrecy, which now that Lila has resigned we can now see very clearly. Board reform, including increasing transparency by recording meetings, or reforming meeting minutes, must be an urgent matter that needs addressing. I would also love to hear from the newly appointed Board members on how they feel these issues must be tackled.


> Warmly,
>
> Erik

From me also :-) I appreciate your wise words, and yes I know I’m going at this very strongly, and I regret I feel the need to do so. If people had done things differently from the start, I likely as not would not have even sent an email, let alone such a strongly worded one. I am, as I’ve said, more of an outsider to the WMF, but given my experiences on Wikipedia and the relationships I still have with many people on Wikipedia, I felt I could not stay silent.

I wish everyone the best, and I truly mean that - including Jimmy, Lila, Denny and others who I have criticised. The WMF is truly an important force for good in this world, and as any true Wikipedian (even an inactive one) I want a strong Board of Trustees, with independent and wise leadership.

Chris

1. https://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikimedia-l/2016-February/082639.html
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Re: [Wikimedia-l] Open letter: Issues needing addressing by the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees

Andreas Kolbe-2
In reply to this post by Erik Moeller-3
Erik,

I have too many times read appeals to do something later, because now is
not a good time, or to move discussion to a sub-page, because it's too big
a topic, and so forth.

Invariably the result was that *nothing ever happened*.

Chris Sherlock is absolutely right that the board's performance with
respect to transparency sucks. What is posted in public is invariably
minimalist, incomplete, and weeks or months late.

The WMF board operates less transparently than the boards of many other
organisations – organisations that make far less of a song and dance about
their transparency than the WMF.

The time to address this is now.

Jimmy Wales styles himself as someone constantly pushing for transparency.
But the fact is that he has been on the board far longer than anyone else.
He has had more opportunity to influence its modus operandi than anyone
else.

It is difficult to square his repeated assertions that he is a mighty
advocate for openness and transparency with the fact that after more than a
decade on the board, he has failed to achieve any real transparency in the
manner the board conducts its business.

In a recent reply to a post by Milos here, Jimmy styled himself as a meek
board member who rarely speaks up. I don't think of Jimmy Wales as meek and
feeble – witness his recent statements, repeated about half a dozen times
on-wiki, that he "got" the entire board to release a statement saying that
James Heilman's dismissal had nothing to do with the latter's concerns
about transparency, along with his heated comments about James (which he
continues to defend). His conduct doesn't strike me as meek.

I think it is far more likely that if the board is conducting its business
in a non-transparent manner, and has done for as long as it has existed,
then that is because Jimmy Wales, more than anyone else, likes it that way.

Jimmy Wales' words and actions on the topic of transparency don't match.
For example, on the Transparency Gap page on Meta WMF staffer Adam Wight
recently said much the same as what Chris Sherlock has been saying here:
that the board does not publish detailed minutes.

When Adam suggested that portions of board meetings could be videotaped,
the first to agree ("A fine idea") was Sam Klein, a former
community-selected trustee who recalled this being done at another
foundation he was part of. The first to shoot the idea down was Jimmy Wales
("A poor idea").[1] Whether or not videotaping board sessions is a good
idea or not, it seems clear that doing so is more transparent than not
doing it.

There is a problem with board transparency, and there has been for many
years. If it's not addressed now, it will never be addressed.

Andreas

[1]
https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Talk:Wikimedia_Foundation_transparency_gap#Board_minutes

Andreas

On Sun, Feb 28, 2016 at 7:51 AM, Erik Moeller <[hidden email]> wrote:

> Chris,
>
> It's good to read you here and on WW. I think you're raising
> legitimate points that others have also sought progress on. I would
> just suggest one thing. Right now the Wikimedia Foundation is going
> through an ED transition, impacting nearly 300 staff members most
> immediately. The Board's primary responsibility at this point is to
> identify interim leadership, set that person up for success, and renew
> the Board's bridge to the staff. Painful as the situation with James
> Heilman is, it is legitimate to address it later, in a professional
> and civil manner.
>
> I would encourage James, Jimmy, Denny and others similarly to not
> shoot from the hip at this time. I know something about shooting from
> the hip, and it rarely moves things forward positively. ;-) This
> dispute may need a facilitator and a quiet, generous conversation to
> be settled amicably. Given that Dariusz voted to retain James, I trust
> James hasn't done anything so dastardly that this cannot be done.
>
> Everyone has had an incredibly long week. I am sure
> everyone--including Board members, who are all volunteers with other
> obligations--is still stressed right now about what's to come. People
> don't make the best decisions when they are too stressed, too tired,
> too busy. It's important that the Board is given some space to focus,
> to move forward one step at a time.
>
> I concur with your call for greater transparency and involvement of
> the Board in meaningful conversations with staff and volunteers. I
> also think other steps of Board reform, including better training for
> Board members, ought to be considered. I would love to hear more from
> recently appointed Board members like Guy and Kelly, to understand
> their perspective on the last few months. But all in due time.
>
> Warmly,
>
> Erik
>
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Re: [Wikimedia-l] Open letter: Issues needing addressing by the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees

Jimmy Wales-4
On 2/28/16 6:48 AM, Andreas Kolbe wrote:
> I think it is far more likely that if the board is conducting its business
> in a non-transparent manner, and has done for as long as it has existed,
> then that is because Jimmy Wales, more than anyone else, likes it that way.

No, this is wrong.  I think things should be much more transparent at
the WMF generally, and with the board in particular.  One of the things
that I would invite toward this end is a program of invited board
observers from people who are well known and well trusted by the
community, who can be trusted to keep confidential information
confidential, sitting in on nearly every minute of every board meeting.

I don't support filming board meetings because I don't want to end up in
a world where board meetings are "shows" with people making speeches to
pander to certain constituencies.  These are working meetings with
people exploring ideas - self-censorship to avoid possibly offending
some subset of people wouldn't be healthy.  But there are other ways to
add to transparency.

I think that nearly every presentation made to the board by staff should
be published - possibly with certain things redacted if they really are
confidential.

> For example, on the Transparency Gap page on Meta WMF staffer Adam Wight
> recently said much the same as what Chris Sherlock has been saying here:
> that the board does not publish detailed minutes.

I've not been involved in writing or publishing minutes for many years,
if ever.  I'd like to see them be more detailed.

--Jimbo


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Re: [Wikimedia-l] Open letter: Issues needing addressing by the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees

Andreas Kolbe-2
On Sun, Feb 28, 2016 at 5:10 PM, Jimmy Wales <[hidden email]> wrote:

> On 2/28/16 6:48 AM, Andreas Kolbe wrote:
> > I think it is far more likely that if the board is conducting its
> business
> > in a non-transparent manner, and has done for as long as it has existed,
> > then that is because Jimmy Wales, more than anyone else, likes it that
> way.
>
> No, this is wrong.  I think things should be much more transparent at
> the WMF generally, and with the board in particular.  One of the things
> that I would invite toward this end is a program of invited board
> observers from people who are well known and well trusted by the
> community, who can be trusted to keep confidential information
> confidential, sitting in on nearly every minute of every board meeting.
>
> I don't support filming board meetings because I don't want to end up in
> a world where board meetings are "shows" with people making speeches to
> pander to certain constituencies.  These are working meetings with
> people exploring ideas - self-censorship to avoid possibly offending
> some subset of people wouldn't be healthy.  But there are other ways to
> add to transparency.
>
> I think that nearly every presentation made to the board by staff should
> be published - possibly with certain things redacted if they really are
> confidential.
>
> > For example, on the Transparency Gap page on Meta WMF staffer Adam Wight
> > recently said much the same as what Chris Sherlock has been saying here:
> > that the board does not publish detailed minutes.
>
> I've not been involved in writing or publishing minutes for many years,
> if ever.  I'd like to see them be more detailed.
>


Then make it happen -- make it actually *happen*. What has stopped you?

If there is anyone else stopping you, then tell us. Call board votes on the
issues, and publish the votes so we can see who votes against.

Andreas
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Re: [Wikimedia-l] Open letter: Issues needing addressing by the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees

Jimmy Wales-4
In reply to this post by Chris Sherlock
Chris, I think you are misreading something that I wrote.

On 2/28/16 1:03 AM, Chris Sherlock wrote:

> The Jimmy sent an email to the mailing list:
>
>> It was written at a time when there were efforts underway by
>> Patricio to get James to agree to a joint statement.  It is an
>> encouragement to James to be honest with the community about what
>> happened.  It is not a full explanation of what happened - he
>> already knew that.
>
> And yet, when he was advised by James that in fact that effort was
> spearheaded by James and not Patricio, he turns around and states
> that he didn’t know as he wasn’t involved.

Both of those things are true.  I knew they were talking, I didn't know
who who initiated it.

> Jimmy has just now written
> that it was the Wikimedia Foundation that “encouraged [him] to be
> honest with the community”.

No, I said that I wrote him a personal letter to that effect.



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Re: [Wikimedia-l] Open letter: Issues needing addressing by the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees

Chris Sherlock
In reply to this post by Chris Sherlock
Chris, I think you are misreading something that I wrote.

> On 2/28/16 1:03 AM, Chris Sherlock wrote:
> > The Jimmy sent an email to the mailing list:
> >
> >> It was written at a time when there were efforts underway by
> >> Patricio to get James to agree to a joint statement. It is an
> >> encouragement to James to be honest with the community about what
> >> happened. It is not a full explanation of what happened - he
> >> already knew that.
> >
> > And yet, when he was advised by James that in fact that effort was
> > spearheaded by James and not Patricio, he turns around and states
> > that he didn’t know as he wasn’t involved.
>
> Both of those things are true. I knew they were talking, I didn't know who who initiated it.

Yes, but you need to be more clear. At the risk of playing semantic games, your exact words here are “efforts underway *by Patricio* to *get James to agree* to a joint statement.

You are implying here that the effort was all on Patricio’s side, which has nothing to do with who initiated the conversation. I’m sure you didn’t mean that, but nonetheless you’ve said it now.

Given that the Board asked James to leave their meeting, you wouldn’t be able to clarify a point that’s been puzzling me for some time?

1. When James was made to leave, then did anyone tell him that there was going to be a joint or prepared statement from the WMF?
2. If so, did anyone ask James not to email the mailing list? And why did you feel that was so inappropriate?
3. Please help me in understanding - do you feel that Chatham House Rules must apply in the removal of an executive even to the point they are unable to announce their own departure?

> > Jimmy has just now written
> > that it was the Wikimedia Foundation that “encouraged [him] to be
> > honest with the community”.
>
> No, I said that I wrote him a personal letter to that effect.

I follow, the mistake here is mine. I apologise for getting that wrong.

Jimmy, will you respond to some of the other points I made? In particular, what you wrote to James was dreadful. Even if you feel that his actions were wrong, surely you can see that your inflammatory words are unbecoming of someone of your stature within the Wikimedia Foundation?

There are a lot of other questions that have been asked, but that would be a reasonable start. I don’t think you quite grasp how many people were shocked at the way you dealt with James when he was removed.

Chris


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Re: [Wikimedia-l] Open letter: Issues needing addressing by the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees

SarahSV
In reply to this post by Jimmy Wales-4
On Sun, Feb 28, 2016 at 10:10 AM, Jimmy Wales <[hidden email]> wrote:

>
> No, this is wrong.  I think things should be much more transparent at
> the WMF generally, and with the board in particular.
>


Jimmy, would you please release the 30 December 2015 email you sent Doc
James telling him why he had been removed?

He has asked you to release it. [1] You have called for "full publication
of the details" around the dismissal. [2] Given those statements, there
doesn't appear to be a reason not to release it.

Sarah

[1]
https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=User_talk:Jimbo_Wales&diff=700371563&oldid=700371273

[2]
https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=User_talk:Jimbo_Wales&diff=prev&oldid=707188382
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Re: [Wikimedia-l] Open letter: Issues needing addressing by the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees

Jimmy Wales-4
In reply to this post by Chris Sherlock
On 2/28/16 5:45 PM, Chris Sherlock wrote:
> Yes, but you need to be more clear. At the risk of playing semantic
> games, your exact words here are “efforts underway *by Patricio* to
> *get James to agree* to a joint statement.
>
> You are implying here that the effort was all on Patricio’s side,
> which has nothing to do with who initiated the conversation. I’m sure
> you didn’t mean that, but nonetheless you’ve said it now.

Ok.  I didn't mean to imply anything.  All I knew was that efforts were
underway by Patricio to get James to agree to a joint statement.  That's
100% true.  I didn't know something else that is 100% true - that James
initiated the process and was, therefore, presumably trying to get
Patricio to agree to a joint statement.

In any event, that effort failed, so that's that.

> Given that the Board asked James to leave their meeting, you wouldn’t
> be able to clarify a point that’s been puzzling me for some time?
>
> 1. When James was made to leave, then did anyone tell him that there
> was going to be a joint or prepared statement from the WMF? 2. If so,
> did anyone ask James not to email the mailing list? And why did you
> feel that was so inappropriate? 3. Please help me in understanding -
> do you feel that Chatham House Rules must apply in the removal of an
> executive even to the point they are unable to announce their own
> departure?

Wow, this is really getting into some nitty gritty.  1. I don't know.
2(a) I don't think so, but I don't know.  2(b) There was a general
feeling of surprise that he started spinning his version of events
before the meeting even ended.  It would have been better to at least
wait for the meeting to end and discuss how to best communicate it.  (3)
No, I don't think anything resembling that at all.

> Jimmy, will you respond to some of the other points I made? In
> particular, what you wrote to James was dreadful. Even if you feel
> that his actions were wrong, surely you can see that your
> inflammatory words are unbecoming of someone of your stature within
> the Wikimedia Foundation?

I was astonished that he made claims that were utterly false - remember
that this is 100% confirmed now with a statement from every board member
who was involved.  I'm sorry if the words upset some people, but I
really was astonished.



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Re: [Wikimedia-l] Open letter: Issues needing addressing by the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees

SarahSV
In reply to this post by SarahSV
On Sun, Feb 28, 2016 at 7:39 PM, SarahSV <[hidden email]> wrote:

> Jimmy, would you please release the 30 December 2015 email you sent Doc
> James telling him why he had been removed?
>
> ​Jimmy, I see you responded to this in another thread, so I apologize for
the repetition. Thank you for the response.

Sarah​
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Re: [Wikimedia-l] Open letter: Issues needing addressing by the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees

Anthony Cole
Jimmy's response on Sunday 28 February:

https://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikimedia-l/2016-February/082685.html

"...
There are board discussions ongoing about more information being released -
and I hope those are productive. Within a few days time, I'll know whether
it's ok for me to publish this private email - it still touches on matters
that are not public.
..."


Anthony Cole


On Mon, Feb 29, 2016 at 10:52 AM, SarahSV <[hidden email]> wrote:

> On Sun, Feb 28, 2016 at 7:39 PM, SarahSV <[hidden email]> wrote:
>
> > Jimmy, would you please release the 30 December 2015 email you sent Doc
> > James telling him why he had been removed?
> >
> > ​Jimmy, I see you responded to this in another thread, so I apologize for
> the repetition. Thank you for the response.
>
> Sarah​
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Re: [Wikimedia-l] Open letter: Issues needing addressing by the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees

SarahSV
In reply to this post by Jimmy Wales-4
On Sun, Feb 28, 2016 at 7:42 PM, Jimmy Wales <[hidden email]> wrote:

> On 2/28/16 5:45 PM, Chris Sherlock wrote:
>
> > Jimmy, will you respond to some of the other points I made? In
> > particular, what you wrote to James was dreadful. Even if you feel
> > that his actions were wrong, surely you can see that your
> > inflammatory words are unbecoming of someone of your stature within
> > the Wikimedia Foundation?
>
> I was astonished that he made claims that were utterly false - remember
> that this is 100% confirmed now with a statement from every board member
> who was involved.  I'm sorry if the words upset some people, but I
> really was astonished.
>
> ​This is why we need to see as many documents as can be released.
Everything Doc James has said so far appears to have been correct, based on
the information we have.

Sarah
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Re: [Wikimedia-l] Open letter: Issues needing addressing by the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees

jmh649
In reply to this post by Chris Sherlock
Per these questions:

1. When James was made to leave, then did anyone tell him that there was
going to be a joint or prepared statement from the WMF?

No one before I left the meeting suggested we come out with a joint
statement or that we prepare a joint statement.


2. If so, did anyone ask James not to email the mailing list? And why did
you feel that was so inappropriate?

No one requested I not announce my removal. Let me repost my removal
message here "On Dec 28th 2015 I was removed from the board of the
Wikimedia Foundation. Many thanks to all those who gave me their support
during the last election. I have worked in the last six month to honor the
trust placed in me by advocating for our values, communities, and
projects."
https://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikimedia-l/2015-December/080472.html

I find it strange that this message is deemed controversial. I would
consider that me pretending that I was still on the board of the WMF for a
few weeks until the board could come out with a statement even when I was
not on the board to be dishonest. I am not sure if that is what Jimmy Wales
wanted but it was not an option.

Finally facts are not determined by a vote. That you got unanimity for "The
board.. has offered no objections to any board member discussing long term
strategy with the community at any time" should make all of us worry. I
have provided evidence that refutes this claim here
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2016-02-03/In_focus


--
James Heilman
MD, CCFP-EM, Wikipedian

The Wikipedia Open Textbook of Medicine
www.opentextbookofmedicine.com
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Re: [Wikimedia-l] Open letter: Issues needing addressing by the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees

Pete Forsyth-2
Jimmy and James, I'm glad to see you both agreeing on some facts. That's
encouraging. But IMO you should both put some careful thought into this
part:

On Sun, Feb 28, 2016 at 9:36 PM, James Heilman <[hidden email]> wrote:

> Finally facts are not determined by a vote. That you got unanimity for "The
> board.. has offered no objections to any board member discussing long term
> strategy with the community at any time" should make all of us worry. I
> have provided evidence that refutes this claim here
>
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2016-02-03/In_focus


As somebody who's following this, but who's not locked in a dispute, it
seems there is a very natural explanation for this, that should not
especially make us worry:

Different people, reasonable people, can reasonably disagree about what
constitutes "discussing long term strategy" and what does not.

For the entire board to agree to a statement like that does not strike me
as especially bad; perhaps there was a dominant idea of what constituted
strategy and what didn't, and everybody voted with that idea in mind,
without insisting on a clearer definition in the text of the statement. Not
ideal, I think -- but also not the end of the world.

But Jimmy, you have repeatedly claimed that vote as evidence that James
told a lie.

That claim introduces a lot of drama into the discussion -- and does
exactly something you stated you didn't want to do, which is publicly
assaulting James' reputation.

I would suggest you both stop accusing each other of lying, long enough to
figure out what facts you *can* agree on. You're both Wikipedians, we do
this all the time. It might involve getting out of some of the language
patterns you've been using, e.g. getting away from abstract notions like
"long term strategy."

A skilled, professional mediator, facilitator, or ombudsman can be an
excellent resource for working through stuff like this.

-Pete
[[User:Peteforsyth]]
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Re: [Wikimedia-l] Open letter: Issues needing addressing by the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees

Andreas Kolbe-2
Pete,

According to his Signpost piece three weeks ago[1], James Heilman emailed
the board in mid-October about the Knight Foundation grant to warn the
board, and I quote –


*"4) There is a serious lack of transparency around this new "sister
project". This has not been discussed with our communities as far as I am
aware. Please correct me if I am wrong. As such it has the potential to
worsen WMF / community relations. Starting a new sister site without
community discussion is not the wiki way."*


No board member has come forward to deny that James sent this email. In the
same piece, James also said:


*"I emailed the board list offering to write up an overview of these ideas
for the Signpost, which was met with negative comments by some board
members."*


Nobody has denied that that happened, either. Now, Jimmy said on-wiki[2]
two days ago, and I quote:


*"I didn't see anything particularly unusual or controversial about the
concepts being presented to us about the evolving ideas around improving
search and discover, and I simply assumed that there was community
discussion and consultation **[...] had we **understood that a disconnect
was going on, and that the community was not being consulted, we absolutely
would have pushed harder for community engagement sooner. As it is, I think
most likely other board members, like me, simply assumed that it was being
talked about and not treated as some kind of super top secret thing. Is
that helpful?"*


Can you help me figure out how Jimmy and the board could have "assumed"
that there was community discussion and consultation about the Knowledge
Engine project when James Heilman

1. had started a board discussion in mid-October specifically to point out
that there was no community discussion and consultation,

2. had offered to write an article for the Signpost about the project to
inform the community,

3. was told by his colleagues on the board that the idea of a Signpost
article was not welcome?

I'm finding it impossible to reconcile. And like Sarah, I am struck by the
fact that so far, everything James Heilman has said about this turned out
to be true.

Andreas



[1]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2016-02-03/In_focus
[2]
https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=User_talk:Jimbo_Wales&diff=707285756&oldid=707282252
Quote in full:
*"The board has broadly encouraged open discussion and disclosure, and I'm
unaware of anyone individually giving her advice to hide anything about
long term strategy. Going into slightly more depth than that, I didn't see
anything particularly unusual or controversial about the concepts being
presented to us about the evolving ideas around improving search and
discover, and I simply assumed that there was community discussion and
consultation about it. The grander concept which, as I now understand,
Damon was pitching via cloak-and-dagger PGP encrypted files (one employee
told me that he had to give his PGP key on a USB stick because Damon didn't
trust the public keyservers), didn't really get traction and was quickly
abandoned. By the time of the board meeting in Mexico City, we specifically
discussed that this would not be anything like a "Google competitor". As to
the exact details of every single discussion with funders, obviously the
board is not privy to those as a practical matter. Certainly had we
understood that a disconnect was going on, and that the community was not
being consulted, we absolutely would have pushed harder for community
engagement sooner. As it is, I think most likely other board members, like
me, simply assumed that it was being talked about and not treated as some
kind of super top secret thing. Is that helpful?--Jimbo Wales
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Jimbo_Wales>(talk
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Jimbo_Wales#top>) 23:25, 27
February 2016 (UTC)"*



On Mon, Feb 29, 2016 at 6:53 AM, Pete Forsyth <[hidden email]> wrote:

> Jimmy and James, I'm glad to see you both agreeing on some facts. That's
> encouraging. But IMO you should both put some careful thought into this
> part:
>
> On Sun, Feb 28, 2016 at 9:36 PM, James Heilman <[hidden email]> wrote:
>
> > Finally facts are not determined by a vote. That you got unanimity for
> "The
> > board.. has offered no objections to any board member discussing long
> term
> > strategy with the community at any time" should make all of us worry. I
> > have provided evidence that refutes this claim here
> >
> >
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2016-02-03/In_focus
>
>
> As somebody who's following this, but who's not locked in a dispute, it
> seems there is a very natural explanation for this, that should not
> especially make us worry:
>
> Different people, reasonable people, can reasonably disagree about what
> constitutes "discussing long term strategy" and what does not.
>
> For the entire board to agree to a statement like that does not strike me
> as especially bad; perhaps there was a dominant idea of what constituted
> strategy and what didn't, and everybody voted with that idea in mind,
> without insisting on a clearer definition in the text of the statement. Not
> ideal, I think -- but also not the end of the world.
>
> But Jimmy, you have repeatedly claimed that vote as evidence that James
> told a lie.
>
> That claim introduces a lot of drama into the discussion -- and does
> exactly something you stated you didn't want to do, which is publicly
> assaulting James' reputation.
>
> I would suggest you both stop accusing each other of lying, long enough to
> figure out what facts you *can* agree on. You're both Wikipedians, we do
> this all the time. It might involve getting out of some of the language
> patterns you've been using, e.g. getting away from abstract notions like
> "long term strategy."
>
> A skilled, professional mediator, facilitator, or ombudsman can be an
> excellent resource for working through stuff like this.
>
> -Pete
> [[User:Peteforsyth]]
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Re: [Wikimedia-l] Open letter: Issues needing addressing by the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees

Jimmy Wales-5
On 2/29/16 2:42 AM, Andreas Kolbe wrote:
> Pete,

> Can you help me figure out how Jimmy and the board could have "assumed"
> that there was community discussion and consultation about the Knowledge
> Engine project when James Heilman
>
> 1. had started a board discussion in mid-October specifically to point out
> that there was no community discussion and consultation,

Actually, although some of all this stuff is really complicated and
nuanced, as it involves judgment calls and normal human
misunderstandings, speaking for myself only and not the rest of the
board, this one is super easy.

From the Wikimania board meeting until James emailed me (before he
emailed the board) I hadn't given much thought to community engagement.
 Why?  We weren't presented with a Google-competitor search project at
that meeting but rather a plan to work on search and discovery that was
ambitious but in-line with our overall tech budget - and the first year
was all we really looked at in depth, and it seemed like good first
steps to explore ideas.

So, as I have said, there didn't see anything unusual or controversial
about the concepts being presented to us about the evolving ideas around
improving search and discover, and I simply assumed that there was
community discussion and consultation

In mid-October, before he emailed the board, James wrote me with a huge
misconception - that we had a secret project to build a Google competing
search engine.  Of course we didn't have such a project We had a few
emails back and forth in which I explained that was not the case.

We went back and forth in pleasant emails discussing the situation and
as a part of that I said: "I am always in favor of more community
consultation."  I went on to discuss a bit that I didn't think we were
at the point where a full-scale community consultation (like the one
that legal did on revising the terms of service) was necessary for a
mere $250,000 grant.  But I was supportive of consulting the community.

> 2. had offered to write an article for the Signpost about the project to
> inform the community,
>
> 3. was told by his colleagues on the board that the idea of a Signpost
> article was not welcome?

I've tried to find this in my email records and have no record of it.  I
don't know when this offer was made nor who responded.  If James knows,
and wants to share the board emails with me directly, that would be
appreciated.



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Re: [Wikimedia-l] Open letter: Issues needing addressing by the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees

Chris Sherlock
On 1 Mar 2016, at 12:36 AM, Jimmy Wales <[hidden email]> wrote:
> In mid-October, before he emailed the board, James wrote me with a huge
> misconception - that we had a secret project to build a Google competing
> search engine.  Of course we didn't have such a project We had a few
> emails back and forth in which I explained that was not the case.

Jimmy, how does this square with the June 24 document entitled “Knowledge Engine by Wikipedia”? [1]

That appears to have been written by Lila. Part of the document reads:

"Our new site will be the Internet’s first transparent search engine, and the first one that carries the reputation of Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation.”

I would appreciate it if you could please “declassify” this document (and in fact, could you please have them all released) and tell us who authored it, once and for all.

Unfortunately though, the WMF very much did have internal documents that were positioning the WMF into building a search engine. In fact, it was a grand idea. But one that was done in secret. James was not wrong, and he wasn’t lying. You may not have been aware of it at the time, but there were indeed confidential documents that showed that someone was developing an internal search engine.

The language used in the document is very clearly *not* Damon Sicore’s, incidentally. I assume it was Lila who wrote the document as the entire document is written in her signature style.

> We went back and forth in pleasant emails discussing the situation and
> as a part of that I said: "I am always in favor of more community
> consultation."  I went on to discuss a bit that I didn't think we were
> at the point where a full-scale community consultation (like the one
> that legal did on revising the terms of service) was necessary for a
> mere $250,000 grant.  But I was supportive of consulting the community.

In the interests of transparency, could you please release these emails? They sound innocuous enough, it would be nice to be able to verify this and read the email discussion you and James had.

>> 2. had offered to write an article for the Signpost about the project to
>> inform the community,
>>
>> 3. was told by his colleagues on the board that the idea of a Signpost
>> article was not welcome?
>
> I've tried to find this in my email records and have no record of it.  I
> don't know when this offer was made nor who responded.  If James knows,
> and wants to share the board emails with me directly, that would be
> appreciated.

Under Fl. St. § 617.0808(1) [2] James is not allowed to possess any such email records. In fact, James would have needed to return these to the board of directors within 72 hours. If he didn't, then a circuit court may summarily order him to do so.

This isn’t an issue though, under that same statute - § 617.0808(5)(d) [2] to be precise! - all written communications have to be kept for three years. And you have the right to inspect and copy this information under § 617.1602. [3]

At least, I think this is correct - I’m not a lawyer, so it’s not legal advise, just me geeking out on Florida non-profit law :-) And it’s also in the handbook. [4] The point being is that you can request this information and it will be provided :-)

Chris

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2016-02-10/In_focus
2. http://www.leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0600-0699/0617/Sections/0617.0808.html
3. http://www.leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0600-0699/0617/Sections/0617.1602.html
4. https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_Foundation_Board_Handbook#Removal_of_Board_members
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Re: [Wikimedia-l] Open letter: Issues needing addressing by the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees

pajz
In reply to this post by SarahSV
On 29 February 2016 at 06:18, SarahSV <[hidden email]> wrote:

> Everything Doc James has said so far appears to have been correct, based on
> the information we have.
>

Ha, like those "Oh, I have done nothing wrong and no have no idea why I was
removed" messages we heard for two weeks after James' removal, during which
James avoided to mention that just about a week before he got dismissed
from the Board, he personally emailed his then-Board colleagues and
apologized to them for his mistakes, saying that he himself even considered
stepping down but instead now wanted to ask the other trustees for a
"second chance" since he's a guy who "learn[s] from [his] mistakes"? Of
which we only learnt after insistent nagging by Denny?

I don't know if James' removal from the Board was justified or not, and
maybe it was not. But I find it difficult to come up with a rationale for
suggesting to the world that you were kicked out of the Board without any
reason, when you yourself begged the Board for a second chance just a week
before that decision. When I ask someone for a second chance, I know I
messed something up, and of course I know what that was.

At any rate, not mentioning that fact from the start strikes me as
surprisingly intransparent, particularly so given that James quickly
started to praise himself for his transparent approach, to the extent he
eventually even suggested that his removal from the Board was a result of
it.

Best,
Patrik
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Re: [Wikimedia-l] Open letter: Issues needing addressing by the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees

Jimmy Wales-5
In reply to this post by Chris Sherlock
On 2/29/16 6:46 AM, Chris Sherlock wrote:
> Unfortunately though, the WMF very much did have internal documents
> that were positioning the WMF into building a search engine. In fact,
> it was a grand idea. But one that was done in secret. James was not
> wrong, and he wasn’t lying. You may not have been aware of it at the
> time, but there were indeed confidential documents that showed that
> someone was developing an internal search engine.

There are a lot of confusions here and I think you've not been very
precise, so let me work through this slowly.  Apologies for the tedium
but I'm sure you'll agree there has been too much that has been too vague.

First, before we start, let's clarify some terminology.  There is "an
internal search engine" which we have now, have had for many years.[1]
There was and is a project to improve it - this is part of what the
Knight grant is all about, and I think it's great.  It's also not
controversial.  The controversial part is "search engine" in the sense
of a Google-competitor.  It's important to recognize that using the term
'search engine' as a standalone can lead to misconceptions.

Second, I am now aware that a former employee was advocating for the
idea of building a direct competitor to Google. His presentation about
this was shared under rather extreme "cloak and dagger" with PGP
encryption, etc.  This idea did not get traction, and never rose to
being something presented to the board for approval.  As far as I
understand it, some of the dramatic language did survive here and there,
but if you read it independently you'd not really interpret it that way.

Third, and this is really really really important: NO ONE was ever
actually "developing" a Google killing search engine.  It got no further
than a brainstorming idea - and I hope that we do NOT end up out of all
of this that staff feel constrained from even brainstorming bold ideas.
 That no development work ever happened has been confirmed by developers.

James had gotten, from somewhere, the idea that there really was a
secret project to build a Google-competing search engine.  We had a
discussion where I told him that wasn't right.  We had further
discussions at the board level of what it means, and eventually James
himself made the motion to approve the Knight grant, and voted in favor
of it.


[1] Fun historical fact, I wrote the first in-house search engine for
Wikipedia, before that the software essentially looked linearly through
files for a keyword, which broke down completely very quickly.

> In the interests of transparency, could you please release these
> emails? They sound innocuous enough, it would be nice to be able to
> verify this and read the email discussion you and James had.

I'd like to do that.  I'm starting a private conversation with James
that I hope will be productive.

> Under Fl. St. § 617.0808(1) [2] James is not allowed to possess any
> such email records.

I think you are badly misreading that.  I think the point is that he's
not allowed to withhold "records" (which probably meant paperwork at the
time the statue was written), not that he's not allowed to keep copies.
 I've never heard of the idea that a board member has to delete all
their old board email archives!

Anyway, the issue is probably just about finding a particular discussion
in a mountain of correspondence.



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