[svlug] ISSUE: SVLUG's continued status with SBAY

J. Paul Reed preed at svlug.org
Mon Feb 13 08:06:07 PST 2006


For those of you who were unable to join us at the last meeting, this will
serve as an introduction to an issue that was raised there. For those of
you who did attend, this is the email I promised to hopefully clarify the
issue.

Apologies for its drafting taking longer than expected.

ISSUE
=====

In short, SVLUG needs to evaluate its status as a special interest group
(SIG) of the South Bay Community Network (SBAY).

SVLUG members voted back in mid-2004 to become a SIG of SBAY. SBAY has
recently completed the process of incorporating as a 501(c)(7) nonprofit
organization and recently held one of its first official Board meetings in
January.

Given these recent developments, it seemed like the right time for SVLUG to
evaluate the relationship thus far and reexamine our status within SBAY.

CONTEXT
=======

The first question many may be asking is "How did this issue get raised in
the first place?"

The issue was brought up a couple of months ago, when I was asked by SVLUG
members "Why are we a part of SBAY?" I did not immediately have a
compelling answer, so I took to researching and thinking about it.

The original reasoning behind making SVLUG a SIG of SBAY focused on two
major benefits: 1. so-called "synergy" between the two groups and 2.
organizational support.

Because "synergy" is so amorphous, it's difficult to say whether there has
been as much benefit over the past eighteen or so months as was originally
intended.  In looking over the positive changes in SVLUG over the past
year--a great meeting location, a busy IRC channel, the SVLUG Hacking
Society, continued Install Fests, wireless access (and now food) at
meetings--not a single one of them is due to SVLUG's relationship with
SBAY. They're all benefits of the hard work and cooperation of SVLUG
volunteers. To be clear, some of SVLUG's core volunteers are also SBAY
members; similarly many SVLUG volunteers have no connection with SBAY. 

The second benefit--organizational support--is another nebulous term, but
there are some real artifacts to evaluate. The most obvious example is
liability insurance, which was a primary reason SVLUG joined SBAY. Such
insurance coverage has not existed for the past eighteen months and does
not exist today. Additionally, SBAY has not provided SVLUG with any
monetary compensation for costs it has incurred over the past 18 months
(domain name registrations, server colocation and bandwidth, costs related
to providing food at meetings, etc.). Those costs have been footed by
dedicated SVLUG volunteers. It's clear that SVLUG's inclusion in SBAY has
not provided any concrete organizational benefits to SVLUG whatsoever.

POSITION
========

Given this context, the next question often heard is: "So there may be
little or no (realized) benefit of SVLUG's SIG status within SBAY; are
there, then, any costs to SVLUG?"

There are two concerns over SVLUG's status as an SBAY SIG: constraints
placed on SVLUG as a function of its status as an SBAY SIG and loss of
autonomy.

As a SIG of SBAY, SVLUG is constrained by SBAY's charter in the types of
activities it[s members] can engage in. Examples include any activity that
an existing SBAY SIG is involved in or activity that SBAY would consider
its purview.

As an example of the latter, as a SIG of SBAY, SVLUG is barred, by Charter,
from purchasing liability insurance. SVLUG would therefore look to SBAY to
provide it, were it required. This issue is not hypothetical; during the
meeting location search, many companies wanted us to provide our own
insurance. During the search, I repeatedly requested a status update on
insurance from SBAY's leadership, and much to my surprise, found out the
incorporation paperwork had not been filed and thus no insurance could be
provided.  Even more disconcerting, it was stated that a certain SVLUG
member's continued involvement as a volunteer had caused an SBAY leader to
"regret going down this road with SVLUG" and that this regret was at least
a partial cause of delay in completion of the paperwork.

At that point, SVLUG was between a rock and a hard place: due to the
organizational structure in which SVLUG exists, we were barred from
rallying our volunteers and members to find a way to fulfill an SVLUG
requirement. But at the same time, SVLUG's parent organization was unable
to provide that organizational support and, furthermore, suggested an
extremely troubling reason for refusing to do so.

At the meeting, some members asked "What projects does SVLUG want to engage
in that we're barred from doing now?" I gave a few (unconvincing, I'm told)
examples, but the truth is, because SBAY's Charter is vague--it reads "The
SIG shall limit its activities to those within its defined purpose"--I
can't provide examples that will be compelling to every member, just as I
can't concieve of every future activity SVLUG wants to get involved with.
I am concerened about these future events and activities that SVLUG may
want to contribute to that would be barred by vague language, enforced
arbitrarily not by the review and approval of SVLUG's own membership, but
by exactly nine people.

This raises the issue that many SVLUG members originally had: loss of
autonomy.  During discussions attempting to formulate an answer to the
original question--"Why is SVLUG an SBAY SIG?"--I was answered numerous
times by SBAY's President that there was continuing "regret" over SVLUG's
membership in SBAY, a sentiment that has long been made public within SBAY.
SVLUG's presence made SBAY less "stable," it was claimed. After these
statements were made, I began soliciting input from SVLUG's core
volunteers. This prompted me to suggest raising the issue to the SVLUG
membership, at which time I was told by SBAY's President that I should
attempt to do so before SBAY's January board meeting. After thinking and
discussing with various volunteers some more, I announced a plan to do
exactly that: open the issue for discussion and hold a vote, albeit after
the Board meeting had passed.

I was then told that were I to make public any of the statements regarding
SVLUG's relationship with SBAY, they would be considered "unauthorized,"
and I could "count on the order being given swiftly to remove [me] from
[my] post." When I raised concerns about omitting important information
that might be of use to the broader group's discussion, I was then told
that SBAY was "taking control of the process away from [me]," and that I
would be expected to step down from my post were I to merely *raise* the
issue to you, the members, to discuss.

It seems the concern regarding SVLUG's autonomy was warranted. During the
two month progression of this issue, SVLUG's leaders were threatened with
forceful removal twice:

* Once for wanting to inform SVLUG's members of statements made by leaders
  of its parent organization which directly relate to and impact SVLUG; 

  and
  
* Once for merely wanting to bring an issue to the membership at SVLUG's
  own meeting.

For an organization that espouses openness, transparency, and freedom in
software , it is inconsistent for SVLUG to be part of another organization
that seeks to inhibits these qualities.

QUESTIONS 
=========

I was asked two questions by members after the meeting that I think it
important to address immediately:

One SVLUG member asked: "Is this personal?"

The answer is no, it is not personal.

One of my goals when I originally considered this office was to revitalize
and stabilize SVLUG. When faced with the all the information about whether
SVLUG should be a SIG of SBAY, my gut feeling now, based on optimizing for
SVLUG's long term stability, is no. It should not be.

This isn't about any person in SBAY, nor is it about SBAY itself. Many SBAY
members are SVLUG members and many volunteers are SBAY members. I
appreciate every member's involvement when they're working towards a better
SVLUG, immaterial of any other associations, and would continue to do so.

Another SVLUG member said something to the effect of "SBAY is *the* place
for open source software groups. Why would we ever consider leaving?"

I'm not sure I buy that premise.  Were it the case, LUGs from LUGOD to
CPLUG would be a part of SBAY and SBAY would solicit such inclusion.

That's not to say that I don't understand what the member was getting at: I
do think there are a lot of areas that SBAY and SVLUG overlap and their
members would consider working together on projects. There is a real
benefit there. But I believe the synergy once imagined is achievable--maybe
even more easily achievable--as partners, rather than as a monolithic
organization.

As biology repeatedly illustrates for us, ecosystemic diversity is always
preferable.

CONCLUSION
==========

It is for the above reasons that SVLUG would be better positioned for
longterm stability and organizational health as a separate entity.

This email was proofed by a number of core SVLUG volunteers and the
majority of them agree. Where SVLUG goes from here is an important, but
separate discussion.

Right now, we need to concentrate on resolving this issue and I'd like to
open the discussion on this list now. Please keep the discussion on-topic,
and most importantly, civil.

At the meeting, I called for discussion of this issue on the list and a
vote at the March meeting.

Some members at the meeting voiced concerns that a month was not enough to
present all the sides and hold a vote. Given that we have over two weeks
before the next meeting, I think it's possible to discuss the issue enough
to hold a vote. If SVLUG members still have this concern, we can handle it,
by a voice-vote, at the next meeting and extend the discussion period to
the April meeting.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to the discussion.

Later,
Paul
--
President
Silicon Valley Linux Users' Group
preed at svlug.org




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