Re: Resolution 2004-10-16.dbg.1: Committee Framework

From: John Goerzen <jgoerzen(at)complete(dot)org>
To: spi-general(at)lists(dot)spi-inc(dot)org
Cc: mbc <mbc(at)hyperpoem(dot)net>, board(at)spi-inc(dot)org
Subject: Re: Resolution 2004-10-16.dbg.1: Committee Framework
Date: 2004-10-18 17:11:32
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On Sunday 17 October 2004 01:22 pm, mbc wrote:
> I would just like to add to this discussion. For an organization like
> SPI which is supposedly acting in the public interest and moving
> forward with such an important thing as the Free Software Movement,
> the structure of the organization is very hierarchical and
> antiquated. I think that a lot could be done to make this
> organization more democratic, more participatory and more
> egalitarian.

Thank you for your input. I think your goals are very much in line with
mine, and I agree that we aren't where we should be yet.

Having said that, let me dive into this a little bit.

First of all, my understanding is that the basic notion of a board of
directors and officers is something that is mandated by law and we
cannot change, even if we wanted to. There are also other matters,
such as how the officers of the corporation are chosen, that are
defined by our corporate bylaws. As a matter of law, those bylaws are
binding upon us. However, the membership (and only the membership, not
the board) has the ability to amend the bylaws to make changes within
the boundaries of the law governing non-profits. There's a link to our
bylaws from

So, there are some things that we can't change, and there are some
things that we can if we do so with care and the membership approves.

We have been aware of deficiencies in our bylaws for some time. In
fact, there is a bylaws committee right now that is looking into those
issues. One of the many things they're looking into is a direct
election of each officer position by the SPI contributing membership.
The best way to get involved with the bylaws committee is to join the
spi-bylaws list at, which I would encourage you to
do. Additionally, the 2004 SPI Annual Report contains a summary of the
activities of the bylaws committee. This summary would probably be
helpful to you as you learn about ground that has already been covered.
That annual report is available at

On to things we can address more easily...

First, many of us have been working to make SPI more transparent to the
membership and public. I am trying to hold as many discussions as we
can in public places, and our board meetings are already public. We
have public mailing lists, and as far as I know, all board members read
them and most participate in them. Anybody can post messages to the
board or any officers.

We do not prohibit members of the public -- whether SPI members or not
-- from commenting on issues before SPI and advancing ideas for solving
them. You are quite correct that we are still "working" on it -- that
is, we're not there yet. People like David Graham (SPI secretary) have
been, in my opinion, making a huge difference by doing research to find
minutes and resolutions that were never posted on our website,
documenting our procedures, and maintaining our current status online.
This effort predates both David and me, too; others have devoted a lot
of time and energy to organizing our finances, developing voting
systems, etc.

With regard specifically to committees, I think that they may be more
egalatarian than they appear on paper. As far as I can remember (and
my involvement with SPI does not date back all the way to its
founding), no member who has asked to join a committee has ever been
refused. In fact, the usual way of forming a committee -- and we did
this with the bylaws committee -- is to ask for volunteers and put them
on it.

The chair of the committee is probably more what you're thinking of,
too. In my experience as chair of the bylaws committee, most of my
"chair duties" involved keeping us organized (we had a large volume of
material to process) and writing up our results. Committee members had
input on both of those, and wherever possible (and this was almost
always), unanimous consent was sought.

Now, having said that, I think there is merit to your voting suggestion.
I think that, in our present situation, where we are likely to have
more committee openings than volunteers as we discuss possibly forming
new committees, it will not be very useful. However, if we get to a
point where we have more volunteers than openings, then we should
certainly revisit the point. I guess what I'm saying is that it
doesn't pay to design an election when the results of it are known
before it even starts because there aren't enough candidates to
actually provide a choice :-)

Thanks again for the input, and please don't hesitate to send more
thoughts our way again.

-- John


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