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Elections, Accountability, and Education



I would like to encourage the board to give some consideration to a
problem I perceive to exist in the standard operating procedure of the
board in the execution of its duties. While I intend to frame the
issue in terms of the board, it also applies in differing degrees to
the various steering committees as well.

One problem the board has been addressing is the disappointing turnout
of eligible voters in Fedora elections. Initiatives like the election
townhalls I think are brilliant and I thank the board and especially I
thank Matt Domsch for the effort during the last election cycle to use
townhall meetings to allow the Fedora community to meet and learn at
least some of the views of the candidates running for elected
positions. I think of the townhalls as having the goal of increasing
participation in elections, but having the immediate and important
purpose of educating the electorate about the candidates and about
issues relevant to these offices.

Election turnout does not only depend on an educated electorate. For a
voter to feel empowered and engaged by an election process the voter
must feel in control. One prerequisite of this is that the voter
understands the candidates and issues, efforts by the board have been
directed at this part of the equation. Another is that the voter can
hold those elected accountable for their actions while serving in the
elected position. The board clearly makes efforts in this area too,
the monthly public meetings (normally in a question and answer format)
and the great minutes provided from the non-public meetings by John
Poelstra are examples. I want to thank John in particular for these
minutes as they are crucial to our knowing what was discussed by the
board generally and what decisions the board made each meeting as a
body.

As a voter and as an engaged observer of the governance of the Fedora
Project, I do feel there is more that can and should be done. My
specific request to the board is that it make a renewed effort to
increase the transparency of its non-public meetings with special
attention given to the deliberations and voting done by the board.
While it is often hard to look at things through someone else's eyes
I'd like to ask you to try. Look over the first 40 minutes or so from
the IRC log of the last public meeting imaging you are not a board
member but rather someone keenly interested in the business of board
(perhaps someone who voted for you in the last election).

https://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Board/Meetings/2009-03-03

Seeing the public discussion of these issues was the best part of this
or any public board meeting I've attended. The open deliberation and
the public votes cast allow me to both hold individual members of the
board accountable for their actions on the board and also educates me
about important considerations that need to be given to these issues
that I might not have been aware of previously.

Comparing these 40 minutes with the information I receive by reading
the minutes of the private board meetings I'd like to make two
observations. First, John does a great job summarizing the discussion
that took place in the minutes but that summary rarely includes who
said what. That is still quite valuable and helps educate the reader
of the minutes about the nuances of the issue and the board's
collective thinking about the problem. Accountability isn't something
we can hold the board collectively responsible for though since we
don't vote for the board collectively. Who said what is critical to
our understanding of each individual member of the board and to our
ability to hold them accountable in subsequent elections. (In case
this "accountability" theme sounds negative I want to be clear
everyone understands that it isn't negative. It is more likely by
increasing my awareness of the individual participation of board
members that I will say this member is great, I want to vote *for* him
next time.)

My second observation about the minutes are that board decisions are
announced collectively. When the decision is unanimous it seems to be
expressed in the minutes as something like "the board unanimously
decided X." I can only presume that when the decision omits any
mention of unanimity that there was some dissent among board members
although I am not given any sense of either who dissented or to what
degree the board was in disagreement. The public votes cast in the
first 40 minutes of the last public meeting stand in stark contrast to
this. I know exactly who voted and how they voted as well as knowing
the collective vote of the board as a whole. Having elected officials
generally cast their votes in public seems natural to me, promotes
individual accountability to the voter, and doesn't stand at odds with
our project's very public stated goal of doing its business in an open
and transparent manner.

I do understand that there are costs associated with doing more of the
business of the board in public. I understand transcribing and
summarizing business done on conference calls is difficult and
unpleasant work. I understand not all board business can be done in
public.
But I ask the board to take some time now to consider whether there
are some steps it can take to make the routine business of the board
more transparent to the Fedora community. I believe casting routine
votes in public and having deliberations done in public are both
incredibly valuable to the community.

And that general request I'd like to make to the steering committees
and other parts of the project too. Ask yourself if there is something
more you could do to increase the degree of transparency in the doing
of your Fedora business.

Thanks,
John


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