Gregory Maxwell wrote:
Practically every state and municipal government in
the US is subject
to public disclosure laws, sometimes part of 'Government in the
sunshine' legislation, which require most relevant information about
the daily operations to be made available. This usually includes
information on employee performance, reasons for departure/dismissal,
etc. about everyone from top management through the junior
dog-catcher. Though the law usually does exclude highly
private/personal information (for example, medical information).
[I'm coming from a US centric angle here because that is what I know.
Feel free to mentally replace US locations with any other place with
robust records laws]
Accordingly, I find the supposition that being very open about the
operations of the foundation is somehow incompatible with
professionalism or ethical behaviour to be simply unsustainable.
I have to agree with the general philosophy of this approach. The
problem is not confined to the US, and that Nathan should later raise a
contrast between California and North Carolina law only tells me that
the problems at a government level is far from being settled. When we
are dealing with competing virtues (openness and privacy) the debate
always becomes more intense.
Wikimedians are a naturally suspicious lot, for many of whom "Assuming
good faith" is little more than sloganeering. Does it come as any
surprise that the same people who question the integrity of
pharmaceutical company public relations will also put the same
suspiciousness to work in regards to their own corporate overlords? Many
of us are suspicious of corporatism, and WMF is a corporation. The
excuse that a corporation is still too small also soon wears thin.
This thread includes the word "firing" in its title. Whether or not the
word accurately reflects the facts, the cat is out of the bag. It is all
over the internet where the audience tends to see little difference
between "He was fired," and "Was he fired?" That audience can easily
include potential former employers, who will look for easy ways to trim
a long list of applicants into a short list. We can no more control
such low-level rumour mills than we can control large scale conspiracy
theories about the Kennedy assassination or why the towers fell on 9/11.
Wikimedia is not a business. It is a publicly
supported charity. The
WMF depends on the public both for the funding used to cut everyone's
paychecks and for the creation of the material which makes its sites
worth visiting. In terms of man-hours-input the community of
contributors dwarfs the foundation's full time staff considerably.
The inescapable reality of this is that the employees
serve at the pleasure of the public. Although the chain is not a
direct chain of command, it is no less real. So I don't think it's
surprising to see people making noises expressing a desire for the
kind of openness which is technically available from state and local
governance almost universally thought the US.
In a lot of other places too. The internet has made hiding high-level
misdeeds more difficult. It is far more difficult for lobbyists to come
and go unnoticed than ever before. Governments are still far from
perfect in their handling of these matters.
I believe Wikimedia Foundation already has a stated
goal of being on
the leading edge of organizational openness and has done well /by
commercial standards/. Perhaps it's time to take that a step
further and voluntarily subject the organization to the public record
laws of some state or some composition or subset thereof.
Not only would this advance openness but it may help avoid arguments
over the form and level of openness by delegating those decisions to
others who have thought harder about them than we have. It may also
make cooperating with other organizations simpler because rather than
trying to explain Wikimedia's bizarre one-off openness requirements
and the inevitable debate about the wisdom of every aspect, it could
be simply pointed out that the WMF operates under some particular
rule-set used elsewhere.
Pre-existing government openness rulesets also have the advantage of
the existence of training materials for staff and layman guides for
Those who say that the current severance was at too low a level to merit
such heated controversy are probably right, but it is up to WMF to be
sufficiently pro-active to avoid this kind of discussion about any
single individual. The broader policy question remains an important
one. If the result is that a public release needs to be made whenever
*anyone* quits or is dismissed, so be it. An open and honest release
may be less damaging than the alternative.