itSMF risks instability and constitutional crisis through high-handed elimination of election candidates

[updated]On contemplating the recent nominations for the itSMF International Board and Chair, I wonder if any other readers share my concern that 5 out of 12 candidates were eliminated on a technicality? Especially a technicality that the current Board and Chair might not have met...

Yes, one candidate for Chair and four candidates for the Board were eliminated because the nominating chapter or the candidate's chapter had not paid dues.

Now it seems to me that any chapter that is deliberately withholding dues would be most unlikely to be nominating someone, especially since the requirement was made clear in the paperwork distributed with the call for nominations.

Therefore it seems to me that there has at best been a breakdown in communications between International and the chapters (which will come as no suprise to anyone) or at worst there is a systematic attempt to eliminate some persons on the basis of a technicality. For example at least one person was eliminated becuase the nominating chapter had not paid dues even though the candidate's home chapter had. This strikes me as unsporting, pedantic and mischievous.

If International were operating in good faith with the best interests of the Chapters at heart and in the spirit of democratic representation, then I would have thought a more appropriate response would be to assume that it is an oversight, draw the Chapter's attention to the deficiency, and require the dues to be paid within a certain period if they wished top proceed with the nomination.

And I wonder how many of the existing Board and Chair would comply with the requirement that their chapter and nominating chapter BOTH be current on payment of dues at the time they were nominated? (readers may guess I know the answer to this question)
Is the requirement for payment of dues based on:
a) The Articles of Association that were current at the time the existing Board was elected or...
b) the unratified and therefore unconstitutional draft "Rules""

The IT Swami predicts that this high-handed response will generate great ill-will in an already unstable organisation, and quite possibly lead to a constitutional crisis.


Election process

Since you mention it, yes, I was concerned about this. I don't know the background either.

My understanding is that the election rules were given to the electing officer who acted within those rules. It seems to me correct that an election officer should act only within the rules and not be swayed by political considerations beyond the rules. So I quietened my concern by concluding that the non-payment was a fact and, based on that, the election officer's action was correct. As you say, the need for being a paid up member was clear and, I believe it reasonable for it to be an absolute requirement.

I don't know who was disallowed or which chapters have not paid their dues, nor why. I have not heard of any protest - your comment on this being the first comment that I've heard.

I think my position is consistent in this as I have, in the past, protested, in writing, against the election of officials to an itSMF board when their dues had not been paid. I do not feel that it being some administrative oversight is a reasonable excuse.

I think that there would be more of a constitutional crisis if nominations were allowed and the nominees elected only later to be disallowed when somebody pointed out that the nomination was improper for this reason.

If an existing board member was, as you suggest, incorrectly nominated, then I'd suggest that the correct time to raise this (in my view quite separate issue) would have been around the time of the board election - not a few months before the end of the boards tenure, which is, to say the least, a little late.

I think that it would not be good governance to allow an election procedure to be modified to indulge a late payer unless a rule in the process allowed it, under strictly measurable circumstances, or a special, and public, vote were taken to allow a particular deviation from the rules.

Having said that, if I had been nominated and then found it disallowed because my chapter had not paid its dues, I would have been pissed off. My anger, however, would have been at the chapter for failing in its constitutional duty to pay its dues, not at the electing officer or at the board.

So, unless there is more that I don't know that contradicts my belief above, I can't agree that this will cause a constitutional crisis. I can agree that 'communication problems' or whatever is behind the non-payment of dues are an issue. That is an issue of good governance. I have stated in my nomination (that I posted here) that I believe governance ought to be a target for improvement and that I wish to work to improve it - this issue would fall directly under that as something that I would like to work to resolve with the existing board over the next few months and continue to work to improve when serving on the board next year.

the spirit and intent of the rulings

The constitutional question arises from exactly what rule is being enforced here: who wrote the rule, when, with what mandate to do so, and with what ratification from the Full Board?

The main issue is one of what is the spirit and intent of the rulings. if it were to get chapters to pay their dues then a polite letter pointing out the nomination is going to be invalidated would serve that purpose admirably. itSMF chapters are voluntary organisations that do make oversights all the time. at least one of the current Board was elected while his chapter was in arrears due to an oversight so I'd have thought some sympathy would be in order

if the intent were to eliminate as many candidates as possible then it is serving its purpose. if itSMF International were acting in the interests of their members then I'd have wanted to see as many candidates as possible put up not knocked out.

I can assure you the indications are there are some VERY pissed off people. This is doing nothing for unity


It is very difficult to establish intent - courts spend lots of time trying and often don't manage it!

I don't know why chapters would not pay their dues. I'd imagine that, if they didn't, then they would, like anybody else who is tardy in paying bills, get a reminder. It might be helpful to understand how and why it is that there are chapters who have not paid - as I mentioned, it is, after all, a constitutional requirement.

If the bills are not paid as an oversight then it would be a matter for the Financial Director to spend more time sorting out administration. I know that it is volunteer work, and I know that this can be more difficult than it might seem from the outside, but I do think that if somebody takes the post as Financial Director then that person must accept the responsibilities that go with it.

I don't know the answer as to why there is such a rule, but a pretty obvious explanation occurs to me. A chapter might be launched, but, at some time later for various reasons, become defunct - lack of interest, not enough people with time to spare for such unpaid work, a very active board retiring etc. etc.. By the nature of the process, things going defunct don't announce themselves as such. So one way to know is if the bills continue to be paid. If there is no response to letters and e-mails and no payment of dues, even after reminders, then, it is reasonable to assume that something is defunct. It makes sense for non-members or defunct members not to be eligible for elections. I don't think that it needs to be any more sinister than that. It is also likely that, like any organisation, the itSMFI relies upon its income and directs its efforts and the supply of benefits to those who supply the income - this is a reasonable interpretation of its constitutional position.

If you've heard from people who are annoyed, then, presumably, you've heard why the dues of their chapters were not paid. You don't need to name the chapters or the individuals, but, if you know that, couldn't you list the various reasons for the dues not being paid, how long they had been in arrears and whether any reminders had been issued?

If I fail to pay my dues for any reason, for anything, I expect there to be some consequences eventually. If I stop paying or my New Scientist magazine subscription, maybe because I'm incensed by their apparent move across the Atlantic, then, even if my complaint is justified, I expect the magazines to eventually stop turning up and my access to their web-site eventually not to work. Isn't it reasonable that there should be similar consequences of not paying dues to the itSMF?

You know I don't know the details. Obviously, if a chapter's payment was due in on the 1st of September, say, and their nomination was rejected on the 2nd of September because the money hadn't made it to the bank yet, then I'd consider that a very harsh application of the rules - as you say, you'd expect a polite e-mail checking that the money was on its way. On the other hand, dues unpaid for several months would not call for any special treatment. The real situation is likely to be somewhere between these two extremes and consequently a little grey - if you supply the details of the various chapters affected everybody could see how grey the matter really is. Without that the matter is smothered in surmise.

Harsh and upsetting as it must by for the candidates, and I am sympathetic, as I say, in their position I too would be unhappy, I do think that it is up to chapters to pay their dues on time and the candidates ought to focus their annoyance on that issue, rather than try to find fault with what appears to be a reasonable rule that, as far as I know has been applied reasonably.

a systemic problem that needs addressing

I strongly disagree.

There are recorded instances of chapters not being correctly invoiced. there are also plenty of instances of chapters screwing up. Rumour has it at least one current Board member's chapter was accidentally and unknowingly in arrears at the time of his election, so I'd have thought a little sympathy was in order.

As I have said, chapters would not have nominated someone if they knew they were in arrears, with the possible exception of the USA who have threatened to withhold payment at least once.

Compounding the aggressive stance is the interpetation that a candidate is ruled out if either the nominating chapter or the candidate's chapter is in arrears. Why not interpret it that they are accepted so long as either one or the other is currently paid up?

Taking this heavy-handed approach without consulting with the affected chapters assumes chapters are guilty of negligence until proven innocent, which is hardly the way to bring the international community together. If you don't see this as arrogant and rude then I'm not looking forward to your Board tenure either.

Finally, I am at a loss to understand how any nomination process in a supposedly friendly club of volunteers (who are supposed to be process experts) where almost half the candidates have been eliminated can be seen as anything other than a systemic problem that needs addressing.

Proper Process

Dear IT Skeptic,

You raise important issues. I'm not sure what you think that the resolution ought to be. I can't really comment in any detail because you list allegations, but provide no actual evidence. This is no surprise and no slur on you. This is a very public forum and it would be the wrong place for the actual working out of the issues. I think that, if you are going to raise such issues, you ought also to say what you think would be an adequate resolution.

I am sorry that you thought that my response was a support of high-handed, arrogant and rude processes. It was not intended to be, and I am not in favour of any of these.

I am a strong supporter of following the proper process - at least until that process is found to fail.

I think that any nominee who feels badly done by in this matter and every chapter that feels that it has been dealt with wrongly in the particular matter of this election and the payment of dues follow the proper steps. Please encourage all aggrieved parties to lodge a complaint:

- With the election officer if it is felt that any part of the process is wrong
- With their local chapter if they feel that dues have not been properly paid
- With the itSMF if the chapter feels that the payment of dues process has not been properly followed.

I think it absolutely essential than anybody who is unhappy lodges an official complaint first.

If that complaint is not addressed in reasonable time, then I think that any individual or chapter does have the right to make the matter public.

I do not agree that the situation itself implies wrong doing. I do agree that each particular complaint must be properly investigated through the proper channels.

I also believe that it is important that the itSMF has a whistle-blower provision, both within the country chapters and the itSMFI. I have not made this point before, but your comments compel me to say it now. If the proper processes are not working there must be an independent channel to investigate the matter.

None of the above should be read to mean that I believe that the itSMFI has acted wrongly. I have no evidence for that. Quite the reverse, communications that I have received since your first posting on this matter here suggest to me that the itSMF has behaved properly. However, I agree with you, my judgement or your judgement is not sufficient. There must be a proper process to address issues.

If the people who currently feel aggrieved (understandably) lodge proper complaints with the election officer, with supporting evidence, I believe that they will be treated with respect and investigated appropriately. Once that process is complete, if there are still outstanding issues, then I think it perfectly proper for the complainants to make the matter public - in the understanding that this also allows the itSMFI to make its own statements in public.

It is not enough, and not proper, to make an issue and allegations of improper conduct, until these channels have been explored.

You are right to raise the issues and make them public - I agree with you there. However, I disagree with your judging that any party is right, wrong, overbearing, wicked or whatever, until the matter is properly investigated.

If there is no proper investigation then, believe me, I'll be the first on your side in protest. I do not, however, agree that anybody or any organisation should be vilified in public until he, or it, has been given the chance to resolve it privately through proper channels.

I don't think that you and I are actually in disagreement about the fundamentals here. We both want matters to be properly, morally, fairly and ethically managed.

You present the fact that many people have been eliminated from the election as evidence of wrong doing. I don't disagree with you, it may well be evidence. I don't, however, feel that it is right to decide from that fact that the wrong doing is automatically to be ascribed to any particular party. It is necessary for a proper examination of all the facts to take place before a judgement can be made. I'm not seeking to excuse anybody, but I am very strongly against seeking to blame anybody without a full understanding of the facts either.

I think that your post makes it clear, though, that the itSMF, world wide, must work to develop a clear, open, transparent and independent complaints procedure both at the chapter and at the International level and that this procedure must be properly governed. This should prevent future, unhappy incidents, like this one, where blame is thrown about without due regard for evidence.

It is quite wrong, and I do not wish to be associated with an organisation where this is the case, that rumours, suspicion and unfounded allegations rule. Things must be arranged so that there is a proper process for dealing with dissent, and that this process is trusted and used by all members. When I said, in my nomination statement, that I believed that it was vital to have good governance, this is part of what I meant. Processes must be open and transparent, and trusted, including the complaints and whistle blowing processes. This must be true throughout the itSMF, all chapters, all boards and all affiliated organisations. We must move ourselves away from a 'blame culture' towards a cooperative and trusting 'service culture'.

I'm not happy that there is this feeling of antagonism and mistrust. However, I am grateful for you IT Skeptic, in bringing it to light and focusing attention on it. You can judge the new board on how well it does to dispel it. Please continue your questions and voice your concerns, but also, please support us in working to build proper and earned trust.

This post is too long for the question, sorry for my prolixity. I do feel very strongly about this, however. If it is proved that there has been any wrong doing in this election, then I will be perfectly happy to have a re-election. I would not, however, be happy for such a re-election to be forced on wrong grounds. If chapters have been remiss in paying their dues, and this is a consequence, then they must live with that and make their apologies to the members who have been inconvenienced.

This is a time for proper, objective, examination, not raw emotion.

Emotion already rules

Thankyou Peter

Emotion already rules.

the process may or may not have been improper: it followed the letter of the rules, and the rules may or may not have been valid.

Either way it wasn't nice. it wasn't the process of a volunteer club of like-minded professionals all working together to participate.

I think I know the fundamental issue - I've blogged it here.

Emotions are okay, but what's that got to do with Business.

Peter Brooks is right. Without any evidence of any wrongdoing then all is guess work and conjecture. Telling someone that they cannot stand is not nice. Not for the person doing the telling, nor the person being told.

Being nice is okay in context but not always right in business. We as process people ought to at least understand that process is important for the greater good. I don't like telling my people that they have to follow process for say, properly securing data, or getting receipts for their expenses, or not talking to the press, without prior authorisation, it's inconvenient and it's not a nice thing to have to kick hard on, but I do it because of the greater good of the company.

What would have happened if the International simply ignored the rules and said, Yes, okay, you are allowed to stand and then subsequently, a paying Chapter's nominee, lost out to a non-paying chapter's nominee. That really would be unfair!

Peter is right - keep the emotion out of the process. It's not nice but it is fair and it is proper.

guys, you're in arrears

I didn't say let them stand. I said a response that was in the spirit of an open, cooperative and friendly organisation would have been to drop them a note saying "guys, you're in arrears. Pay up by Friday or the nomination is void". itSMF gets its dosh, we get a choice of candidates, and the nominees get to contribute to itSMF.

Friendly Reminder

Yes, you're quite right. A friendly reminder would be the proper response to a minor problem with payment.

Who would suggest otherwise? I can't imagine that the international board would have risked a major confrontation if such a note would have so easily, as you suggest, have resolved he matter.

Maybe, indeed, the board decided to be particularly hard-arsed about this and went out of their way to provoke a problem by not sending such a friendly note.

Maybe, but I think not. It doesn't make sense to me that, if such a simple remedy was at hand, on such an important matter, it would not have been applied.

I know nothing about issues with various chapters and the international board, but I don't think that I need to to understand this. If it was that simple, and the board risked a confrontation and the possible invalidation of elections that would shape the future of the itSMF for the next two years, then, indeed, the board would have acted irresponsibly.

How likely is it that it was that simple?

You, and I, and the rest of the itSMF, the members, if we rememer properly, in whose interests the chapter boards, and the international board work to act, are in a position of deciding on this rationally.

I think that the idea you propose, that the itSMF deliberately decided to act as bastards (not to put too fine a point on it) is highly unlikely (a load of arse, again, not to put to fine a point upon it).

I think, and I'm basing this only on what you and I and the rest of us understand, that there must be more to this non-payment that a simple last-minute misunderstanding. I've no idea what the problems are, I'd love to know. I think that it might be getting to the point where individual aggrieved chapters explain their grievances here so that we can all understand.

That is no matter. Unless we wish to enter conspiracy theory territory and imagine that the itSMF International board has been acting with wicked caprice, there is only one obvious explanation. There were material disputes with these chapters.

Why there were such disputes, what they were about and who was the wicked person or people responsible is a matter of surmise.

I don't think that that surmise is relevant to the situation that now exists with the elections. A reasonable person, as I've argued above, would conclude that the itSMFI acted in a responsible and not capricious manner.

It is up to a chapter that feels aggrieved and has not paid its dues and feels that it has a proper case to state it here. It is not up to the itSMFI to reveal conficences. It would actually be very wrong of the itSMFI, or any member of the board, to reveal the detail of any such disputes. Their hands are tied. They are honour bound to keep the confidences that were properly ascribed to them by the chapters. They could not properly write to this forum and explain what the issues actually are. So, whether they are guilty or not, they are not at liberty to defend themselves. This is a pretty nasty situation for them to be in - to be accused and unable to rebut the accusation.

If there are any material facts that make the board responsible, I think that the responsibilty lies with the chapters involved to announce their position - exactly why and when they decided to withold their payment. It is only they that can do this.

If they do not, then the only proper conclusion is that they are the ones that are culpable.

Please, make this a challenge. Let anybody who has had their nomination refused, make it public here. Let them ask their chapter to give the itSMFI permission to state their case and ask their chapter to state theirs publically. I would welcome such an open discussion.

If there is no response to this, then, I'm afraid, rational and reasonable people must conclude that the chapters are the guilty party here - if only because the itSMFI is, properly, unable to defend itself.

You, and those aggrieved, may not like this. However, this is the only way in which this can be raised above the level of rumour, speculation and aribtrary accusation to the realm of proper investigation.

If there is a chapter that has a good reason to have withheld payment, then, please, let them state their case. If they haven't the balls, then let the candidate who has not had a chance in the elections state his case. Then we can decide. Don't torture the itSMFI by unfounded allegations.

Even if the itSMFI is guilty as sin, a set of wicked people who have deliberately gone out of their way to screw certain individuals or chapters, they still have a right to their day in court, the accustations must be made open. It is wrong, very wrong, to put the itSMFI board in handcuffs and then to kick the shit out of them. This must stop, it is wrong. It is a wicked thing to do to the individuals who are volunteers, working to make the itSMF a better organisation in their own time. If they are guilty, then I agree, hang them out to dry, I have no problem with that. But I have a very serious problem with unwarranted attacks.

Please, on a personal note, if you are out there, and feel that you have been badly done by, make your case known, in all its gory detail so that we, as a member community can come to a proper judgement. If you feel that, on reflection, that your protest was wrong, then, please, let everybody know. Don't let the accusation lie unproven, unexamined and a blot on the integrity of the board. The board is helpless in this. It, and its members, cannot defend themsleves because they would be guilty of revealing confidential facts. Don't kick a man when he is down. Don't abuse the right to confidentiality.

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