The WMF Board of Trustees seems to be considering abolishing or altering the "Founder's Seat" on the Board, which was designed to give Jimmy Wales a continuing connection to the Foundation and to tie the Board's activities more closely to its history and values. I was WMF general counsel at the time the Board restructured itself in this way, and at that time it seemed self-evident to all Board members (as well as to staff) that having Jimmy serve in this role (for as long as he should want to) was a good idea. This was considered true not least because the Foundation had been meeting a full range of challenges, so that having the kind of continuity that the Founder's Seat provided was a stabilizing factor that helped insure WMF's remaining in contact with its original mission and values. It seems possible that someday Jimmy may feel his role on the Board no longer serves its purpose, and the design of his Board seat was clear: if Jimmy left the Founder's Seat at some point, that seat would not be filled with any replacement. What I'm hearing, however, is that this latest discussion is not being driven by Jimmy's intention to leave the Board (although I expect he will want to at some point in the future) but instead by a kind of sentiment among some Board members that maybe Jimmy's position is too unusual and so should be eliminated or changed ... just because. To me, that notion is unmoored in any recognition of the value of continuity and tradition. John Perry Barlow served on the EFF Board until his death, and nobody believed his service was somehow a detriment to EFF's progress and success. I think change for its own sake, or to sate some gnawing concern by some Board members that this institutionalized continuity isn't standard operating procedure for other boards, is a bad idea. More than almost any other non-profit enterprise, the Wikimedia Foundation depends on maintaining and honoring its originating culture, of which Jimmy is necessarily a part. In my view, he shouldn't be kicked out of the traditional position before he's ready to go.
Wales own words:
It is of course a bit awkward for me to comment here, but I think that I should.
As is well known, I have no interest in being the boss of anything or the dictator of anything. My most keen interest is for the future of the encyclopedia, with all the core values intact: that we are a community-first project, that we are a charity, that we are neutral, that we strive for quality, and that we work towards governance that means safety for all these values in the long run.
In the past few years, there have been several crises that have made it increasingly clear to me: the biggest problem on the board is not a lack of professional expertise, but rather a lack of community representation and control. I am a steadfast proponent of that - you can speak to James Heilman for more details (I've not consulted with him in advance but I'm sure he'll tell you about my concerns about the "professional" board members who don't seem to have our values at heart.)
I am deeply concerned about the tone of some of the latest proposals from some quarters: a reluctance to be firmly clear that community control - in the form of voting and not just some vague "community-sourced board members" language that might mean anything or nothing - is not negotiable.
I believe that we need to be moving in a mildly different direction with the board expansion. I don't want to make a specific proposal but I will say this: rather than an expansion that keeps community in a slight +1 position, I think we need an expansion that gives the community an absolutely dominant role.
I've not spoken yet about my personal role, because I want us to focus on the long run. But my preference is not to step aside until I am sure that the "professional" appointed seats are absolutely always in service to the community, by making sure that their numbers are - relative to the community numbers - reduced.
Removing my voting seat - yes, it's a good idea in the long run, as I am just one person and not that important in the grand scheme of things. But for now, I feel that my role is to represent the moral conscience of the movement and to prevent takeover by outside interests who do not understand our values. So for those who ask when, I would say: when we are safe. And I don't think that's true just yet.
John McLaughlin voice: ....And what do you think, Eric Barbour?