Political Calculus – PASS Nominations

Pardon me, sir. Do I have a dog in this fight?

Do I have a dog in this Fight? If I did, it'd be the Warner Brothers Barnyard Dog.

After my term of service on the PASS board of directors ended in December of 2009, I fully intended to stay far, far out of the way.  It’s an intention that I’ve largely been able to fulfill,excluding the odd conversation with an occasional board member or committee chair looking for a little impartial advice when weighing some consideration or other.

If you keep up with going’s on within PASS, then you’ll know that there’s been some hullabaloo lately.  Please reference paragraph 1 again at this point to understand that I don’t really know much about all this hullabaloo.  (I read one blog post by Stuart Ainsworth and decided to henceforth avoid all other mention of the situation). I mentioned that I’ve been trying to stay out of PASS’ way, correct?  But sometimes you just can’t dodge a bullet, even when you’re bustin’ out some Matrix-like moves and goin’ all Neo/Keanu Reeves on it.

To wit, I was happy to volunteer in hosting our first Music City SQL Saturday, which also happened to occur the day after the PASS board of directors wrapped up their quarterly meeting here in beautiful (and hot) Nashville, TN.  The two events were destined by the stars to overlap.  Which also meant I was going to be hearing about said hullabaloo (reference paragraph 2, above), despite my better efforts to get out of its (the hullabaloo’s) way.

(I’m being a bit disingenuous about being surprised that these events having some overlap.  I hosted a party at my house the Friday before our SQL Saturday for our event speakers and also invited all of the PASS directors and staff who were still in town as well.  So they were all coming together, like neutrons hurtling towards a chunk of uranium 236.  You DO KNOW what happens when neutrons are hurtled at uranium 236, right?).

Yeah, and then what?

Foghorn's idea of a dog fight

So despite trying to steer clear any PASS-related controversies, I’m compelled to speak up, albeit in as limited a fashion as I can manage.  Most of the people involved, from candidates to committee members, are friends.  I wrote endorsement letters for almost half of the candidates who made it to the Nomination Committee (NomCom) interview stage.  So I’m far from being a totally impartial judge of how individual persons were treated.  But, for what it’s worth, I’m trying to make my post less about personalities and more about the overall direction of the process.  In other words, I’m trying to be constructive, not destructive.

A lot of people have put out opinions about the PASS Election process and you can read more yourself here:

Since the call to vote is now open, I hope you’ll take some time to get informed about the overall process as well as the candidates standing for election.

So what’s your point?

Lots of people have complained about lots of things in this round of elections (so far), but what’s anyone going to do about it?  Well, my point in this and subsequent blog posts is to produce recommendations about the election process that will better it for PASS and the wider community.

I’ve asked several friends in the SQL Server community, as well as individuals unrelated to PASS or SQL Server but who have experience on corporate boards of directors, to join a group discussion focusing on the question:

Tit-for-Tat, eh Foghorn?

“Many in the community seem to think that the PASS election process is badly broken.  Do you think that PASS needs to implement fundamental and far-reaching changes to its election process, or does it only need some fine tuning?  Please explain your thoughts?”

So now that some of the personal aspects of the discussions have calmed down, the main point I want to make is that we can make this better.  But this will take a concerted and focused discussion to decide on the consensus.

Guest posters are waiting in the wings. Let the discussions begin!

To forward this discussions, I’ve asked guest posters to make open with their initial thoughts on their own blogs or here, for those who don’t have their own blogs.  Some have already posted their opening thoughts, which I will repost here.  Once the opening statements are all posted, we’ll begin to work through the various points and topics (refer to the PASS discussion forums  above) to see if we can drive consensus for concrete methods and steps for the nominations and election processes.

With that, you’re also invited to participate. If you have thoughts around process (not personalities), I invite you to participate either through posting comments here and on our future posts and, if you’re interested, to participate as a guest poster yourself.

  • Join the wider discussion here.

I look forward to your thoughts and feedback!


Follow me on twitter at @kekline


  1. As an Executive Director for another user group community, I can offer up a few thoughts as it relates to Nominating Committee best practices. I’ve been working with technology and various vendors for over 20 years, and I’ve seen the community “popular” vote vs. a vetted, nominating committee driven process. Both can work and in the “day” most organizatioins had open elections. In my opinion as technology and business evolved, so did the business of user groups. These aren’t clubs, they are multi-millionaire dollar businesses with the difference being no profits are returned to individual directors but reinvested in the community. A slated election based on the recommendations of peers from the community is in my opinion (and pretty much everyone who leads governance or knows about governance for any kind of association) the best practice.

    Here are some thoughts from an excerpt of an article written by a governance expert, Mark Thorsby regarding nomcom process:
    Today, successful associations are devoting increasing attention to ensuring that their governing boards comprise a diverse – yet unified in mission – group of talented volunteers. For the sake of their associations, it is vital that these committees be constituted and operated in ways that epitomize their chances for success.

    Make-up of the nomcom: The committee should be composed primarily, if not exclusively, of current or recently retired board members because they are the only ones who really know what the board needs in terms of talent, governance culture and personal style. Some committees involve non-board members, but they often need to be taught what is required for board service, which can consume precious time. There’s a trade-off, of course, among “fresh air,” transparency and efficiency. The chief staff officer plays an integral role in advising the committee on such issues, as he or she often is the most knowledgeable about candidates.

    The nominating committee establishes its criteria for the officers and/or directors it is seeking to nominate based on the “charge” – a defined, desired outcome – it receives from the board of directors. This charge usually defines the desired characteristics, perspectives, styles, values and experience of nominees, sometimes with an eye toward achieving a better balance according to certain factors involving age, geography, style, etc. It is not unusual for each candidate to be asked to complete a simple candidacy form that collects information for the nominating committee to use in vetting.

    The object of the vetting process is to select nominees for an officer or director position who best suit the leadership needs of the association. The nominees are not always the best speakers from the community, or the most highly technical, but are the best team members given the leadership needs of the group. This can be a very difficult process because the nominating committee has multiple factors to consider. The best advice is to take time and get it right.

    It is important that each nominee understands what is expected of him or her and why the nominating committee believes they are the right fit.
     Past experience is not a predictor of future performance – particularly if that experience has been service on committees. Governance is very different from management.
     Name recognition, professional status and reputation do not always make for a good governing board member.
     Diversity and balance are key attributes of a successful governing board. Achieving both is the responsibility of the nominating committee.
     It is a myth that a position on the governing board is something that is earned. It is the association that is honored by the member who is willing to serve.

    In a nutshell, the role of the nomcom is not an easy one. I have seen it be met under fire before. In the end, I think trusting your fellow members who gave of their time and effort, and followed a well constructed procedure of selecting a critical set of thought leaders for your association is the most important. Remember – these individuals are also offering their personal time – no bonus check heading their way…..I would echo comments made that the community respect their opinions and the process that PASS has put forward is a solid one that not only is fair, but ensures that PASS board selection is not just about “popularity.”

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