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Ethics and Power

January 13, 2012

Power corrupts.

A famous quote, and it’s one of the the most true quotes I’ve seen in my life. When someone has power, they develop a sense of importance, their decisions seem to be more “correct” and their arrogance grows.

It’s a sign of being human, and we have try to build in checks and balances into our governments and corporations to limit the abuses of power. We’re not any more perfect than our systems, and we continue to see our systems, and people, fall down.

Being elected to a position confers power to an individual. It gives them responsibility, but it also seems to dull them in some way. The elected individual finds it harder to make the “right” decision, to stand up in an ethical way over time. It becomes common to justify their choices when they shouldn’t need to. A good ethical, moral decision shouldn’t need much justification; it should stand on its own, It’s the rare individual that can stand up for their beliefs in the face of criticism and follow their moral compass.

The organization that I was proud to join a decade ago as a professional working with SQL Server has completely fallen down for me in many ways, and the leaders elected to positions have time and time again chosen to set their ethics aside for various reasons.

“Let it not be said that no one cared, that no one objected once its realized that our liberties and wealth are in jeopardy. – Ron Paul “

We don’t have wealth, or perhaps even liberties involved with our professional organization, but we do have pride, or we should have pride, and once again I have none.

As the appointments were announced for the board of directors, I was not surprised, but saddened. An election was completed recently, with six people deciding to run, to devote their time and resources to serving the community.  Three were elected, by a narrow margin, and there were two resignations. With the election so recent, with so many others declining to volunteer for the board, one would think that it would be easy to appoint the fourth and fifth highest vote recipients to the board.

How easy would that be? These were people approved by the nomination committee, validated by the community and voted for. Apparently the board felt that the nomination committee and the community must not have good judgment.

Sri Sridharan, a friend, a volunteer, and an energetic worker on behalf of the Dallas community was not chosen. He has organized three SQL Saturdays, and was instrumental in bringing the SQL Rally to Dallas. He decided to run for the board of directors, something that few have done. Regardless of the qualifications of others, there is no argument that Sri is qualified for the board.

UPDATE (2012/1/16): To be clear, I do not argue that James Rowland-Jones or Kendal Van Dyke are qualified, and I have no complaint with their qualifications.

Apparently the board, led by its President, does not agree, and decided that someone the community wanted less, and someone that declined to run for the board, were better choices. I have no complaints against those appointed, but they did not deserve the position more so than Sri.

I can only look at this as an ethical lapse by the board, taking their personal feelings towards a candidate into consideration over qualifications and community support. All those directors that voted for these appointments fall into one of the failings of elected officials, and they certainly do not represent me.

It’s a sad day, one that has me viewing the organization as one that lacks professionalism, and simply an Association for SQL Server, without the P in front.

Sri, my friend, my apologies to you as a member of the SQL Server community, and I can only empathize with you, having been in a similar situation.

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19 Comments
  1. I understand how you feel, Steve. I have long ago given up on PASS as something that I could invest my hopes into. After the Matt Morollo fiasco, I simply couldn’t believe PASS would deny its members the opportunity to consider you as a candidate for the Board. I pretty much wrote PASS off at that point and tried to refrain from having any further comments on the organization. (We’re a free country after all and PASS can do whatever they want.)

    I recently started a SQL Server community in Connecticut (please allow me a shameless plug — http://meetup.com/sqlhartford). I have a good deal of experience with this having founded the Philadelphia SQL Server User Group and being asked by PASS to be the Executive Chair of the Chapter Program.

    The idea of being a PASS chapter never even entered my mind. Again, I am not opposed to PASS – but I don’t see any reason to associate with them and PASS is irrelevant to fostering and serving a local technical community in my opinion.

    It’s sad. I once had a great deal of hope for PASS.

    I agree that Sri was an appropriate candidate for selection.

    Chuck

  2. Steve,

    When most of us see something happen that we don’t agree with, we raise an eyebrow or shake our head in disbelief. Then, we quietly go back to whatever it was that we were doing before. I saw the announcement from PASS before reading this post, and my immediate reaction was, “Well, that just doesn’t seem right”. But I didn’t say anything about it.

    On behalf of all of us who raised an eyebrow or shook our head in disbelief but stopped there, thank you. You had the guts to publicly say what I was thinking (only you said it much more eloquently than my internal monologue), and you said it well.

    I cannot improve on what you’ve stated, so I’ll just say this: I agree.

  3. Hey Steve,

    I have to say that I’m dumbfounded by this board decision.

    Regards,

    Greg

  4. Way to go, a great read. Thank you Steve.

  5. Thanks, Hugo

  6. Keith permalink

    Absolutely agree with you here. I didn’t even vote in the recent election as it seemed pointless when the board will just do what they want anyway and putting good people in a bad org just corrupts the good people. Sri is probably better off not being a part of THAT group.

  7. Steve, I don’t believe this is an ethical lapse or an abuse of power. Yes, from your point of view what happened was not democratic; but I would like to put the case that from an international perspective PASS is a complete failure as a democracy anyway and this is a necessary move to address that failing. I hope it’s the beginning of an attempt by PASS to reform itself so it can become a true international organisation.

    I’ve blogged about my thoughts on this issue here:

    http://cwebbbi.wordpress.com/2012/01/14/pass-time-to-do-a-lot-more-than-change-the-by-laws/

    To further illustrate my case, let me ask you two questions:

    1) Consider Germany. It’s about 1/3 the size of the US, is a rich, developed economy and has a thriving, long-established SQL Server community that has as far as I know always been aligned to PASS. I went to my first PASS European Conference in 2004 or 2005, I think. Based on that fact you’d expect there to be at least one or two democratically elected members of the PASS board who are German, wouldn’t you? There aren’t. Is this a failure on the part of the members of the German SQL Server community to engage with PASS, or the result of a failure on the part of PASS and the way it is constituted to engage with the German community?

    2) Let’s imagine we’re 20 years in the future. Some things haven’t changed: the PASS constitution, for instance, and the fact that SQL Server is a leading database. However let’s imagine that China is now the dominant economic power in the world, that a Chinese company has bought Microsoft, that SQL Server development has moved to China and that the democratically-elected PASS board is completely composed of Chinese SQL Server professionals because that’s where the biggest concentration of SQL Server users is. The PASS Summit takes place in Beijing and all the sessions are in Mandarin. Now let’s imagine that you, as an American DBA, get an email in your inbox (in Chinese, but by this stage you’ve managed to learn a bit of Chinese because it’s important for your job) telling you about the upcoming PASS elections. Are you really going to be interested in taking an active part in this organisation, or will you feel disengaged from it? Would you bother voting if you knew no-one from the US would ever make it onto the Board to represent your views? Is this maybe how the average German (or British, or French, or Chinese, or Indian) DBA feels about PASS today, that it’s an American organisation, run by Americans for their benefit, and that while it does a lot of great work internationally the leadership is not representative of the international SQL Server community?

    In my blog post I describe how North American dominance of the Board creates a vicious circle which explains its failure to become a true international organisation. I’m also pretty clear that I’m as pro-democracy and checks-and-balances as you are, but that PASS needs to reform itself along democratic lines to ensure that international communities have a voice. I don’t think this would ever have happened if PASS had been left to its own devices and that would have been to the detriment of all of us. I hope you can see my point of view and help me press the Board to make the changes that are necessary.

    • Chris,

      You are changing the argument to suit your purposes. No issue with that and I shall address my comments to re: you post at that post.

      If PASS was going to have more international representation, they could have appointed James, or anyone else, to the board and given them a vote. They can change the size of the board up to 17 directors, so they could expand it, and add international directors. They could have appointed two international directors. They instead chose to skip the person vetted by the Nomination Committee, and voted on by the members, and pick the next person along with an international person.

      They did not because of personal feelings about the candidate, feelings they hid behind an NDA. The board, despite numerous changes over the years, continues to make unethical decisions for personal reasons. Did you know we had a President serve an extra year once? Just so the Executive Vice President would leave the board and not be President.

      I stand by my statement this was an unethical decision.

    • Mike Hilsher permalink

      Chris,

      It’s the fault of the members of the German community. Period. If members of a “community” need to be specially singled out and with concessions outside the normal democratic process then they are not members of the community are they? You need to make up you mind whether you want something to be democratic or have special rules to serve certain interest groups. If your by-laws say that you will have a democratically elected board then that’s the process. Honestly an ethical individual would not accept such an appointment.

  8. Someone pointed out to me that this could be perceived as a note that either Kendal or James are not suited to their appointment, nor am I saying they should not be on the board.

    I am questioning the choice of excluding Sri, someone that was vetted by the committee and voted on by the community in the very immediate past.

  9. I know JRJ and he’s a truly amazing resource. The PASS board will do well to have him on board. Kenal is also great value.
    I’ve seen a number of posts where people say that doing good community things isn’t necessarily the right qualification for the board.
    But in Sri’s case, he’s just been put forward for a board post by the nomination committee. So they must have thought that he also was suitable from a board point of view.
    If you have two candidates that the nom com thought were suitable, and the community have also voted on them within the last few weeks, it’s a tough call to then make a different appointment for an immediate vacancy.

    • I would agree with you Greg. If this were 6 months from now, I’d have no complaints. But now, right after the election, with notice that those vacancies would be filled, doesn’t make sense.

  10. I’m really disappointed in the board. This sends the wrong signal to the membership, especially those that volunteer their valuable time.

    Those of us that are members of NTSSUG recognize the leadership capabilities of Sri and feel that he should have had a chance on the national level to display his talents.

  11. SqlNightOwl permalink

    I hadn’t been following this issue. As a member of NTSSUG I’ve seen the leadership Sri has exhibited. He was and is an excellent choice for the PASS BoD. If we wanted to improve the international perspective then I can think of few choices that would be more capable of spanning that gap. As an immigrant Sri does bring an international perspective. Yes, expand the board with several international candidates We could even go so far as setting available positions along geographical regions.

    This takes nothing away from James Rowland-Jones or Kendal Van Dyke. Both are eminently qualified and are excellent candidates. Let them run and have the community decide.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. PASS: Time to do a lot more than change the by-laws « Chris Webb's BI Blog
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