Nominet members have elected one of its leadership's sharpest critics to the board in a divisive election that some feared could jeopardise the not-for-profit UK domain registry's future in its current form.
The results will again raise serious questions over Nominet structure. Some members have been calling for the way it operates to be changed.
One such member is Jim Davies, a solicitor who the board had taken the extraordinary step of asking members to vote against. He was elected yesterday as a non-executive director. He has been a vocal opponent of the way Nominet adminsters domain disputes, including its recent myspace.co.uk decision, which was overturned this week by an independent appeals panel.
Gordon Dick, who the company did not lobby against, was reelected to the non-executive position he has held since 2004.
Also at its AGM in London yesterday, the executive failed to pass changes to the Nominet constitution that would have granted it powers to appoint two unelected board members. "Special resolution 6" was approved by about 60 per cent of voters, short of the 75 per cent required. A series of other special resolutions were all passed near-unanimously.
Turnout was slightly higher than at recent elections, but still poor at just over 15 per cent.
Davies was one of three candidates who were against special resolution 6. The board argued that the change was essential to ensure that the board is qualified to govern the company and so told members to approve it. Chief executive Lesley Cowley also said that the existing board structure, together with low turnouts, makes Nominet "vulnerable to capture" by parties that might act in their own interests rather than those of the 3,000 members.
The question of what to do with Nominet's £15m surplus loomed large over the election. With the election of Davies, the long-running row over whether to reduce prices for .co.uk web addresses looks set to intensify.
Critics charged that special resolution 6 was a power grab that would effectively mean Nominet would be controlled by unelected directors.
Emily Taylor, Nominet's legal and policy director emphasised today that the members' wishes will be respected. "It's not a question of disappointment...we have to listen to the members," she said.
On the question of whether the board will again attempt to restructure how Nominet is governed, she added: "The governance is something that any board will be constantly looking at."
Non-executive director Sebastien Lahtinen, whose position was not up for election this year, did express frustration at the results. "I'm disappointed," he said. "I still believe appointed board members would be a good thing, but the problem is engagement with the membership."
He said he believes the continued low turnout was a big factor in the results. "It was very close between Jim Davies and Dickie Armour. I'm sure we'll be having some interesting board meetings with Jim. Ask me in a year's time how they go."
When we asked Lahtinen about how the board's failure to win enough member support for special resolution 6 might impact the future running of the .co.uk registry, he played down the significance. "Nominet has always had these kind of issues where people have very different opinions. It's not going to have effects on anyone's domain names tomorrow."
Jim Davies could not be reached for comment on his victory today. In his pre-election statements he denied any suggestion that he wants to radically change Nominet's structure, but said he will push for the surplus to be reduced through price cuts. ®