Wikimedia Foundation bins community-elected trustee

Also appoints former Google exec to another seat


The Wikimedia Foundation has ousted a community-elected board trustee, whose seat now lies empty. At the same time, it has also appointed two hand-picked trustees for two other vacant spots: a former Google executive with a controversial record and a Mountain View CFO. These are just two changes that were announced quietly over the Christmas dead period.

James Heilman, a Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) trustee elected by the Wikipedia community last year, was dumped without explanation after a board of trustees vote. An accompanying statement simply stated he lacked the confidence of his fellow trustees.

According to Heilman, he had refused to walk and so was pushed:

“I was given the option of resigning over the last few weeks. As a community elected member I see my mandate as coming from the community which elected me and thus declined to do so. I saw such a move as letting down those who elected me,” he wrote on Jimmy Wales’ talk page.

The Wikistrategies newsletter notes that Heilman’s original election to the WMF was a “referendum” on the WMF’s recent actions, including its attempts to enforce the use of software created by the foundation that the community of volunteer contributors didn’t want.

Heilman hasn't been replaced yet. There will either be a community vote to recommend a new candidate to the board, or they will use the fourth-placed candidate from last year's vote, María Sefidari.

The foundation’s board has nine seats: four appointees; three community-elected; two selected by chapters and related groups; and one permanently reserved for the Líder Máximo, Jimmy Wales.

As for the two new appointees, they're former Google staffing exec Arnnon Geshuri, who's now with Tesla, and CFO at Mountain View firm Bracket Computing, Kelly Battles. They're replacing Stu West and Jan-Bart de Vreede, whose terms ran out on December 31, 2015.

Geshuri figured prominently in the Silicon Valley "staff poaching" scandal while a “senior staffing strategist” at Google.

He was the executive who promptly terminated the contract* (“within the hour”) of a colleague who attempted to hire a member of staff from Apple. This is fair labour market practice but according to court documents had incurred the wrath of Steve Jobs, who then promptly wrote directly to Google’s then-CEO Eric Schmidt.

Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe were amongst the companies who operated alleged informal reciprocal no-hire agreements, which, according to a US Department of Justice complaint launched in 2010, were anticompetitive. This led to a subsequent class action suit, which the big four eventually settled out of court, paying out over $400m.

Fundraiser? I hardly know etc

The foundation has raised a quarter of a billion dollars since the start of the decade, not counting its latest aggressive annual funding drive, which concluded in December. In June 2015, the date for which the most recent accounts are available, the WMF had $27m in surplus cash and cash equivalents. However, the operational cost of hosting the Wikipedia servers is relatively small, at around $2.5m a year. Since the workers who write and edit the pages are unpaid, the foundation has been able to create a burgeoning class of paid foundation employees, whose salaries swallow most of its estimated $55m annual expenses.

Wikipedia’s own plucky newsletter, Signpost, has an account of the foundation's terminations and appointments here. Signpost reports disquiet amongst the WMF’s 240 staff. Community manager and VP of the Wikimedia Australia chapter Liam Wyatt suggests that the paid foundation and the unpaid community are going separate ways.

“I suspect that the major strategic direction has already been privately determined. In short, it appears there will be an attempt to create the internet’s Next Big Thing™ at the expense of improving the great thing that we already have,” Wyatt writes. ®

* This emerged during a class action lawsuit, High-Tech Employee Antitrust Litigation, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California 11-cv-2509


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