Nominet chooses civil war over compromise by rejecting ex-BBC Trust chairman

Remaining .uk registry board members ignore demands of campaign that has already removed CEO


Nominet has chosen civil war over compromise, formally rejecting members' calls to install former BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons as chair of the .uk registry operator.

“After much careful consideration, the board has decided not to invite Sir Michael to be acting chair,” said Nominet's acting chairman Rob Binns in a letter to Nominet’s members on Monday. Instead, he said, the remaining board members would push ahead with their own recruitment process for a new chair, CEO, and executive director.

The decision was met with fury from Nominet members who just last month voted to oust Nominet’s CEO and chairman and remove three other board members because they were fed up with the organisation ignoring their views and pushing the not-for-profit registry into commercial markets.

That commercial push not only failed but saw .uk prices increase and charitable donations plummet. It also saw the board and senior management pay themselves huge salary increases at members’ expense. The PublicBenefit.uk campaign, which called for March's board vote, argued for a return to Nominet’s core operations and non-profit roots and narrowly won the vote 52.7 per cent to 47.3.

A significant part of the successful campaign was to install two seasoned executives – Sir Michael Lyons and internet infrastructure industry veteran Axel Pawlik – to Nominet’s board to ensure that reforms were carried out. But despite the result, the remnant Nominet board has refused to cede any control of the organisation.

Organizer of the PublicBenefit.uk campaign, Simon Blackler, made no attempt to hide his irritation. “I don't mind telling you that I am incredibly angry at the lost opportunity, both for Nominet and its members,” he told supporters in an email sent out shortly after the board’s decision was made public. “The board have snubbed the membership in the most absolute terms… It demonstrates EXACTLY the type of hubris and insulated thinking this whole campaign was about changing.”

Clarity needed

At the same time, a letter from Sir Michael and Pawlik to Nominet’s remnant board was published in which they warned: “We do not believe that you are currently in a strong enough position to begin recruiting new board members or a new CEO. Both require clarity about future mission and stability.”

This decision by Nominet is the latest in a series that have made it plain the remaining board members intend to dig in rather than agree to reform, effectively daring members to hold a second extraordinary general meeting (EGM) and vote them out, too. It’s not clear how the result of a second EGM would go, especially given the narrow result of the March round, but in his response Blackler urged supporters to answer a simple two-question survey to see how much support there was to fire the rest of the board.

“We've been patient and given the remnant board the benefit of the doubt and opportunity to prove us all wrong. I'm afraid that grace hasn't been rewarded,” he said. “If there's enough support we'll regroup, find new candidates and finish what we started.”

Blackler’s concern that the remaining board members would continue to ignore calls for reform has unfortunately proven to be accurate. Despite the fact that the registry's members had voted all three staff members off the board to remove the extra votes that enabled Nominet’s management to ignore member wishes, the remnant board’s first action was to bring back two other staff members to the board to give them a voting majority.

They then chose the .uk registry operations boss Eleanor Bradley as interim CEO, despite the fact that she was one of those who had been voted off the board last month, and was one of the main recipients of excessive bonuses. In her own post last week, Bradley outlined the changes she was planning to make in response to the EGM's outcome: it made no mention of any of the five main reform goals sought by the PublicBenefit.uk campaign. ®


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