James Beal 2016 Q&A: Group 2

[Note: Candidates were limited to 300 words for each answer.]

5. The org and its projects have been exponentially growing the last couple of years. So much so even, that it seems no longer feasible for it to run on 100% volunteer efforts. Do you agree with this? If yes, and there was room in the budget for a paid contractor for a year, where and in what capacity do you think someone would be most useful?

I definitely agree that we need to supplement our volunteer effort with contractors and as soon as feasible, employees. I am a member of Systems and Accessibility, Design and Technology and I am aware that both of these groups need more effort than we currently have available. I do know our Finance committee needs additional help. However, I don’t know the state of all the other committees in the organisation.

I believe that we do need, in time, to have full time employees. To do that, we need to have significant reserves to ensure that we can pay their salaries, server hosting, buy new hardware and pay other expenses for at least a year. When AD&T’s first contractor was announced last year, a few people had an unreasonably low expectation of how much they should be paid. To pay two senior developer salaries and pay for hosting and refreshing hardware I think we need to be raising about $400,000 a year with at least the same amount held as a reserve.

Employing people is also significantly more complex than hiring contractors. However there are advantages in having the expectation that the only paid work people should be doing is for the OTW, particularly having guarantees as to the number of hours worked. However, with those advantages come obligations, and we need to prepare to meet them.

6. Do you plan to increase communication with the ordinary members who aren’t involved with the inner workings of the OTW?

As a volunteer, I do think that in general that the communications are pretty reasonable. I would be interested to know an example of some information that came to light at a later date that should have been made public sooner, so that we can improve on those areas.

The minutes from the board meetings are available to everyone. I do understand that there are moves afoot to reduce the number of synchronous meetings given the various timezones. However I do expect that decisions from the board to be broadcast however they come about. The monthly newsletters have a summary of the work each of the various committees are doing. I would be open to suggestions as to what information people would like to hear more about.

7. One of the worst issues plaguing fandom right now it racism – many fans of color feel unsafe and unwelcome when faced with the constant degradation and exploitation of characters of color in fanworks, and the way the voices of fans of color are ignored when raised in critique, and downright harassment and racial violence from white fans. This isn’t specific to one fandom, it exists across ALL of them. When fans of color do critique authors in response to painful racism in their fics, one of the most common responses is a to essentially declare us bullies who are harassing authors in an attempt to censor them. In fact in some cases they even suggest if we don’t like fanfic that continues to alienate us from fan communities, that we should simply be the ones to go elsewhere, as if we aren’t regularly driven out of fandom spaces already.

That being established (unfortunately I’m not able to cite sources in this format, so hopefully my lived experience and that of my fellow fans of color will suffice), I’d like to know if the candidates are prepared to address the needs of fans of color who are tired of running across blatantly hateful and racist fics across an endless supply of fandoms, with no warning and no tags, as well as accusations of bullying when critique of such fics is offered? Where do you draw the line between free speech and hate speech? Would you consider attempting to ensure that more fans of color are specifically sought out to be part of various committees of AO3 in particular to help make it more welcoming to ALL fans? And lastly would you make such demographics available publicly for the sake of transparency?

As a white, middle aged male this question is going to be hard for me to answer. I and the other candidates do not condone racism.

The issue as I understand it is one in a conflict of core values. The OTW was set up partly as a reaction to censorship of fanworks on other platforms and therefore freedom of speech is one of its core values.

My understanding is that you strongly value “not giving racist people a platform to spread their content” and given your position I understand that. However, others may wish to ensure that other minorities that they find reprehensible do not have a platform. And so I am in the position of defending the publication of content including some that is to you offensive.

What can the OTW do to help: Promote tools that help ensure that you do not see content that you find offensive. To answer the question of why this is not core code: it needs to be done client-side (on users’ computers) because the more we specialise a page for each user the more resources that takes. It may be possible to move some of that functionality into the core code. However we would need significant amount of work to be implemented and maintained.

Regarding demographics: the org deliberately knows as little as possible about its members and volunteers.

Some last thoughts as I have run into the wordcount limit:

8. In your bio you wrote that you think the OTW needs to have a way of recalling Board members. What do you mean by that? As in forcing an end to their term? Would this be in the event of a vote of no confidence, and if so, how do you see that working?

The ideas here are controversial and will not find universal support. We will be constrained by what is possible under Delaware law. However, the following would give a flavor of what I am trying to achieve. The basic steps are:

  1. Triggering a vote.
  2. The vote taking place.
  3. Resolving the vote.

Some sample details of each step:

  1. 5% of the membership request (within a 30 day period) a vote of no confidence either in an individual or in the complete Board.
  2. A vote of no confidence would be announced and one email of a set length from each side of the argument would be sent to every member of the OTW. After 30 days a vote requiring a simple majority and greater than 30% turnout would be required.
  3. In the case of the whole Board being recalled, a new interim Board would be formed from the chairs and members of the Finance, Legal, Strategic Planning, AD&T and Volunteers & Recruiting committees. A new election would be held within 4 months.

The Elections committee must be independent from the Board. The Board must not have the power to remove a current Elections committee chair without automatically having to pass a vote of confidence in the whole Board. The Board must not have the power to remove the independence of the Elections committee without passing a vote of confidence.

The Elections committee must be able to run an election without the consent of the Board. One way this could be done is by obliging the Board to deposit with our elections service provider an amount sufficient to run two elections at all times, and that the Elections team has access to the voter rolls whenever they’re needed.

9. You talked about how the Archive needs to move from a purely volunteer-based organisation to one that employs contractors and staff members. Do you think there is a risk that doing so would cause the Archive to lose its “run by fans, for fans” focus?

I do believe that there is a risk to losing it’s “run by fans, for fans” focus. To mitigate this I would point out that only committee members can be elected to the Board and that becoming a contractor or employee removes eligibility to be a committee member (although they can be invited to attend meetings as a guest).

I additionally said that “current volunteers if they have relevant skills and experience should be given consideration in preference” and I believe that this can help ensure that we are still “run by fans, for fans”.

I am proud all that has been done by all the volunteers in each of the various projects. However, I feel that the time is right to have dedicated people who are paid by the organisation to spend concentrated time on our projects.