A few days ago the notice was sent out to OSMF members on this year’s annual general meeting (AGM) which will happen in mid December.
In addition to the usual board elections - which are covering 4 board seats this year and for which 12 candidates have been nominated who will provide their manifestos and answers to the official questions (if you are a candidate you might want to look at my guidance for candidates) there will be a number of resolutions being voted on by the members. Since the time before the votes begin will probably be fairly busy with discussions of the board candidates and their goals and qualifications after the publication of their manifestos and answers on November 30 i will use the time now to discuss the resolutions. You can also find the full details in a PDF supplied by the board.
There are going to be 7 votes on changes of the OSMF Articles of Association (AoA) - which are called special resolutions and one ordinary resolution (which is essentially just a formal decision of the members instructing the board and working groups to do as said).
The AoA changes can only be voted on by normal members (that is members who have registered as such and had to provide their address for that) and require a 75 percent approval by those participating in the vote. That is a high hurdle and therefore none of the resolutions is probably sure to be approved. Yet any significant change in the way the OSMF operates will require an AoA change. So these are not just meaningless tweaks of internal procedures, their approval or non-approval could have significant effects on the balance of power and influences within the organization.
Note all of the resolutions up for vote probably would have a clear majority both among the OSMF members and within the OSM community. But due to the 75 percent hurdle this does not mean that they will pass. This could lead to the strange effect (and this happened in the past) that the outcome of the vote contradicts the wishes of a clear majority of the members. And finding in any larger group of people 75 percent non-conservatives who do not primarily want things to stay as they are is not an easy task.
- Vote 8 is an ordinary resolution - which only requires a 50 percent approval rate. But it also will not come into effect right away if approved, it would have to be implemented by the board and the MWG first. This 8th vote is possibly the most important of all since it is about opening the OSMF membership for community members without the need to pay a membership fee independent of the current fee waiver criteria (financial hardship and technical payment difficulties). The only criterion is supposed to be if the applicant has made sizeable contributions to OpenStreetMap - which should pose no problem for any active community member.
This change has the potential to significantly widen the OSMF membership in the future which could also significantly shift the balance of power within the organization to those actually carrying the project - the local hobby mappers all over the world. This will of course depend on if people actually make use of this option. They still will need to sign up to become a member.
I would highly recommend every OSMF member to vote in favour of this resolution because requiring a payment for people to have a say in the OSMF has always been a rather strange and problematic construction and widening the membership significantly is the best prevention against hostile takeover attempts.
I will now also explain all the votes on special resolutions and give my recommendation on how to vote
Vote 1 is about increasing the time span during which the board can reject a membership application after the initial signup. This should IMO be approved. But it also should be clear that this will only have relatively minor effects if the balance of interests represented in the board stays as it is right now. Last year with the GlobalLogic incident the problem was not the lack of time but the inability or unwillingness of the board to make a decision. What we’d really need is a board willing to make decisions in the interest of the OSM community even (or especially) if that means being tough on corporate interests and influence attempts.
Vote 2 is about increasing the time span a member has to be a member of the OSMF to be allowed to participate in votes from 30 days to 90 days. This should IMO be approved as well. This will reduce the incentive for short term campaigns for new member signups immediately before the elections. OSMF members should have a long term interest in the project and therefore a three month lead is quite appropriate.
Vote 3 introduces a lead time for an OSMF member to become a candidate for the board. Right now people could in principle sign up as OSMF member right before they nominate themselves as a candidate. This change would introduce about half a year of lead time (180 days) for becoming a candidate for the board. I think this is a good idea - if for no other reason that to prevent non-serious nominations. This year only one candidate would not have met this requirement. Therefore i recommend voting yes on this.
I see all three of these changes in particular in combination with the widening of the membership that i hope will result from vote 8. If being an OSMF member becomes standard for active community members the lead times introduced by these changes are non-problematic and would not result in undue exclusion of people.
Vote 4 is about changing the election system for the OSMF board to fixed two year terms instead of the current system of variable terms. This has been discussed at length and while there are advantages and disadvantages of the various options this solution is relatively simple and avoids the current problem of term lengths varying strongly between 1 and 4 years and this way creating a lot of imbalance. So my recommendation is voting yes on this - also because of the votes 5 and 6 discussed below.
Vote 5 and Vote 6 are about introducing term limits for board members. These votes are designed so they will - if approved - only have a practical effect if vote 4 is also approved. So if you are in favour of term limits you must also vote yes on vote 4. Vote 5 would introduce term limits that reset. Reset means once a person is not on the board any more for a number of years they become eligible again even after having reached the term limit originally. On osmf-talk i called this the lex Mikel because for the foreseeable future Mikel would be the only person who could potentially profit from the concept of a reset (unless you assume that Frederik might look for a comeback - which he has however already indicated not to). You could also call it Russian style term limits in reference to a similar concept being in place (and famously being used) for the Russian presidency. Vote 6 would then remove the reset rule of vote 5 to get to strict term limits that do not reset and do not allow for a later comeback. This is kind of weird because to get to strict term limits we would have to achieve approval on vote 5 on resetting term limits as well as on vote 6. So i am somewhat annoyed by the way the board has designed votes 4, 5 and 6 in a way that requires a triple 75 percent majority to introduce strict term limits. Discussion on this can be found on osmf-talk.
Why are term limits important? This has been discussed at length in the past. I won’t try to summarize the whole discussion here - IMO the most significant arguments are (a) to ensure a turnover and rejuvenation of the board (b) to reduce the tendencies of the OSMF members and the board developing into an old boys club encapsulated from the OSM community in general and (c) to reduce the attractiveness a position on the board has for egomaniacs and self centered narcissists and thereby increase the chances of substantially competent and capable people and finally (d) to reduce the risk of corruption. And i don’t think not giving members the option to allow voting people to the board for a duration of more than six years is in any way a problematic constraint. Instead it shows an awareness of the risks and the damage this could do to the project and a willingness to prevent that.
- Vote 7 is a small cosmetic change with no practical effect. I recommend voting yes on this.
Overall summary: My recommendation is to vote yes on all resolutions. In particular on Vote 8. But also on Vote 4, Vote 5 and Vote 6 (and it is of particular importance to vote yes on all three).