Hello all, 

I have finally decided to subscribe to this mailing list, but I will endeavour 
to keep my monthly post limits down, as requested :-) 

== Who am I? ==

First, some background. My name is Chris Sherlock, and may be better known to 
some of you as Ta bu shi da yu (or Tbsdy lives) on Wikipedia. I was quite 
involved in Wikipedia many years ago, and I was involved in some fundamental 
aspects of Wikipedia during the time I was active - in particular, I initiated 
the Administrator’s Noticeboard and I created the [citation needed] tag. I was 
an administrator three times from memory, and attempted to fairly apply blocks, 
protect pages, mediate in disputes, and attempted to discuss and influence 
policy and guidelines, through consensus. I am a strong believer in the five 
pillars: Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, we write from a neutral point of view, 
we offer free content, we should treat each other with respect and civility, 
and we should use common-sense to achieve those ends. 

I am no longer active within Wikipedia. This is largely because I suffer from 
quite bad depression, and in the past it caused me to make mistakes on more 
than one occassion. The last mistake I made was when I objected to a signature 
being wikilinked to a non-existent user account; I rather stupidly created an 
account for this person and then de-redlinked it by creating a user page. I 
immediately revealed who I was on WP:AN and what I’d done, but unsurprisingly 
this was considered an egregious violation of WP:POINT. I was subsequently 
desysopped, and will forever more be seen as having left Wikipedia “under a 
cloud”. I am not complaining about this, this was the correct decision by those 
who made it at the time, and it is I who must alone take responsibility for my 
actions. But I feel that I need to disclose this and give some background as to 
who I am as I’ve not been on Wikipedia for many years. 

== Issues in the WMF ==

The Wikimedia Foundation has been going through a long period of turmoil. I 
have recently been critical of the direction in which it has taken and I feel 
that it is best if I put my concerns into writing. 

The WMF is a force for good in society. It’s why many, many people donate to 
Wikipedia every year. It’s why the Knight Foundation gives us grants. I think 
it’s important to understand why we command such a level of trust. The WMF has 
a very clear position on our guiding principles [1] - we believe in freedom and 
open source, and we want to ensure that all projects are accessible to every 
human being on the planet. To do this requires us to be extremely transparent 
in the way that we conduct ourselves. We also want to be accountable to our 
volunteers, donors and to those who use our resources. 

These are very, very important principles. They are non-negotiable, and without 
them the WMF cannot conduct day-to-day operations, much less have a vision for 
all of humanity to be given equal access to knowledge for the good of all. 

We aren’t doing a very good job right now. 

=== Issue 1: A lack of transparency at the Board level ===

Meetings by the Board of Trustees are held in secret. Whilst there will always 
be matters that must be discussed in confidence, this should in practice be 
very limited. I believe the problems with the openness of the board is 
highlighted quite well by reviewing the minutes of most of the meetings. Let’s 
look at the last meeting from November 7-8 [2]. This was the meeting in which 
James Heilman was removed from the Board. Yet I see absolutely no mention of 
any discussion of his removal whatsoever. To find anything, you need to look at 
the resolutions [3].

One of the issues that has been highly contentious has been the Knowledge 
Engine. This was a pivotal part of the vision and direction for the Wikimedia 
Foundation, and of course it was highly controversial. Yet I see *no* mention 
of it anywhere in any meeting minutes. This was a strategy driven by Lila and 
the Board, yet where is it mentioned? Was it discussed outside of these 

If so, then there is a problem with the meeting minutes. Under Florida Statute 
title XXXVI, chapter 617 deals with non-profit corporations. 617.1601 handles 
Corporate records. It specifically states that:

> "A corporation shall keep as records minutes of all meetings of its members 
> and board of directors, a record of all actions taken by the members or board 
> of directors without a meeting, and a record of all actions taken by a 
> committee of the board of directors in place of the board of directors on 
> behalf of the corporation.” [4]

Note that a record should be taken of all actions taken by members or board of 
directors *without a meeting*. This means that if some action is taken, even if 
it’s not in the BoT meeting, it must be recorded. There clearly were actions 
taken around the Knowledge Engine, yet it is not documented! Aside from 
violating the statute, it’s very bad that action around such an important area 
weren’t documented anywhere. This is a massive failure of transparency. 

In fact, the meeting minutes are awful no matter which way you look at them. 
They have limited to no information, they don’t explain what action was 
*actually* decided and they seem to be incomplete.

I would like to propose that all meetings be recorded, and that confidential 
portions be redacted and inaccessible from those who should not see them. But 
meetings should still be recorded. I believe that the current situation where 
James Heilman was removed could never have occurred if the meeting was indeed 
recorded. I am very, very suspicious that there is pressure brought to bare on 
members of the BoT and that certain members who are very influential can gain 
inordinate ability to push through their viewpoints to the disadvantage of 
other members. 

At the very least, I believe something like Robert’s Rules of Order should be 
followed at a minimum. The way that meetings are run within the Foundation are 

=== Issue 2: Secrecy and denigration of other members within the BoT ===

I fear that there is bullying and deliberate obfuscation within the Board of 
Trustees. I, like many others, was shocked at the language and character 
attacks used against James Heilman after he was removed from the Board of 

Jimmy Wales wrote the *most* shockingly savage, uncivil, rude and frankly 
hateful comment [5] I have seen in all my time on Wikipedia, and I saw a lot of 

> "[Questions asking why Heilman was removed from the board have] been answered 
> clearly. As a quick review - my vote to remove him was because of a pattern 
> of behavior and actions that I viewed as violating the trust and values of 
> the community. One example emerged clearly after he was removed - he made a 
> false claim about why he was removed, and I got a unanimous statement from 
> every board member involved that it was false. The community deserves better 
> than that. James has made a lot of noise about why he was dismissed which is 
> utter and complete bullshit. He wrote a nice piece for the Signpost about 
> transparency which implied that the board got rid of him for wanting more 
> transparency. Utter fucking bullshit.” 

When Jimmy was called out on this dreadful behaviour, he wrote that:

> "It isn't invective.  It is just a factual statement.  When I explain myself 
> in clear detail repeatedly and someone keeps insisting that I'm dodging the 
> question, I can only say: I've already explained that.”[6]

When James was removed from the Board, it was done in an incompetent and 
frankly appalling manner. Nobody advised James as to the exact incidents that 
caused him to lose their confidence. But yet members of the BoT felt that it 
was fine to cast aspersions on his character, yet did not answer questions why 
he was specifically removed. They are still refusing to tell him directly. 
Here’s an example email that was sent to this very mailing list:

> "I’ll tell you how I experienced it from my point of view: a few weeks ago, I 
> had to turn to the Board in a confidential and important matter for me. And 
> while writing my email, I felt that I probably should not write it as openly 
> and frankly as I would desire; I was unconvinced that it would be held in 
> confidence. I rewrote the mail because I had concerns about James' being on 
> the Board, as I had lost my trust in him. This is, I think many will agree, 
> not a healthy situation.” [7]

Yet here’s the thing. The one who wote this, Denny, cannot or will not point to 
any specific incident that led him or anyone else to believe that James 
couldn’t handle confidential information. And this is what he accuses James of 
violating - the confidence of the Board! Yet there has not been even a single 
incident that can lead anyone inside or outside the Board to believe this. 

So now the question is: was there someone within the BoT who was white-anting 
James? It seems rather like it. If the majority of the Board felt that they 
could not trust James, this cannot have come about independently. It’s very 
interesting to see in that same email that Denny wrote that:

> Based on some of the comments I have read, I wanted to explicitly address
> these rather, say, interesting conspiracy theories, from my perspective:
> -- James was not removed from the Board because he was demanding more
> transparency.
> -- James was not removed from the Board because of a difference in opinion
> about the strategy of the Foundation.
> -- James was not removed from the Board because of difference in opinion or
> disagreement about the governance of the Foundation.
> -- James was not removed from the Board because he was insisting to see
> some documents that the Board was withholding from him
> -- James was not removed from the Board because any third party wanted him
> removed (like a big pharma company who was unhappy with James on the Board
> and was promising a big donation if he is gone - I am just listing this
> because it was indeed mentioned.)
> -- James was not removed from the Board because he demanded more community
> input or was fighting for NPOV.
> -- James’ removal had nothing to do with the role and composition of
> community-elected vs appointed Board members.
> -- James was not removed from the Board because he dared to ask too many
> uncomfortable questions.
> -- James was not removed because he didn’t want to sign an NDA.

So basically, James was not removed for any just cause. There have been no 
reasons given as to why the Board lost confidence in him. Yet there is a clear 
pattern of intimidation and bad behaviour from various Board members. 

James, it appears, asked a lot of difficult questions about the actions of Lila 
and a number of others. This seems to have caused a lot of disquiet amongst the 
Board, but instead of taking action against Lila, et al. it was decided that 
James was to be the sacrificial lamb. Yet it appears now that James was 
entirely doing his duty correctly - his role was to ask these questions and 
ensure that the WMF was accountable. 

=== Issue 3: Accountability of members of the BoT ===

The removal of James Heilman now puts a very public and unfortunate stain on 
the WMF. James was one of the few people on the BoT to ask Lila about the 
Knowledge Engine. It was always, it is clear now, that the Knowledge Engine 
came from her. James asked a lot of questions about what it was and wasn’t, yet 
from what I can tell he was never given a satisfactory answer. The KE was kept 
from everyone, and it was only at the end of 2015 that it was ever revealed!

In the transcript of the Discovery team post-mortem with Lila, we get the 

“Lila: How do we explain the story now? The original idea was a broader 
concept. Never a crawler. We abandoned some ideas during the ideation phase, 
but we haven’t been clear what/when we abandoned."

Yet I believe one of the questions James (and others!) had asked was where this 
fit in to the overall WMF strategy. [8] From my viewpoint, James was trying to 
understand the strategy and direction of the WMF because *he was a member of 
the Board of Trustees*. That was his role! And yet it is clear now that by 
asking impertinent questions about the Knowledge Engine he made someone or 
several people very nervous. And so, it appears, he was removed.

This has been an absolute disaster for the WMF. There needs to be 
accountability. We need to know:

a. What was the scope of the Knowledge Engine?
b. When and where was it discussed within the BoT? What was discussed?
c. Why wasn’t it added to the strategy consultation report? Search is part of 
Wikimedia’s strategy, yet Lila says that original idea was a “broarder 
concept”. If so, then where it that concept expressed? 

Someone must be accountable for this debacle. Wikimedia has processes and tries 
very hard to be open and transparent as it sets it’s strategy. Yet the Board of 
Trustees has now shown that they feel that not only must they set the 
direction, but they don’t even have to communicate the plans for going foward! 
And not only do they seem to be setting the direction for the WMF independently 
of things like the strategy consultation sessions, but they large ignore the 
many other issues that need to be addressed. 

Lila, to her credit, sort of acknowledged this as a problem:

> "It was my mistake to not initiate this ideation on-wiki. Quite honestly, I 
> really wish I could start this discussion over in a more collaborative way, 
> knowing what I know today. Of course, that’s retrospecting with a firmer 
> understanding of what the ideas are, and what is worthy of actually 
> discussing. In the staff June Metrics meeting in 2015, the ideation was 
> beginning to form in my mind from what I was learning through various 
> conversations with staff. I had begun visualizing open knowledge existing in 
> the shape of a universe. I saw the Wikimedia movement as the most motivated 
> and sincere group of beings, united in their mission to build a rocket to 
> explore Universal Free Knowledge. The words “search” and “discovery” and 
> “knowledge” swam around in my mind with some rocket to navigate it. However, 
> “rocket” didn’t seem to work, but in my mind, the rocket was really just an 
> engine, or a portal, a TARDIS, that transports people on their journey 
> through Universal Free Knowledge.”

From the start, it appears that Lila identified a problem, but then neglected 
to consult with those around her. All the strategy sessions on the planet won’t 
help if the person at the top will not openly communicate their ideas. And they 
cannot be corrected if they get it wrong, or at least have it wrong enough that 
it de-focuses from what is really needed to be done. 

That last point is important, incidentally. Wikimedia has many, many issues. So 
far, all these issues have been seemingly derailed because Lila and others felt 
that they could focus on search. Search was *always* something that everyone 
agreed needed to be addressed. But it’s not a panacea. 

The consequences of such secrecy and an inability to listen, or to consult 
properly, have now had tragic consequences. There have been over 12 people 
leave the WMF to go onto other paid jobs. Pillars of the WMF, such as Siko, 
have left because they don’t feel they can work in a place that isn’t open, 
transparent and with people who are accountable for their actions. There has 
been negative press, and many of our community feel deeply disenfranchised by 
the acts performed, directly and indirectly, by members of the BoT. 

There must be accountability. To start with, James needs to be advised why he 
was removed. If there was no cause for him to be removed, which is legal under 
Florida law, then he should be reinstated. An investigation should be done 
about who knew what about the Knowledge Engine debacle. The various concerns of 
the Funds Dissemination Committee don’t ever appear to have been addressed 
properly, and I note that there was a complaint with the FDC Ombudsperson; so 
that needs to be addressed forthwith, and an explanation given to the wider 
community about problems around grants and grant applications. 

I would personally like to see better accountability around direction and 
strategy. The BoT must be accountable and in all possible cases their 
discussions about WMF business should be known to the wider community. If some 
Trustees feel that they cannot abide by greater scrutiny, then I would like to 
see them vacate their position. Obviously for issues that must be confidential, 
then that is another matter. But it should be at the very least noted that 
confidential matters were discussed, and as much context given as possible. 

I would also like auditors to go through Wikimedia to give us some assurance 
that funds have been spent and allocated correctly.

== Summing it all up ==

So to sum up the issues here:

1. The Wikimedia Board of Trustees is not meeting its own charter. There is a 
total *lack* of transparency, much of what is done by Board members is done in 
secrecy and without the input of the community. The Board does not publish 
adequate minutes. It has very little accountability. 

2. There is intimidation and denigration of members of the Board of Trustees. 
This has very clearly happened to James, people are still slighting his good 
character and yet it has never been made clear, in any way, why he was removed 
from the WMF. The *founder* of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, thinks it’s OK to abuse 
James. At least one Board member has besmirched his good name, but will not or 
cannot give specific examples as to why he felt he couldn't trust James with 
confidential information. Denny says that others on the Board feel the same 
way, but yet again I say: James never gave anyone any cause to believe this. 

This is a very important and serious issue. Staff have repeatedly mentioned 
they feel intimidated. This denigration and intimidation is beginning to 
permeate the WMF. It is a cancer eating away at the WMF. It is caused by 
closed-thinking, a lack of transparency and a sense amongst some in 
top-management that they are entitled to do anything they want, and that they 
don’t need to listen to anyone except their fellow board members. 

3. The Board must be made accountable. The debacle that is the Knowledge Engine 
has done untold damage to the WMF, and it must be independently reviewed and a 
report given as to what happened, and who is responsible for the damage it has 
caused us. Those at the top should also be accountable for their actions. Jimmy 
should, at the very least, apologise for his dreadful behaviour on the Wiki 
towards James. The Board should be accountable for the removal of James 
Heilman, and in accounting for their actions should be able to clearly explain 
the cause of them to lose trust in him, and then subsequently remove him from 
the Board. Meetings must be made more open, and those on the BoT who don’t want 
more scrutiny should be asked to excuse themselves from the Board.

None of this will be easy. None of this has been easy to write! But I write 
this open letter to raise issues I feel I cannot keep quiet about, and to urge 
the community and those in the Wikimedia Foundation to do the difficult by 
necessary actions needed to restore faith in the WMF.

Chris Sherlock

1. https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_Foundation_Guiding_Principles 

2. https://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Minutes/2015-11-07 

3. https://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Resolution:James_Heilman_Removal 




7. https://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikimedia-l/2016-January/080827.html 


9. https://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Minutes/2015-06-28 
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