Why Have a Nom Com?

I don’t want to get too deeply involved in the complaints and struggles of PASS, but I also want to ensure we have a healthy community. I want to have us continue to grow and prosper as data professionals who work with SQL Server. PASS has a mission, and it does help our user groups, SQL Saturdays, and members thrive as a group.

I also want to say that I think PASS does lots of good things, and there are good people involved. Props for the good things, and I’ll make it a point to point them out more.


Every year we have a set of candidates for the PASS board, who will help guide the organization through the next few years. We have had board members who did  well, and board members who didn’t. Overall, the organization may move forward, or it may stall, but I haven’t really seen anyone damage PASS through their actions.

To be clear, I have liked most of the people who have served and consider most of them friends. I’d be happy to sit down and have a drink with most of them, and I think they all had the community’s best interests at heart. No one made decisions to maliciously hurt the organization. I thank them all for their volunteer time and efforts.

However let’s not confuse appreciation with acceptance. Your best intentions do not imply competence or success. Criticism is not a personal attack, but rather an understanding that the process and system have bugs. If you can’t handle that, don’t serve.

I’ve wandered a bit from my title, but for a reason. The process for allowing candidates has changed over time and while I think the NomCom served a purpose when it was created, I wonder if that’s the case now. I saw a note recently that candidates need to meet a minimum criteria, and then they are evaluated by the committee.

If someone passes the minimum criteria, shouldn’t they be on the ballot. That certainly hasn’t been the case, but really, why have a committee? It can serve no other purpose than to influence voting by ranking candidates or removing candidates from the process that the committee doesn’t like. That dislike can be for personal reasons, a non-disclosed issue about the candidate, or some reason they aren’t qualified, whatever that means.

However if I certify I will travel, if I can speak English, work with SQL Server, and if I have some volunteer record, then stick me on. Well, not me, but anyone else.

I know some people worry we might have 25 people running for 3 slots, and then oh no, what will we do? How can the voters decide? Listen, if we ever have 25 people running for 3 slots, I think that’s a good day in the community. I’d view that as a win, not as a problem.

The point I’d make is there are no real decisions being made by the board that require some special training that the board members somehow have. We entrust the running of many civic decisions to people with no real training in some area, and I see no reason why the PASS board is any different. Any reasonably intelligent DBA can listen to information, ask questions, and make a decision.

In fact, I’d argue that while everyone that has served on the board has worked in the technical field, and probably had some success, they aren’t necessarily qualified to lead a non-profit with $1m+ in revenue. At least not more qualified than you or any other member of the community.

Even me.

Let’s grow up a bit. Let’s recognize that the board is a part of the community, and keep it that way. If someone wants to run, meets the criteria, let them run. Anything else smacks of attempts to shape and control the organization in some way.

Any way, whether good or bad, is unnecessary.

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8 Responses to Why Have a Nom Com?

  1. Rob Farley says:

    Hi Steve,

    I want to suggest that perhaps the NomCom has a bit of a different role – one that has changed somewhat since 2010, and is like an advisory service for the candidates.

    For example – in 2013, there were more candidates that ran for election than made it to the slate. Not because the NomCom disqualified them, but because after having the NomCom interview, two of the candidates decided to pull out. Without anyone outside the board, NomCom and other candidates finding out.

    These two candidates might’ve done well in the election – it’s hard to know. But in facing the NomCom, they were given the chance to consider their credentials before a panel, and to see how they ‘scored’ against the other candidates. It gave them the chance to “bow out gracefully”. They were given the option to have their names mentioned or not – I guess they both chose to remain private, and I’m not going to name them here for obvious reasons. But the NomCom definitely served these two people.

    The NomCom plays a line between doing what’s right for the community (such as suggesting that someone not run if that’s appropriate – though since 2010 it’s been rare to have someone actually eliminated), and doing what’s right for the candidates. No one wants to have an unrealistic idea about their chances, and the NomCom process lets these people save face.

    Anyway – I hope this gives a slightly different view of what the NomCom is ‘for’… and I hope no one devalues the impact had by the good people who serve in this largely thankless role.



    • way0utwest says:

      Fair points, Rob, but I’d disagree that was a good thing. We aren’t kiddos here. We’re big boys and girls. You want to run, run. If you don’t do well, resign. We’ve had people get elected and resign. We’ve had people be unable to do their jobs on the board and not resign.

      The NomCom is unnecessary, and was a response to pettiness. Let’s get rid of it and let the community become more engaged.

      Frankly, as much as I like many that have served personally, I’m not sure I think they have the best judgement about the organization.


  2. Rob Farley says:

    The people who didn’t run were not told they shouldn’t. It was entirely their own choice. If they had wanted to still run, they would’ve been happily welcomed onto the slate. I suspect if they had’ve run this year, with a smaller slate, they might’ve chosen to stay on. Having the extra layer gave them the opportunity to get a feel for the process before committing fully.


  3. Kevin Kline says:

    Good points, Steve.

    Keep in mind that the “best practice” for institutions with Nomination Committees is for the NomCom to act as a sort of BoD evaluater. In those situations, the NomCom is supposed to evaluate the strengths and weakness of the present BoD and then to actively seek candidates whose skills and experience would better round out the board. For example, if a board had no one with any financial experience, the NomCom might put a premium on candidates who have an MBA or similar financial training. Or if a board had no diversity, or had only consultants, it would put a premium on candidates who brought diversity or other work backgrounds to the table.

    Now that’s just want most institutional NomComs do. It’s certainly not what PASS’es does, nor is it really empowered to act in that way.

    So what would be the best way for the PASS NomCom to act? Personally, I’d like to see it move towards the best practice. But there are many other models that are valid, such as the simple vetting process you describe. In that case, the NomCom simply goes through a checklist of whether the candidate meets the minimum criteria for consideration in a public vote. In other cases, the NomCom does more work to help make candidates more likely to have a successful term on the BoD. Those variations can take many forms and, frankly, I don’t know which of those are best.

    Is low-insensity vetting process followed by a public vote the =only= NomCom formula you’d endorse? If not, what other NomCom formulations would you consider?


    • way0utwest says:

      Thanks, Mr. Kline, for the comment. Personally the problem I have, and have had, with the process is that it’s a gate. That’s not necessary. We run countries where people get to run if they get signatures. We have a professional organization stabilizing PASS. There is no need to “vet” people before putting them on the ballet.

      That being said, you can have the NomCom evaluate candidates and issue a report. That’s a good idea and it’s rational due diligence.

      They just don’t get to decide who can run. Neither does the board.


  4. As part of the Election Review Committee a few years back, we had this conversation over and over again. What is the point of the NomCom? Is it simply to vet candidates against a checklist of requirements, or should it be something more? Should the NomCom have a deeper role of not only ensuring qualified candidates are on the slate, but also addressing weaknesses in the current board makeup?
    Where PASS is right now, it seems to make more sense to have anyone who wants to run on the slate. Even last year, when there were a number of candidates, there still wasn’t the hoped-for 3:1 ratio of candidates per open seat. Until PASS is to the point where it even needs to consider turning people away because there are too many applicants, allowing more people to run is the best route.
    Now don’t get me started on the ranking system – I’ve made no secret of the fact that posting rankings is next to meaningless without data to support it. How far removed is #2 from #1? What about #4 from #1? What is the scale, even, for goodness sake! If there is a 10 point scale, and #1 scored 7, #2 got 5.7 and #3 had 5.5 and #4 had 5.4….that’s a lot different than #1 getting 9, #2 at 7, #3 at 5 and #4 at 3.
    I wonder how many people use the rankings to help them with making an “informed choice” anyway.


    • way0utwest says:

      Completely agree, Wendy. In the past, the committee was a gate. That led to issues, with candidates being arbitrarily (from my persepective) rejected. If the NomCom was to address that, then it was a “different gate”, which is not what I’d like to see.

      Let anyone run. I might change the minimum to get a set of signatures, maybe “10-20” emails from community members nominating the person, but otherwise let anyone run. If the NomCom wants to provide some evaluation of the candidates skills or ability, then they can, though I’m not sure how many people want to sit in judgment of others and attach their name to the end report.


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