Picking up the pieces and moving forward, part 4

(Due to technical and other issues, I was not able to get this posted on Friday afternoon as I had hoped. Here it is now, after some editing to reflect the current state of affairs.)

In part 3, you got to read what wound up being basically an indictment of Meetup, which I probably should have shortened a bit now that I look again. But, I digress.

I had originally split this post into five parts. I’m going to condense the last two into one, leaving four. So this will actually include my final commentary for the time being.

I have about another week to cover, from approximately March 6 to the present. Which makes it easy, because nothing of consequence happens between the 6th and 10th.

The late evening of the 11th/early morning of the 12th, I submitted my application to be WordCamp Houston lead organizer for 2013. Since that’s the logical next step, I figured I needed to know if it’s a go or not sooner rather than later. The evening of the 12th, We had our second meetup in recent memory, this time at Caroline Collective thanks to new organizer David Lee. David, along with previously-mentioned Claudia Franco, are the whole reason we’re actually having WordPress meetups in Houston again.

Yesterday, Friday, 2013 March 15, the ides of March, one of the “organizers” of the original, dead, 400+ member group (i.e. either Christopher Smith or Chris Valdez) did what I’d expect any chicken who can’t stand being held accountable to do. He decided to remove me from the (currently inactive) 400+ member Houston WordPress Meetup group and prohibit me from rejoining. This crosses all sorts of lines. I’m not even going to go into the details of just how stupid of a move this is from a PR standpoint–then again, it’s likely Monica Danna (who, I might add, used to have a company called co.lab which unceremoniously co.lapsed not that long ago) taught them most of their PR skills, so the colossal fail here isn’t all that surprising.

Today, Christopher Smith finally posts an announcement to the group. I’m not going to re-post it here, but suffice it to say it is a gross misrepresentation of the truth. I’m only going to say the following (and parts of this are repeats of things I have said elsewhere):

  1. None of the alleged “out of bounds” discussion would have happened if there had been some attempt at communication with the community over the past several months.
  2. If one’s safety is so easily threatened by simple attempts at contact, at the very least, one should not hold themselves out as a community leader in any capacity.
  3. Documented lies are still lies. Perjury and filing false police reports are both against the law. I would expect someone with relatives in law enforcement to know this.
  4. Habitual lying is no way to lead a community. None of this dog and pony show changes that it is in the best interest of the community for Christopher Smith and Chris Valdez to resign and let someone else lead.
  5. The excuse of “protecting privacy” to hide the truth about what one did is reprehensible, unethical, conduct unbecoming of community leaders, un-Texan, and un-Houstonian.
  6. This is retaliation for my assertion of my legal First Amendment rights. In other words, censorship. Until and unless proven otherwise in a court of law I have the legal right to talk about those who hold themselves out as limited public figures, which would include community leaders and thus include Monica Danna, Christopher Smith, and Chris Valdez.

For what little good it will do, I have asked for this to be reversed. At a later date I may republish what I have of the deleted threads (which, incidentally, comprised most of the discussion group activity over an entire month.) In the meantime, as a temporary measure, I’ve joined the new group on meetup.com. I don’t expect this to last longer than a few months; I don’t think meetup.com is the best way forward anymore, and it is my hope to have a realistic alternative to meetup.com available at least to WordPress-oriented groups by the end of the year.

Anyway… Coincidentally, the same day, I also heard back that I’m “not a good fit” “not the right fit”¬†for WordCamp organizer. To say the least, I disagree with this. [Edit 2013-05-07: Oops. I mis-remembered the quote in between getting the email and making the post.]

In closing, there are quite a few things to learn from WordCamp Houston 2010 for those thinking about running a similar event in the future. There are about four things really stand out.

First, communication is important. If you are unwilling or unable to keep the community “in the loop” with updates, then being an organizer of an event like a WordCamp probably isn’t for you. I never should have had to get Andrea Middleton or anyone from Automattic or the WordPress Foundation involved, and I would not have were the lines of communication with the community kept open and utilized while the award of the scholarship from 2010 was still pending. (Andrea did a great job handling the investigation started by my inquiry. However, I feel she never should have needed to be involved to begin with.)

Second, if you speak, especially as event organizer, you should assume it is being broadcast and/or recorded. Remember what you said, especially when referring to proceeds. Some shady salespeople (particularly car and furniture salespeople) do a little ruse. They mark the sales price up so it can be marked down again, giving the illusion of a big discount. Of course, for a total paid out, one would want to manipulate the numbers in the opposite order; this may well have been what our community “leaders” were trying to do.

Third, before taking on a position that requires, by its nature, interaction with potentially anyone in the community, think it over. If your comfort zone is such that you feel you cannot interact directly with certain members of the community, or that you find yourself reaching for the block button even when logged in to the event/community Twitter account or Facebook page, it’s likely the public relations and social media aspects of organizing a WordCamp are not for you. If you are a public relations professional, act like one; acting in a volunteer capacity is not an excuse to throw professionalism (i.e. pride in one’s work) out the window and it’s quite possible for one to be professionally judged by one’s actions as a volunteer. (It can be for better as well as for worse; see Alan Rosen, recently elected Harris County Precinct 1 Constable, for an example of the former.)

Fourth, organizers of an event such as a WordCamp are responsible for the monetary proceeds of the event until such time as the proceeds are disbursed to the charitable organization or purpose for which they were designated, and it is also in their best interests as well as that of the WordCamp and WordPress brands to not communicate for an extended period while the money is still outstanding. If you and everyone on your team lack the time to see the award of a scholarship through to the end, then maybe this is not how your WordCamp’s proceeds should be distributed. A simple donation to a non-profit organization is probably a better choice in this case.

Finally, just a couple of more items about how I feel. I am happy the scholarship has finally been awarded. If proceeds from our future WordCamps in Houston go towards a scholarship like the one in 2010, I don’t ever want to see it take this long for the money to be awarded again. Not in Houston, not anywhere.

I want honest, trustworthy, transparent, reasonable, and law-abiding people in charge of our Houston WordPress community and its events, such as future WordCamps and the Meetup group. I don’t think that’s a lot to ask, and I would like to think this is the majority viewpoint in the community.

Originally I had a whole paragraph here formally asking Christopher Smith and Chris Valdez to resign. I still don’t think it’s appropriate either of them continue to enjoy the visibility, in light of the circumstances. Most importantly, to preserve the high standard of ethics among creative companies in the Houston area, I recommend NOT doing business with either Design Bigger or Primer Grey, their respective companies, in hopes they will both go bankrupt. Contact me if you need alternatives.

Lest we forget, this is Matt Mullenweg’s hometown. For those reasons I find it especially outrageous that our WordPress community scene, or lack thereof, is what it is. And I now know I’m not the only one. I’ve probably said things that other people in the community just wish they could. I have no idea yet what it’s cost me.

Looking forward, I believe Houston deserves better in 2013. I’ve said it before, but it needed to be said again. And on that note, it is my endeavor to help deliver a better WordCamp Houston in 2013 in whatever capacity I can. I will admit I don’t need to be lead organizer to help, but I could sure benefit from the visibility. I should note that recently some events transpired in my life which could have resulted in my leaving the Houston area for several months to a couple of years, or possibly even for good. However, I found a way to remain here in Houston (at least the area if not Houston proper), and my anticipated future contributions to WordCamp Houston 2013 and the Houston WordPress community did factor into my decision to stay.

Comments are open. My usual comment policy is in place.

[Edited 2021-07-23 to fix some unfortunate typos/misspellings]