Below the tip of the iceberg

I want to address an issue one last time this year. I may not really need to, but I want to. Some may think I’m beating a dead horse. It may appear that way at first, but that’s not the case. For better or worse, this issue is alive and well based on some conversations I have had recently.

There are those out there who like seeing me eat crow and apologize. If that’s you, congratulations. Today’s your lucky day. Again.

There were flaws in my previous posts about WordCamp Houston 2010 and the Houston WordPress community, which I believe make the whole series fall a bit below the high standards I have set for myself. The specific flaws I am apologizing for are best summarized by that I could not see the forest for the tree standing in front of me. In short, I was so focused on the WordPress community in Houston, that I neglected to investigate the possibility other communities and sub-communities in Houston, many of whom involve the same people (but perhaps in most cases, different leadership), have these same problems. Problems best described as systemic.

The problems with WordCamp Houston 2010? The scholarship snafu? The missing videos? The website getting hacked due to neglect? I mistook them for the disease. No, these are just symptoms of much larger problems in Houston. I dug pretty deep. But I didn’t dig deep enough and I assumed it was just the WordPress crowd.

In my defense, I offer the following. First, I think some good did come of writing the posts, at least for the new people, and so this kind of thing won’t be so easily ignored going forward. I believe I know now why my posts were largely ignored, not because they were true, not because they appeared to be written in bad faith… but because to the people who have been active in the community much longer than I have, they simply weren’t news and what happened simply wasn’t surprising.

To borrow an example, my post was kind of like a blog post about cops disregarding traffic signals, stop signs, and speed limits, and yet happily writing a ticket to any “regular citizen” who does the same. Even if the blogger has video… it’s news to a few new people, it’s a bunch of crap to the rest. It really shouldn’t be, because silence is acceptance, and reading a blog post or a news story about something truly outrageous and choosing not to act on it is also essentially acceptance as well.

Second, based on what I knew, at the time, most of the community had just assumed the scholarship had been awarded (unfortunately, that “most of the community” did include myself for a time), and the videos were somewhere, perhaps online in a place they had just not found yet. On one hand I’m unhappy to have been the bearer of bad news. On the other, the community had a right to know, and other communities will hopefully learn from what happened here.

There are good people involved in good things in this community that actually take their positions seriously, even when working in a volunteer capacity. And I do appreciate them, especially when I work with them year in and year out. Most of them, when they do slip up, are approachable enough that I can tell them “look, I know you mean well, but (insert details of action here) wasn’t cool / does not put us in the best light / etc.” The groups I have spent the most volunteer hours with have not had many of these kind of issues.

The first step in resolving any dispute is for me to bring it to that person in private. That’s actually how I prefer to resolve things. But, there are people who decide that’s not an option. Emails get ignored, fake bounced, or whatever. (I usually do not do phone calls.) News flash: the issue doesn’t go away. Especially when the issue impacts the community, I feel a duty to let the community know what’s going on. In the case of the WordCamp Houston scholarship, there was a point where I considered actual press releases to local news media, possibly even to the national news media. A little part of me regrets not doing so.

Now that I realize there’s a good chance the problems are more systemic in nature, I’m not sure what to do. I don’t have enough information right now to really act on, and I’m not expecting much more given what I feel are unjustified attempts to ruin my standing (which is perhaps the most outrageous part of the whole situation). I’m not even sure just what I can do to fix the problems I have found, either by myself or with help from a few others.

Flagrant publicity sponging is something I find offensive. It becomes more offensive when the organizer status of an event like WordCamp Houston is wrongly awarded to someone who (at least in my opinion based on facts I have available post-event) had no business organizing such an event. It doesn’t help when I should have been the lead organizer to begin with, and things happened that I would never let happen on my watch.

Hiding behind a “we’re volunteers” shield when called out for doing a flagrantly piss-poor job is also something I find quite offensive. It doesn’t matter if the organizers themselves raise that shield, or an apologist for them such as Marc Nathan, raises that shield for them. Sitting on what’s supposed to be scholarship money for over two years is completely unacceptable, volunteers or not. If you feel compelled to defend such a flagrant deviation from minimally acceptable event organizer/treasurer standards, just because you’re friends with the organizers, then I hate to say it, maybe you have made a poor choice of who you call friends. Yes, this means Mr. Nathan deserves to look bad for defending Ms. Danna, Mr. Valdez, and others. Had Mr. Nathan started instead with “I’m not proud of what my friends did, and I’m not going to try to defend it” it might be another story.

That’s another mistake I made: most of my original apology post. That by itself was the single worst thing I’ve ever done as a blogger;  the more I think about it, the more I realize Marc Nathan was wrong. Accordingly I have updated that post to strike through the vast majority of it, and add a note at the top. I’m not really happy that I’ve had to, in effect, retract a retraction. It is something I do not want to make a habit of. The more often I go back and retract posts, the more credibility I lose.

The days of being able to virtually wave a community leader badge and make me nervous are now gone. I’m proud to be a Houstonian, and I want the best for Houston. (In fact I miss the hell out of the old “Houston Proud” ad campaign; anyone have a contact at the mayor’s office that could help get it relaunched?) I would like to help make 2014 about fixing the systemic problems. I can only do so much by myself, and I would like to think I’m not the only one that actually cares about what’s going on.

I’m willing to lead. The real question is: who’s willing to follow me?

Happy New Year. I’ll see all of you in 2014.