Debian, Lenny GR and the Secretary

Two policy issues have been brewing in debian and I’ve been mostly quiet about them because I’ve been busy with TTLLP work.

One is the Lenny release GR which I’m still trying to make sense of. I mean: yikes! I’ve been reading debian-legal and -vote for years and this ballot confuses me. I think I’ll vote 5324671 but I’m really not sure what that means.

The other big issue is that Manoj has resigned as secretary. I think this is a good thing, if for no other reason than he’s been secretary for 7 years and I feel it’s not healthy for one person to hold that post too long in a thousand-strong group. I’ve disagreed with Manoj about some tasks, but I didn’t see any point in making this difficult job even less fun, so I stopped criticising him a while ago. Since then, my comments on the secretary’s work have usually been limited to small review comments on ballots (which are then apparently ignored anyway, but at least I offer help).

I’m apprehensive about who will replace Manoj. In the short term, Bdale Garbee acts as secretary, but surely Bdale is busy enough already? Given his increased vote-taking activity, Neil McGovern seems a likely choice, but the work left undone after his term as SPI secretary may count against him.

More generally, I think there’s a problem with Debian’s secretary, so anyone who would be a good secretary would probably refuse to do it as currently defined. There’s an email about bundled votes and the secretary by Steve Langasek which touches on this major problem:

“the secretary is the *only* line of defense against gaming of the GR process by a small group of developers who propose an uncontroversial but orthogonal amendment that will always win over the alternatives, in the process preventing the will of the project from being formally enacted”

In other words, in Debian, the secretary is both secretary (usually an appointed or consensual post in most organisations, in my experience) and chairman (usually an elected post) – both doing the hard administrative leg-work and actually ruling on contentious issues, rather than just giving an opinion to the chairman. Manoj commented that he “would be happy if the constitution was changed, to clarify the issue, or to explicitly add another entity to handle intepretations”. Is it time to split the secretary’s role?

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